From Baltimore to Kentucky. — The Maryland postulants. — Sister Alexandrina Doran's wonderful vocation. — Mount Mary's. — Establishment of Bethania convent. — Election of a Dear Mother. — Establishment of Mount Carmel, Bethlehem, Perry county, Missouri, and Mount Olivet. — Holy Cross church. — Project of a Negro sisterhood.
Father Nerinckx remained about two weeks in Baltimore, and, in the meantime, seven young ladies presented themselves as candidates for the Loretto sisterhood. They had seen a picture of the sisters' humble dwelling and its surroundings, and they selected the Society of the Friends of Mary in preference to other congregations, on account of its poverty; to select souls, Lady Poverty has lost none of the attractions which made the seraphic St. Francis fall in love with her! Father Nerinckx received them kindly, and took great interest in their religious education; he handed them a copy of the rules to learn by heart, and gave them instructions twice a day for a whole week.1 The young p481 ladies were: Misses Mary Madden, Catharine A. Kelly, Bridget S. Kelly, Petronella Doran, Alice Cloney, Margaret McSorly, and Mary McSorly. Miss Mary A. Carney had come over with Father Nerinckx from England. While making preparations in Baltimore for the journey to Kentucky, many sumptuous dinners were given to the company; one at the house of Mr. Owen McManus, and the last one by the saintly Father Moranville, pastor of St. Patrick's church.2
The eight new candidates set out for Loretto in a stage, on the 5th of November, 1821. Besides the young postulants, the party consisted of Father Nerinckx and the two young men who intended to join the new Brotherhood of Loretto. The moment the stage moved, Father Nerinckx made the sign of the cross, and said: "All say p482 the beads, first; then read and pray; but you are not allowed to talk on the road." He was strictly obeyed, and from that time the young girls lived under conventual rules. The weather was very cold, the roads almost impassable, and our travelers reached Pittsburg after a tiresome and difficult journey of eight days, having walked all the way over the mountains. In Pittsburg, they were kindly received by the pastor, Father McGuire, and the catholics of that city, and they remained a week, whilst a flatboat was being built to take them down the Ohio. The water being very high, they only reached Louisville on the 7th of December, but they had a very pleasant time on the river.
Having formed into a little community, they observed all the rules of the Mother-house, Loretto: rose up early in the morning, had prayers and meditation in common, kept silence, took their meals, and observed the recreation, just like religious of long standing. Father Nerinckx frequently observed to them that their boat was a floating little paradise. He gave them instructions twice a day, and never tired preaching charity. On one occasion a young lady who joined the little community in Pittsburg, exclaimed, after an instruction: "Well! if my mother were at the door, I would not speak to her!" Another, who died later in the odor of sanctity, replied: "If my mother were here, I would fly to her, press her to my heart, and kiss her a thousand times!" The p483 latter, indeed, thoroughly understood the true love of God, who, in bidding us to leave father and mother, brothers and sisters, for His sake, does not command us to crush all affections of the heart, but elevates, purifies, hence intensifies them, because consecrated to Him. True piety and disdain of the world are not against nature, but above it; and the deluded child, who had uttered the intemperate speech, soon experienced how little she had of the true spirit of solid piety. Shortly after her arrival at Loretto she returned home, under the pretext that the Loretto rules were not sufficiently austere.
"When our loved pastor," writes Sister Eulalia in her Reminiscences, "Father Timothy O'Brien, of happy memory, wrote to us from Baltimore, that Father Nerinckx had arrived from Europe, was then in that city, and required us to join him on the 29th of October, he requested to bring with us Miss Petronella Doran, who resided •about twenty miles from our home. So, Mother Josephine3 and her brother went to impart the glad tidings to the young lady, and bring her to our house, thinking, of course, her parents and sisters were in the secret of her pious intentions. But not so; they knew nothing about it. They were both surprised and angry to learn that their daughter had the intention of leaving them, and, after much debate, her mother, who was not a catholic, though she p484 attended church, declared she should not go. They first scolded her, then coaxed her, cried over her, often pressing her to their bosom, and kissing her with all the affection of the fondest of parents; thus, they tried every means to shake her resolution and at the same time pacify her. She was seventeen years of age, was firm in her determination, and could not be overcome; but finally, being so often reminded of all they had done and suffered for her, she thought within herself: 'Yes; I would be ungrateful to leave my good parents thus; and yet my every thought is for Loretto, to join those dear, good sisters. But I can not, I must not go.' Mother Josephine and her brother returned home the next day, while the Doran family sat scolding and caressing by turns, which they continued till eleven o'clock at night, when all retired to rest.
