The nun who sued her Mother Superior – the strange case of Saurin v Starr

In a guest post, Neil Addison recalls a judgment handed down this day 150 years ago that was something of a cause célèbre in its time…

On February 26 1869, a jury gave its decision in a civil trial in the Court of Queen’s Bench before the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, Bt. Almost forgotten today, the case of Saurin v Starr was at the time front-page news in Britain and Ireland, lasted three weeks, led to questions in Parliament and a Times editorial, and caused acute embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

The Plaintiff was Susanna Mary Saurin, also known as Sister Mary Scholastica, a professed member of the Sisters of Mercy, and she was suing her former superiors Mary Starr and Mary Kennedy for false imprisonment, libel, assault and conspiracy to expel her from the Order. The allegations as set out in the claim were that

“the defendants did subject [Saurin] to a long series of indignities, persecutions and annoyances and did deprive her of food and clothing and divers articles of her property, they imprisoned the plaintiff to prevent her from attending divine services and made a false charge against her to to the Bishop [of Beverley] whereby she was expelled from the order.” Continue reading