On the archives of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd in Quito

Women’s Re-education Work and urban space in Ecuador (1870-1942)

Erika Bedon, FLACSO-Ecuador

Archival description on AtoM
Archival City, “EC-NSCBP. Fonds of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd – Ecuador”, ArchivalCity_RG_0002: http://atom.archivalcity.org/index.php/fondo-de-la-congregacion-de-nuestra-senora-de-la-caridad-del-buen-pastor-ecuador

This approach to the historical documents of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd in Ecuador is part of a broader work that we are developing with Eduardo Kingman and Ana María Goetschel, from the Department of Anthropology, History and Humanities of FLACSO-Ecuador. This work is aimed at showing the functioning of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd in Ecuador, during Garcianism and liberalism, as a system of disciplining and moral control, between the actions of the state and the Church.

This is a limited historiographical study that attempts to contribute to a broader discussion on the configuration of the state, secularisation and the shaping of security and biopolitics. What we have set out to show in this study is the place of congregations such as the Good Shepherd in the governmentalisation of the state in the Andes, taking Ecuador in the last third of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century as the context. This is measured both in macro-political terms of population administration and in anatomo-political terms of the control of bodies[1].

The study constitutes a step forward in a research programme aimed at understanding the mechanisms that connected spaces such as boarding schools, prisons, missions and institutions of ambiguous affiliation such as the Good Shepherd, with the organisational projects of the state and society in those years.

In terms of the debate opened by Maiguashca (2005) and Williams (2005), we would like to make visible other aspects of what has been called Catholic modernity, as well as what is presented as its counterpart, liberal modernity. In the case of Catholic modernity, it is not so much its openness to progress and nation-building, including the expansion of citizenship through the literacy of women and indigenous people[2], as its points of closure and the constitution of spaces of exception[3] that are dealt with.

Catholic modernity constitutes one of the forms of development of modernity in the nineteenth century, related to the changes that took place within the Church in response to the modernisation and secularisation of society in Europe, and at the same time it was one of the forms assumed by states in their constitution. In post-colonial situations, the intervention of the Church in social life not only had a modernising but also a missionary and civilising intention, or rather this intention was modernising, bringing the interests of the Church to coincide with those of the state. Moreover, modernity was linked to racism, something that gave a particular nuance to the disciplinary projects themselves.

About the Religious of the Good Shepherd in Ecuador

The Order of the Religious of the Good Shepherd was founded in Angers, France, in 1835, by St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier; in view to re-educating women, this work was directly related to the social problems that were being experienced due to the effects of urbanisation and industrialisation in Europe, France and the Catholic world as a whole[4]. Early modernity brought about substantial economic, scientific, technological and cultural changes that altered the balance of power within which religious practices and Church action developed.

By 1868, the Good Shepherd Order had a recognised track record of work in several countries where they had established their work, including Latin America. In 1870, there were approximately 110 monasteries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America[5].

The conditions of the arrival of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Ecuador are detailed in the official register of Ecuador of 24 August 1870. The Archbishop of Quito, Monsignor Ignacio Checa i Barba, signed the agreement with the superior of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Angers, France, in response to the request and authorisation of President García Moreno. It was decided that “in the month of November 1870, eight Sisters of the Good Shepherd should leave for Ecuador to take charge of the house for the confinement of women and the refuge of repentant women”[6].  This request reflects the problem of population administration that the government had to deal with, as well as the need to modernise and moralise these institutions based on the experience accumulated by the order in Europe.

In Ecuador, the presence of women’s religious orders such as the Good Shepherd was favoured by the Concordat, aimed at strengthening relations with the Vatican and obtaining the collaboration of the Church in the construction of a “Catholic Nation”[7]. For García Moreno, all this was part of a comprehensive project of societal modernisation and nation-building promoted by the state. An important part of this process was the reform of the clergy and the renewal of the Church, as a basis for improving the social environment.

Garcianism promoted the arrival of other orders in addition to the Good Shepherd, aimed at the education of young people (including poor boys and girls), such as the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Providence and the Sacred Hearts, and the attention and care of the sick, such as the Sisters of Charity[8].  The Good Shepherd nuns were concerned with the control and rehabilitation of women, in a moral and disciplinary sense, although they also fulfilled other functions such as the education of girls.

For Garcianism, in particular, it was not possible to think of progress without setting the moral precedents on which society should be based, namely the family and within it, women as the custodians and reproducers of its principles. Maiguashca (2005) saw this as a way of “feminising Christianity”. However, this feminisation occurred as a form of affirmation of patriarchy and as the reproduction of the opposition between the masculine public sphere and the feminin private one. The work of the nuns of the Good Shepherd, while forming part of the actions of the state, constituted a strategy of patriarchy, aimed at both repressing public contraventions in moral matters and guaranteeing the control of fathers over daughters, husbands over wives, employers over servants, public orphanages over orphans. While much of their action related to the so-called private sphere, it must be seen as part of a broader project aimed at governmentalising  the state. At the same time, this governmentalisation was also intertwined with patriarchy. 