"But our Petronilla went to prayer almost heart-broken.4 She had not been long on her knees, when the room was filled with bright light — to use her own words, 'a light ten thousand times brighter than the sun,' — and she saw p485 three beautiful ladies coming up to her. The middle one was clad with all the brilliancy of heaven. She gazed on the prostrate and now penitent lady; then, in a chiding, bitter tone, said: 'Yes, you think your mother has done so much for you that you can not leave her! Look at my Son; see what He has done and suffered for you!' She looked in the direction designated by the finger of the speaker (the Blessed Virgin, of course), and, oh the sight! It chills me to write it: Our Lord on the cross, in his bitter agony, his eyes suffused with blood, and looking intently on her, while writhing with pain! Petronella fell prostrate and senseless. She knew not how long she remained thus; but when she recovered all was dark, and she was alone. She rose up, took one dress, wrapped it in a handkerchief, put on her bonnet, went to the room of her parents, and having gained the door, she said in a loud voice: 'I am gone; good-bye!' Her parents were not asleep, but they attached no importance to her words. Taking the road to the church, Petronella walked •twenty miles alone through the dark night, reaching the church just at daybreak. She then inquired the way to our house, where she arrived just at sunrise, and related her story, at which we all wondered. My mother supplied her with all needful clothing; and my father took her to Baltimore with Mother Josephine and myself, and related to Father Nerinckx her whole history: how she left home for p486 the sake of going to Loretto, and of her travelling to Baltimore under his special protection. Father Nerinckx was delighted with the narrative, every word of which he believed, after having carefully examined Petronella on the subject. He then took special charge of her, considering her as fruit already ripe in heaven, a soul in whose beauty the Celestial King was greatly delighted.
"While Petronella was at our house, one of the children came in, and said Mr. N. Cane was at the front gate. This gentleman was her uncle, and came on some business with my father. Thinking that he was in search of her, she slipped out the back door, went to an outhouse and concealed herself in some dry flax; nor was she found till after four o'clock, having been in her hiding-place over five hours and without her dinner. To the little ones who found her, her first words were: 'Is Mr. Cane gone? What did he want? Did he ask for me?' Being now satisfied that he was not in search of her, she went into the house and made her apology for all the anxiety she had caused the family by her absence. The Lord did not permit her parents to look after her for more than six weeks, when she was safe at Loretto. When they understood she was really gone, they grieved much for a time, but became reconciled.
"When asked if she was not afraid while walking alone in the night, she answered she p487 was not, for she felt that the Lord had called her, that she was doing His holy will, and that He would protect her. Her father was an honorable man, a farmer of pretty fair means; and the family were noted for their piety, though they knew nothing of a conventual life, nor of what Almighty God would work in the heart of His chosen ones, and of what He had actually wrought in the soul of their cherished Petronella. Every Sunday, half the family were at church; the girls always came fasting, went to confession, to holy communion at late Mass, and after service, (generally one o'clock), they mounted their horses, and rode home for their breakfast, •seventeen miles.
"But to return to our postulant. She got along very well. On the feast of the Ascension, 1822, she received with great fervor the religious dress, which, until that time, she had considered herself unworthy of wearing, although every one looked upon her as a saint. She received the name of Sister Alexandrina, and, at the end of one year, she made her vows with the greatest joy. On the 18th of March, she gave up her pure soul to God. During her sickness, her sufferings were violent; yet she made no complaint, but looked up to her suffering Jesus on the Cross, happy in the thought that all her trials would son be at an end, and the dear, loving Jesus would receive her into His arms. Finding that her end was approaching, she asked for the last Sacraments. They were p488 administered by Father Nerinckx, who did not leave her until he had received her last sigh and closed her eyes.
"Her life, with her parents, had been spent in innocence, industry, and virtue; in the convent, in labor, prayer, fasting, and all sorts of mortifications, for which she anxiously sought. She had never been known to violate the rule of silence, was never absent from any exercise of the community, was always pleasant with every one, and, in recreation, was the gayest of the gay. Nor was she unmindful of her loving parents. She often spoke of them with deep affection, and said she grieved for them the more, because they grieved so much for her. It was she who said on the boat: 'If my mother were at the door, I would fly to her, and kiss her a thousand times.' Virtue is not incompatible with filial affection; she dearly loved her parents, but she loved her God still more. Sister Alexandrina was a native of Hartford county, Maryland, and belonged to the church of St. Ignatius, near Bellair."
