When convents were re-established in mid-nineteenrh-cenrury England, after a break of over two hundred years, they mirrored the developments in religious life pioneered on the Continent during the Catholic reformation and in response to the French Revolution. By 1850 new forms of active and apostolic vocation co-existed with the traditional enclosed and contemplative vocation. Yet even the most traditional convent was novel in early nineteenth-century England, and it is only with benefit of hindsight that we assume the willing response of Irish and English women to the call of a religious vocation. The reestablished Church might promote the virtue of vocation, particularly to the new apostolic congregations which were so useful to hard-pressed priests. But it was not inevitable that the religious life would take root in a culture deeply suspicious of conventual ‘secretiveness’ and, moreover, at a time when the ideology of hearth and home had such vitality. In the event, the active congregations multiplied rapidly and attracted women of all classes. As a result, by the end of the century the Roman Catholic Church in England had found employment for thousands of women as full-time, professional church workers. More than one-third and perhaps as many as half of these women were from working-class families, and it is with the working-class members that this paper is concerned.