What we cannot lose sight of is the specialised character of the order, its existence as a fully developed device before its adoption by García Moreno. Indeed, the order was being installed in other parts of South America, such as Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, as something that did not obey the initiative of governments alone, but was the result of crossed internal and external efforts.

The perception that the BP fulfilled a useful function for the prison system initially took place in the European context and had to be adapted to other contexts, such as Ecuador. This was made possible in part thanks to the action of visionaries such as García Moreno, who made his action part of the action of the state. It can be said that these are the subtle (but little studied) ways in which Catholic modernity functioned: they established new notions regarding the administration of populations and the mechanisms that make it possible.

An oeuvre of women for women

Another aspect that should not be lost sight of is that this was an institution formed by women and administered by women: their active participation in a field such as rehabilitation helped to break the conventional image of women’s orders at the time. We are talking about non-contemplative orders engaged in the administration of a type of women, which, without being state-run, acted on behalf of the state. As Sol Serrano (2011) recorded, in the case of Chile, congregations such as the GS “knew what to do with the poor”, which explains why they were welcomed by the liberal governments themselves. The state’s strategy was precisely to seek specialised personnel to manage the education and re-education of women, something that responded to its own administrative weakness. It can be said that part of this modernity was the change in the mentalities of these religious orders, which specialised in the management and administration of a certain type of population.

In the Ecuadorian case, the relations between the Church and the State were affected by the Concordat of 1869. In this context, the Order of the Good Shepherd maintained a certain autonomy in the management and administration of the house, but it had to respond to the State not only because of the economic contributions it received, but also because it was anchored in an apparatus that administered the issue of women, as well as the police, the school and the family. It can also be seen that there was a subordination to other religious orders, in this case to the Society of Jesus, which was in charge of providing them with spiritual service, as well as being co-participants in the Napo mission. At the same time, the work of the house in Ecuador was always in relation with the Mother House in France.

About the documents

The documents on which we are working in this investigation go from 1870 to 1960 approximately. They were located in the Museum of the Good Shepherd, in the House of the Recoleta of the Good Shepherd, in the City of Quito. This is on Benigno Vela Street and Pedro Vicente Maldonado Avenue, a sector known as the “Recoleta”. A series of documents were found in a boot, which formed part of the museum’s museography. These documents have not been classified, codified or inventoried, that is to say that they have not been assumed as an institutional or historical archive within the order. It is not known why these documents have not been catalogued or assumed as an institutional archive.

Among the documents are a series of letters of correspondence between the different houses of the Good Shepherd in the city of Quito and provinces of the country, that is, the Province of Napo, and the Province of Bolivar, Quito being the main house of the Order,  as well as with the Mother House in France and other Latin American countries where the religious had established themselves. These documents deal with house regulations, requests and authorisations for administrative and operational processes within the different houses of the Order. They also consist of greetings and letters of encouragement from GS houses in other countries, in which testimonies and anecdotes from the different “works” are also told in order to encourage each other and share knowledge of how to administer the houses, such as the documents referring to the foundation of a school in Guaranda. There are also regulations and correspondence with the government and the Junta de Beneficencia during the liberal period, a list of the scholarship girls at the Colegio Angel de la Guarda in Quito, and documents of the founding of the BP house in Archidona and Napo.

Other documents are correspondences with the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, concerning the request for the reception and confinement of orphan girls, spiritual exercises and internal regulations.

This type of correspondence gives an account of the order inside the houses, the layout of the rooms and the place occupied by the women in each of them. 

In some of the letters we find subjects related to the daily life of the houses, inventories of the kitchen and utensils.  Theer are books recording the women’s entries into the different sections of the house, with dates of entry and exit, belongings and dowries, and internal regulations, both for the order and for individual houses. Among the correspondence there are letters of request and authorisation for taking the vows of the Magdalenes.

Other documentation corresponds to official documents from the Ecclesiastical Government of the Archdiocese, the Archbishop’s Secretariat, addressed to the Reverend Mother of the GS, requesting the confinement and release of women, for various reasons. It is not possible o specify if each and every one of the requests for confinement were dealt with or executed. It is understood that being a confinement ticket, this implies that the order to deprive the person mentioned in the document was carried out.  The documents are signed by different persons who held a position of power, which enabled them to execute such requests.

Other documents are requests for confinement and administrative documents issued by different religious authorities, parish priests, priests and prelates inside and outside the order. These documents reveal the relations of the religious order with the clergy, bishops, archbishops, priests, parish priests, and the ways in which power was organised in terms of the administration of these populations.

Another series of documents are official documents of the General Intendancy of Police, the Police Commissariat, and the Director of Prisons. These are transfer slips for judicial procedures, confinement slips, release slips, prison orders, and sentences. These were state institutions that formed part of the corpus of the police, which operated in parallel and in coordination with and subject to the ecclesiastical authorities, who also carried out these police functions.

Among the documents mentioned, there is also a series of correspondence between the Camarote de Santa Marta, a women’s prison, and the Buen Pastor, regarding the transfer of women for the enforcement of sentences.

On the other hand, there is a series of letters from women requesting to be accepted as religious to join the order, letters sent from different provinces and various countries, including Panama and Colombia, as well as a series of petitions drawn up by priests and parish priests interceding for certain women to be accepted as novices.