As we stated above, the missionary party arrived in Louisville, December 7, 1821. "At that early date, carriages were unknown in the now metropolitan city of Louisville. A large market-wagon was procured, and the young ladies, mounting on their trunks, and accompanied by Brother Charles Gilbert on horseback, started for Loretto by Bardstown, which they reached on Sunday, 9th of December. The p489 good Bishop David and the Sisters of Charity received them very graciously, and many inducements were held out to them to change their vocation and determination of becoming Lorettines, and to join the Sisters of Nazareth. But they felt that God had called them to Loretto, and there they went, regardless of typhoid fever and other diseases prevailing in the community at that time. They spent the Sunday in Bardstown. On Monday, 10th of December, after having heard Mass, and while the stars yet glimmered in the sky, they were again in the wagon on the road to their dear Loretto, with they reached at eight o'clock P.M. They were cordially welcomed by the sisters, and at once admitted into the community. They all persevered, and are now, we hope, in heaven. I said all; yet one of their number still lingers on earth, but her time, too, will soon come.
"Dear Father Nerinckx, who, with Mr. James Van Rysselberghe, had remained one day longer in Louisville to arrange with wagoners and see his baggage safely started to Loretto, arrived the next day, in company with the saintly Bishop Flaget, and there was great joy at Loretto. The bells were rung in their sweetest, yet loudest tones; the sisters, the pupils — even the servants — went in procession to meet them, and these aged fathers mingled their tears of joy with those of the sisters; there was not a dry eye. The Bishop led the way to the church, and preached; afterwards, Father Nerinckx p490 gave the Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. Need we say that the sisters profited by the recreation granted, to surround their father, and bid him welcome with all the gratitude of children who have found their long-lost father?'
The first care of Father Nerinckx was to realize the project of the institution of a brotherhood, similar in purpose to that of the Society of the Friends of Mary, for the education of boys. We have already seen how he was thwarted in his plans by the Rev. Wm. Byrne taking possession of Mount Mary's. Father Nerinckx vainly objected that, under the present management of affairs, not only the stability of the institution itself was imperiled, but the possible establishment of many similar ones would be precluded, because no provision was made obtaining or training teachers, whilst the numbers of the clergy were totally inadequate, and would be so for many years to come. The Bishop had approved of the institution, and Father Byrne was determined to remain. Bishop Flaget would likely have been very willing to turn over the school to the hard-working priest, who had conceived the first idea of its feasibility and had acquired the grounds for that very purpose; but he thought he could not eject the Rev. Byrne from the college which he had established. And so were the cherished plans of the Rev. Father Nerinckx defeated, and he submitted without grumbling. It was a great p491 loss for the church in Kentucky, but the missionary had done what he could; he worked not for his own renown, but for the glory of God; and, having no other resources to rely on, unwilling, moreover, to start what might be looked upon as an opposition establishment, he relinquished his project, and was so forced to refuse the many young men who had already applied for admission into the projected brotherhood. Far from showing any ill-will to the college thus founded, Father Nerinckx, with true christian self-denial, did all in his power to insure its success, and even sent to Mount Mary's a little colony of Loretto sisters to do the work which, for want of means, Father Byrne could not intrust to hired help.
Father Nerinckx now turned all his energies to increase the usefulness of his own institution of sisters. Measures were immediately taken to establish a house near Fairfield, Nelson county,5 Kentucky, and on the 21st of December of the same year (1821), Mother Bibiana Elder was sent there as Superior, with ten sisters. This institution received the name of Bethania, and the care thereof devolved on father Chabrat, who, on his return from Europe, had been appointed to take care of the congregations surrounding Bardstown.
The establishment of Bethania, Spencer county, ceased to exist on the 6th of April, 1828, p492 it being Easter Monday; and the sisters arrived at Loretto in the evening of the same day, and were affectionately received by the superiors and sisters. That community had been sorely afflicted; for, after a short existence of six years and a half, the remains of eleven of its members were left reposing under the shadow of the large cross which adorned its cemetery. Some time after, Mother Josephine Kelly, local superior of Gethsemani, was deputized to preside at the removal of the remains of the sisters who died at Bethania, to the Loretto graveyard. Numbers of people collected to witness the solemn scene, and Father James Elliot, parish priest of Fairfield, taking into his hands the fleshless skull of Sister Everildis, whom all had known as a beautiful and accomplished young lady who had forsaken the world and soon after died, among them, the death of the elect, pathetically addressed his audience, reminding them of the certainty of death and the necessity of working for the salvation of their souls.
