Heart-Work - Journal

Prayer for the Magdalene Sisters by Vivi Steels

Posted on October 7, 2021 at 4:05 AM

It is National Poetry Day today and I was watching the news and the awfulness of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, where young girls who were pregnant, or just classed as 'flirty' or 'attractive', were incarcerated in buildings where they worked as slave labour and treated harshly for what was perceived as their sins by the Catholic Church.  I wrote this poem in 2004, but wanted to include it here on this special poetry day and also because this has been exposed in the media.

Prayer for the Magdalene Sisters

we, the unconventional & passionate,

flesh & blood,

often dulled into conformity

by a strait jacket

of distorted Catholicism

venting its spleen

we talk too much,

are too enthusiastic,

too vivacious,

attractive to men,



and, before we sin,

condemned to asylum workhouses

bearing holy names

slaves in suds

non-beings eternally laundering

dirt out of soiled clothes,

some owned by perverted priests

and embittered nuns,

whose vows to love

mask a heart to hate

when we express ourselves

we are condemned as irreligious,

temptresses of the flesh,

fecund & warm,

rich in spirit & body

our loving & giving

represented as profane

stripped of dignity,

of any personal possession,

our rounded bodies are forced

into identical straight brown shifts

and starched white aprons

Christ spoke to women

loving them when stamped

‘second class’

freeing prisoners,

bringing life in abundance

let us be ourselves

accepting our fertility

of body, mind & spirit

let us remain ‘neat’,


celebrating joy

our special gifts

given to us by God

let us never feel

guilty for being ourselves,

for loving life

© Vivien Steels


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