As mentioned above, the total corpus of documents has not been classified or codified. The documents presented here for Archival City are a random sample, representative of the entire corpus of documents of the institution in question. These documents give an account of their characteristics, dates and typology. The sample of documents described here starts from 1872 and continues to 1890. The coding given to them is simply an alphanumeric number to order them in the Excel table and locate them with the number of the image corresponding to each document; it is not technical cataloguing: EB-PB1-1 EB (Erika Bedón), BP (Buen Pastor), Folder No., Image No. 

In relation to the general cataloguing of all the documents, we have been able to identify that there are several themes that are intertwined and therefore it is not easy to classify them thematically, as approaching the notions conceptually is complex. For example, the notion of police, can be understood as a police institution, but also in a broader sense where police actions correspond more to a patriarchal order than to an institutional order in itself. It is for this reason that the documents have not yet been classified either; technical work is planned at a later date.

While still being conceived as a detention centre, the BP was also a place of welcome. Sometimes the nuns took in these women, but sometimes they locked them up at the request of their families, thus blurring the boundaries between confinement and reception. Its mission was not only disciplinary. The way it worked was (or ‘pretended to work’) was as a rational system, even when it operated with violence (for example, the isolation of the girls in order to make them think again). What was sought, above all, was social reintegration through the cultivation of morality, penance and work, offering various options for this inside and outside the order. Under the liberal administration, the social action of the G.P. came under the control of the Junta de Beneficencia and, in other respects, of the Dirección de Estudios and the Dirección de Estadística. They were part of the state’s population policies. Regarding liberalism, the GS Sisters, like the Sisters of Charity in the hospital field, remained the most qualified in the country for the rehabilitating and re-educating women. The country had begun to urbanise, with the incorporation of many former villages into the cities, and there was also a perception that modernisation was leading to a relaxation of customs, which increased demands for control over contraventions[9].

The documents described here and the other documents belonging to the Casa Madre del Buen Pastor in the city of Quito have allowed us to approach the re-education of women in the Garciano and liberal period, while at the same time leaving a series of questions open for further studies on the history of women in Ecuador, charitable institutions and the forms of control and government of populations in the Andean countries. The material presented here is part of research in progress, as mentioned above, and therefore does not seek to provide definitive answers to the problems posed; on the contrary, it is an approximation and notions that are being constructed in the research process.




Agamben, Giorgio (2004) “Estado de excepción: Homo sacer, II, I”.  Filosofía e Historia. Adriana Hidalgo Editora.

Foucault, Michael (2008) Seguridad, Territorio y Población, Madrid, Akal.

Herrera, Gioconda, (2001) “Los estudios de género en el Ecuador: entre el conocimiento y el reconocimiento” En Antología. Género. Quito: FLACSO – Sede Ecuador: Junta de Andalucía. 2001. 379 p. Serie Antología. Ciencias Sociales.

Kingman, Garcés, Eduardo (2006) La ciudad y los otros, Quito 1860-1940: higienismo, hornato y policía. FLACSO-Ecuador, Universidad Rovira i Virgili.

Maiguashca, Juan (2005) “El proyecto garciano de modernidad católica-republicana en Ecuador, 1830-1875”. In Martha Irurozqui (ed.), La mirada esquiva: reflexiones históricas sobre la interacción del estado y la ciudadanía en los Andes (Bolivia, Ecuador y Perú) siglo XIX, Madrid, CSIC, pp. 233-260.

Serrano, Sol (2001) “Vírgenes Viajeras”. Diarios de religiosas francesas en su ruta a Chile. 1837-1874. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Williams, Derek, (2005) “The Making of Ecuador’s Pueblo Católico, 1861-1875”, in Cristóbal Aljovin and Nils Jacobsen (eds.), Political Cultures in the Andes, 1750-1950. Durham, Duke University Press, pp. 207-229.



[1] Foucault, Michel, (2008) Seguridad, Territorio y Población, Madrid, Akal.

[2] This would lay the foundations for the formation of spaces of opinion such as that of Catholic women, as Gioconda Herrera shows (For the case of Argentine, see the study by Marta Bounando).

[3] Agamben, Giorgio (2004) “Estado de excepción: Homo sacer, II, I”.  Filosofía e Historia. Adriana Hidalgo Editora.

[4] What is a Religious of the Good Shepherd? Paula Hoesl. Translated by María Magdalena Maglioni. S/f. Good Shepherd Novitiate Brochure. Quito-Ecuador. No printed data.

[5] Idem.

[6] Diario Oficial El Nacional 24 August 1870. N| 442. Epoch II. Interior Section.

[7] The Ecuadorian Concordat. Antonio Flores. Paris. Bookshop of Garnier Brothers. 1894. National Library of Ecuador “Eugenio Espejo”.

[8] Idem.

[9] Kingman Garcés, Eduardo. La ciudad y los otros, Quito 1860-1940: higienismo, hornato y policía. FLACSO-Ecuador.

Citer ce billet
Annalaura Turiano (2023, 27 novembre). On the archives of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd in Quito. Archival City. Consulté le 13 juin 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/beu5

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