But above all things Father Nerinckx applied himself diligently to his sisterhood's spiritual training, about which he was far more anxious than about the increase of its institutions. He well knew that applications for colonies of his sisters would never be wanting, provided they were virtuous and faithful to their vocation; and convinced, moreover, that his pilgrimage on earth would soon be at an end, he applied himself, during the year 1822, with possibly more p493 fervor than heretofore, to imbue them thoroughly with the spirit of penance and mortification, which was the groundwork of the whole fabric. To this end, he jotted down a few notes for the guidance of the sisters, and gave them oral instructions as often as his missionary duties, which did not require his being away as much as in former years, would allow.
Among the signs of vocation to his institute, he puts down as the first and most important: "An uncommon love for Jesus suffering and Mary sorrowing." That devotion is the touchstone of a religious call to his sisterhood; it pervades all his own labors, and is constantly recalled to the sisters. "Friday in Passion-week," he says, "is the great festival in the Society of the Friends of Mary. On this day we commemorate the sorrows of our Blessed Lady, caused by the sufferings and death of her Divine Son, our Redeemer. As you are titled Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, you have just cause to claim as your own festive day, that, on which is piously commemorated the grief and sorrow of your Sacred Sorrowful Mother. The Passion of our Lord might be read, in Holy Week, soon after dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday."6 Of this, and other subjects which occupied his vigilant care during the year 1822, when he, so to speak, perfected and put the last finish to his institution, we will speak in p494 the chapter devoted to an appreciation of his spirit.
The rule regulating the election of a Superior-General, provided that a new election should take place every three years. Pursuant to that rule, "the first regular election took place about the feast of the Purification of our Lady, and the installation on the 25th of March, 1822. The Dear Mother was Sister Juliana Wathen. The Mother Superior of Loretto, Sister Ann Hevern. The Mother Superior of Calvary, Sister Reyneldis Hayden. The Mother Superior of Gethsemani, Sister Isabella Clarke. The Mother Superior of Bethania, Sister Bibiana Elder. The Mother Superior of Jericho (in Mechlin, Belgium), Miss Mary Neeffs."7
In the Spring of 1823, Father Nerinckx began the building of a new brick church at Holy Cross, which was to be his crowning work on the Kentucky mission. The log chapel, the first church ever built in Kentucky, by the Rev. Mr. De Rohan in 1790, was in a dilapidated condition, and the catholics had sufficiently increased in numbers and wealth to warrant the undertaking. Father Nerinckx called upon his congregation to organize a bee for the cutting of the necessary timber, and an eye-witness relates that, notwithstanding his sixty-two years, he p495 was as ready as ever to give them a helping hand. When the timber was squared, the farmers assembled with their teams to haul it to the church. One of them, Jim Newton, rather prided himself in his good team, and undertook to start a load which threatened to prove too much for the strength of his animals. The priest, noticing that the lower portion of a fallen tree with roots sticking up (called a root-ward, in Kentucky,) seemed in the road of the team, bade two men to lift it out of the way. "Too heavy," was the prompt reply. The courageous priest, whose strength of body, though much impaired, was still equal to his zeal, insisted upon their trying it, but they had to give it up as a bad job. Father Nerinckx rallied them, good-naturedly, upon the lack of strength of the young generation, and quietly walking up to where the root-ward was lying, he braced himself behind it, took it up in his arms, and threw it forward over the fence; then told Jim to go on with his load. The latter vigorously applied the whip to his spirited horses, but to no avail; they could not start it, and Jim threw anxious side-glances at Father Nerinckx. Finally, turning around, he requested him to retire, saying that, unless he went out of sight, the horses would not pull. The priest was puzzled, and asked what prevented the horses pulling in his presence, but he could elicit no further explanation of the shrewd Kentuckians, who knew well how severe he was on a certain failing common p496 to teamsters; and the priest had to yield and withdraw. As soon as Jim saw him disappear in the forest, and had allowed sufficient time for him to be out of hearing, he cracked his whip over the horses' heads, and launched at them a rather high-sounding expletive, which started them as if by magic. However, Father Nerinckx overheard the curse which the men had tried to drown with shouts, and he gave the abashed woodsman such a sound rebuke, that, forty years later, Jim had not yet forgotten it.
