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It’s 1951. Cobh, County Cork. Jo Murray is 18 years old and stands at the railing of a westbound transatlantic ship flanked by four other teenage Irish girls.

But these aren’t just any mid-century Irish immigrants. They’re going to Texas, and they’re going to become nuns.

For the past three years, Emma Decker has lived on and off in the convent these women immigrated to in San Antonio, Texas. Sisters Jo Murray and Gabrielle Murray from Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, are Emma’s grand aunts—now aged 80 and 85. 

Their memories chronicle a century of change in the institutions of the church, race relations, economics and politics. Closer to heart for Emma, the curious grand niece of Sisters Jo and Gabrielle Murray, is that their conversations reveal the evolution of Emma’s international Irish family and the women who built it.

More by Emma Decker