Father Nerinckx continued to superintend the work during the whole of that Summer, and passed much of his time at Holy Cross. On the 9th of June, 1823, he wrote to his brother and sister, in London: "I am, thanks to God, middling well in health, as I hope you are, and as busy as ever if not more so, without any charge of any particular congregation. I wrote to you some particulars that have taken place since my last return from Europe; just now, I am back from a trip I made to Vincennes, •one hundred and eighty miles from this place, where I installed a young French priest as pastor of that place and of the neighborhood. On that occasion, a demand was made for a colony of our sisters for a school. I was requested to build the church of Holy Cross in that congregation; it is now under roof. It will be middling large and neat when finished, but a hard struggle to bring it to that." In a letter to Mother Bibiana of Bethania, dated Loretto, December 22, 1823, p497 he says: "I am but seldom at Loretto; Holy Cross keeps me constantly busy, and has done so nearly four months; I hope it will be finished before long. I want some church utensils for that chapel; but, what is worse, the tidings from Europe seem to put an end to our expectations from that country — my only source of help; so that patience will have to do the main business."
These troubles were, however, compensated in part by the happy tidings from Missouri, where the sisters had been sent the previous Spring, and where they were liked so well that in the same letter Father Nerinckx adds: "The town of St. Louis, Missouri, asks the Loretto nuns for the service of their hospital and orphanage; the society can not refuse these works of charity, but it may be proper to make those that offer themselves sensible of the kind of duty they may have to comply with. The Barrens at the Iron Works call for sisters; Holy Cross chapel wants some also."
In the meantime, God had blessed the work of his faithful servant, and vocations to the sisterhood multiplied; indeed Father Nerinckx stood in need of them all, for applications for sisters came from every quarter. After mentioning the three houses, of which we will now give a short account, in a letter to his brother,8 Father Nerinckx adds; "Four more, p498 at least, are requested; our number grown small, weak, and too young; we have still in all the houses, and particularly at Loretto, a great number of individuals to feed and clothe, and at Loretto barely one that pays for schooling, which amounts to fifty dollars a year; we feel a great scarcity of corn, the price is six times what it used to be."
In February, 1823, a new colony of six sisters, under the superiorship of Mother Agnes Hart, had been sent to Breckinridge county, Ky., where they established a new house, near Hardinsburgh,º called Mount-Carmel.9 After a few years this establishment was removed to Hardin county, near Elizabethtown; and from the fact that the removal was made toward Christmas time, the sisters called their new home Bethlehem; they permanently settled there January 1, 1831.
During that same Winter of 1823, Bishop Dubourg, who had conceived a great idea of Father Nerinckx' virtue when he met him first in St. Thomas' Seminary, in 1817, wrote to him requesting a colony of sisters for his diocese of St. Louis. Early in the Spring, that Prelate went to Georgetown College to ask missionaries for the Indian tribes of Missouri, and invited Father Nerinckx to meet him in Louisville, on p499 his return. It was on his way to that city that the following incident occurred. Its truth is vouched for by Sister Eulalia Kelly, in whose presence the priest himself told it at Calvary Convent, when visiting that community to designate those who had to go to Missouri. Arriving at Salt river, between Bardstown and Louisville, Father Nerinckx found the stream very much swollen in consequence of the heavy rains which attended the mild Spring of 1823. He, however, determined to ford it. Mid-stream his horse was swept from under him by the violence of the current, and the priest was in imminent danger of being drowned, when he loudly invoked the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and lost all consciousness. He stated that he did not know whether he fainted or not, but that when he recovered his senses, he found himself and horse on the opposite side of the river, safe and perfectly dry! His interview with the Bishop in Louisville was most cordial and consoling to both, and arrangements were perfected for the immediate foundation of a new house of the Loretto Sisters, in Perry county, Missouri.
On the 12th day of May, 1823,10 twelve sisters, p500 Sister Joanna Miles, superior, left for the new mission, after having heard Mass and received Holy Communion; and, as it was Loretto's first attempt at colonization out of Kentucky, the Dear Mother Juliana Wathen accompanied them. They reached the Monastery of Gethsemani the same evening, and remained there till the next morning, when Rev. Father Nerinckx said Mass for them, and gave them Holy Communion, after which they resumed their journey, and reached the Convent of Bethania, near Fairfield, Nelson county, that night. Next morning they left Bethania, after Mass and Holy Communion, and arrived the same evening at Louisville, where they were very kindly received by a catholic gentleman, Mr. James Holden, and family. The next day, 15th of May, they were accompanied to the parish church of Louisville by Mr. Holden and Mr. Byrne, went a last time to confession, heard Mass, and were once more strengthened by the reception of the bread of angels; they then took leave of Father Nerinckx and went on board the steamer Cincinnati toward evening. The boat was a very unsafe one; three times during the night were they told to take to the skiffs, as the boat was thought to be sinking; in fact, it did sink on that trip, a few hours after the sisters had disembarked. p501 After a very unpleasant trip of six days, they landed, on the 21st of May, at the house of Mr. Bird,11 and remained there that night. As the little dwelling intended for the sisters was not yet under roof, they were kindly received the next day at the house of Mrs. Sarah Hayden, the mother of one of the sisters belonging to the band,12 where they received the visit of Rev. Joseph Rosati the same day. This reverend gentleman heard their confessions, said Mass for them the next morning, and gave them Holy Communion, and continued that kind office on Sundays and Thursdays during the twenty-three days that they remained at Mrs. Hayden's.
The sisters took possession of their new home, June 14, 1823, when Rev. Father Rosati, with one seminarian, accompanied them to their convent, named it, because of its poverty, Bethlehem, blessed it, and afterward gave them a very appropriate exhortation. The house was a small log cabin, constructed for the sisters by some of the inhabitants, but chiefly by the seminarians and clergymen, among whom were Rev. p502 Mr. Rosati, afterward Bishop of St. Louis, and Rev. Mr. De Neckere, afterward Bishop of New Orleans. It was erected near the parish church, the spot being selected because of its vicinity to a spring. This spring and a few acres of land were donated to the sisters by Mr. Joseph Manning. The poor religious tried to get along the best way they could, but it was up-hill work, and the fever and ague, which prostrated them all during the dry and sickly Summer of that year, made their experience of mission life all the more unpleasant. They had neither chimney nor stove; some forked sticks driven into the ground and covered with green bushes was their only kitchen for about four months. But they had been trained at the school of poverty and mortification, and it must have been a real feast when Dear Mother read to them the following refreshing letter, addressed by their venerable and austere guide, Ref. Father Nerinckx,
"To Dear Mother, Mother Joanna and all the beloved Sisters in Christ Jesus Suffering and Mary Sorrowing, at the new house of Bethlehem. All our very best wishes.
"Loretto, 17th of June, 1823.
"Yesterday, coming from Calvary, I found your four letters at this place. I see, an uncommon providence of God has guided your ways and presided at all things, of which none could p503 have succeeded better. The house not being finished may somewhat interrupt your regular exercises, but I think your presence will encourage the work to have more of it better done, as you will be able to give informationsº how things ought to be. Have it all in a monastery-like manner as much as possible, and separate as far as you can. Beware of elegancy, be satisfied with simplest everywhere except in your chapel, where extreme neatness — still no mundanity, that is, no worldly vanity or levity — ought to be found. You know what this talk and advice means; hold it from your old father.
"I feel happy more than I can express, that my expectations and wishes are so completely accomplished, by your having for a guide so worthy and so suitable a minister of the Lord; may he direct you for many years, and procure you all that bliss and happiness that you look for in the society here and hereafter! Give him my best respects and highest esteem, and offer my deepest veneration to your most excellent Bishop when convenient. Dear Mother will continue in establishing, etc., at Bethlehem, particularly so, if there be, in course of time, a prospect of any new one, which must not be done without your advice. I want you to continue sending informations, if they be of importance, at least once in two months. I received a letter from my countryman, Rev. Mr. p504 Lacroix,13 last week; give him my thanks and compliments when he comes around. I said, and I think I would come and live on the Missouri, if two establishments were made amongst the Indians; but I expect the young Jesuits,14 p505 my countrymen from Georgetown, will fill up this task, as they are gone that way, where the daughters of the Sacred Heartsº are sacrificing their labors.
"I have had a little talk with our Bishop about going once more to Europe. . . .
"I send you all, my dear poor children, my hearty wishes and God's best blessing; mind your happiness, and thank God without ceasing. Pray God that I may join you in heaven.
By the 14th of September, the sisters had a room fitted up for a school, which was opened on the 24th of the same month with six pupils, and another room for a chapel, which enabled them to perform their devotions and hear Mass at home, for, up to this time, they had daily attended the parish church services. When Father Nerinckx visited them in July, 1824, their numbers had increased by the reception of seven orphans, at which the good father was uncommonly well pleased, and augured well for the future of the establishment.15 Before leaving them, he made arrangements for the erection of a large frame church, and his sudden demise did not put a stop to the building. In April, 1825, it was ready for weather-boarding. p506 Boards, doors, window-frames, sashes, shutters, glass, paints — in fact, every thing pertaining to the new building, was on the spot, when the hand of an incendiary set fire to the structure two days before the finishing work was to be resumed, and it was reduced to ashes with all its contents. At this sad disaster, the sisters were very much discouraged; still, they went bravely on, and the next year they got their log-house plastered, built new brick additions, and were, at last, somewhat comfortable.
In the midst of all these trials, the sisters had the consolation of seeing the number of their scholars increase, and of knowing that their unremitting efforts for education were fully appreciated by their ecclesiastical superiors. From the Barrens, the Rev. Mr. Rosati wrote as early as May 24, 1823, to Mr. Dubourg, of Bordeaux, France: "Your very worthy brother (Bishop Dubourg) has just rendered to religion services as important as durable. During his journey to Washington, he secured a colony of Jesuits, who are expected every day. They will be established at Florissant, a French village, •sixteen miles from St. Louis. On his return from Washington, our worthy prelate obtained twelve religious of the diocese of Bardstown. They are already here. We built for them a house, of the style here called log-cabin. They breathe poverty, mortification, and fervor. Their monastery will be a source of blessings to the country. Although p507 we began the establishment without funds, because of the poverty of our catholics, we are not in the least concerned about their sustenance; they will live by the product of their work; they themselves work in the garden, cut their fire-wood, weave the cloth for their dresses, make their own shoes, etc. Their life is very austere, and very edifying. All their establishments, which now number six, in Kentucky, are numerously attended by boarders and day-scholars, and increase in community members with a marvelous rapidity. They number already over one hundred and thirty. God be praised, who deigns to give us, through them, the means to make religion and piety flourish in these regions!"
And August 16th of the same year he wrote again: "I have already spoken to you of the establishment of religious, which, according to the orders of Monseigneur (Dubourg), is made here, •a quarter of a mile from the Seminary. They are now in their new house, and have admitted a few orphans; as soon as the house is finished they will admit boarders and day scholars. You would be edified, my dear sir, if you saw those holy maidens. But what do I say? One sees only their dress, for a veil of coarse linen envelops the whole head. Their dress, furniture, every thing in fact, bespeaks poverty and humility. They work the whole day long, not only sewing, spinning, and weaving, but also working in the field. Perpetual silence, with p508 the exception of an hour's recreation after dinner, and frequent prayer sanctify their day, which is very long, for they get up at four A.M. Every thing about them reminds one of the old solitude of Thebais. Every quarter of an hour one exclaims: 'O Suffering Jesus!' and is answered by the others with 'O Sorrowful Mary!' From time to time they may be heard singing canticles at the sound of the bell, without interrupting their work. Although not cloistered, they are entirely secluded, and our good people respect them so much that they never dare to intrude upon their silence. They go barefooted, have no other dresses but what they make themselves, of dyed linen in Summer and of wool in Winter, and they sleep upon a straw tick, spread on the bare floor. Their fare is not more delicate: no coffee, tea, or sugar. It is a true pleasure to witness their fervor, which equals that of the strictest communities of Europe in the palmiest days of their first establishment. They will, without doubt, draw the blessings of God in the parish. . . . They will also be of great service to the Seminary, weaving linen cloth, etc. Their house consists of three apartments •twenty by eighteen feet, two stories high, two of which are joined together by a passage •twelve by eighteen feet. We intend to build them a little chapel, but I do not know when we will have the means to do so."
Says Bishop Dubourg in a letter to his brother, dated March 20, 1824: "I think I informed p509 you of the fact that a gentleman gave me a small farm at la Fourche, where I desire to establish the Sisters of the Cross,16 of which I have already the goodly number of seventeen in the State of Missouri. Four or five of them at la Fourche will soon swell to a score, which I design distributing in the different parishes, for the instruction of poor girls. This will be a source of incalculable good. The great advantage with these good sisters is that to establish them, it is enough to give them a piece of land, a hut, some farming implements, kitchen utensils, and looms; with these they themselves provide for all their wants, and find the means of giving a solid education to the children, in return for a few provisions furnished by the parents. They even take upon themselves the gratuitous care of destitute orphans. This is the admirable foundation of Mr. Nerinckx of Kentucky."
The Bethlehem establishment was subsequently removed to Cape Girardeau, in 1838.
In April, 1824, a new establishment was made in Casey county, Kentucky, under the name of Mount Olivet. This house existed only four years, under the direction of Mother Dorothea Fenwick, who, in that short time, had to mourn the loss of two of her sisters, viz., Sister Colette Miles and Eusebia Cooms. When the institution p510 was broken up in 1828, the sisters took up their remains and buried them in the graveyard of Calvary Convent. Their spiritual director, Father Derigault, also died of consumption during that time, and Bishop Flaget, who loved him dearly, waited on him day and night for some days previous to his death. He had been buried seventeen months when the sisters left, and his mortal remains were removed to St. Thomas' Seminary burying-ground.
Unceasing in his efforts for the education of all classes, Father Nerinckx had long cherished a desire of establishing, in connection with his Society of the Friends of Mary, an institute of negro sisters, for the especial education of the blacks, whose neglected condition in servitude no one more sincerely deplored. With this end in view, he had caused a few young negro children to be adopted in Loretto; and in May, 1824, he exultingly communicated to Mother Bibiana the good news: "Two days ago, twelve young ladies offered themselves at Loretto for the little veil, amongst them our three blacks, who received nearly all the votes! Their dress is to be different, also the offices and employment, but they keep the main rules of the society; they will take the vows, but not the perpetual ones, before twelve years of profession. Their rules are set apart."17
That this charitable plan of our never tiring p511 missionary was nipped in the bud, with another one for the education of the Indian girls, was owing to circumstances which we shall relate in the following chapter.
1 For the details about the postulants from Maryland, we are indebted to Sister Eulalia Kelly, one of their number, who still zealously performs, at Loretto, Kentucky, the duties of a member of the community, which she took upon herself fifty-six years ago.
2 "Father Nerinckx, Brother Charles, and Mr. Thos. Kelly were also guest at Father Moranville's. The last of many courses at table was a loaf of corn-bread, but such delicious corn-bread was never before eaten, with white grapes from France, and wines. When Father Nerinckx saw the corn-bread, he smiled. Father Moranville said: 'I have ordered the corn-bread in compliment to the young ladies who are going to Kentucky, to show them what kind of bread they will have to eat when they get there.' Another smile from Father Nerinckx, who replied: 'Yes; but the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, living in the wilds of Kentucky, eat their corn-bread without salt, and they leave in it the good bran!' " (Reminiscences of Sister E–––––.)
3 One of the young ladies, later Superior-General of the Society, called in religion Mother Josephine.
4 I trust that the following narrative will not detract from the veracity of the work. In these days of skepticism, it has become the fashion to disbelieve the supernatural; but "God is wonderful in his Saints," and all Saints are not canonized. The whole life of Sister Alexandrina impressed the sister who communicates this occurrence to us, with the truth of what she told her to have happened, and her humility seemed to preclude all hallucination. Father Nerinckx was no enthusiast, and, after due investigation and careful examination into all the circumstances, he believed the vision to have actually taken place.
5 The convent, however, was situated in what is now Spencer county.
6 Oral instructions of Father Nerinckx, taken down by Sister Louisa.
7 Father Nerinckx' journal. This Belgian House had most likely been aggregated to Loretto during Rev. Nerinckx' stay in Belgium, and it consisted of a kind of tertiaries, maidens who lived in the world and observed the Loretto rule as far as practicable in that state. Miss Mary Neeffs (? De Neff) was the daughter of Mr. De Neff, spoken of in chapter XXVI.
8 MS. letter of June 9, 1823.
9 "A heavy share of the expenses of the colony sent to Rev. Mr. Abel, fell again on poor me; it started from here on Ash Wednesday last. This new house is called Mount-Carmel." MS. letter of Rev. Nerinckx, June, 1823.
10 We have adopted the date of the St. Louis record, which coincides with Sister Eulalia's reminiscences. In his letter of June 9, 1823, Father Nerinckx says: "Two weeks ago I was again at Louisville with a colony of twelve sisters, their Mother, and the Dear Mother who went by the steamboat, The Cincinnati, to Louisiana, . . . •seven hundred miles from here by water. Rt. Rev. Mr. Rosati, of the Lazarists, now named Bishop of Alabama is to be their director." The details attending the foundation of this important mission are taken from recollections of Sister Eulalia Kelly, letters of Father Nerinckx, and from a MS. record found in the Chancery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, kindly copied for us by Rev. D. J. Doherty of the cathedral.
12 Sister Mechtildis Hayden was the daughter of the hospitable Mrs. Hayden, at whose house, •three miles from the Seminary, near which Bethlehem Convent was being built, the sisters remained till their dwelling was finished. Mrs. Hayden's parents, and those of her husband, had moved with their families from Pottinger's Creek, in Kentucky, to Missouri, and they had been among the early catholic emigrants from Maryland.
13 Charles De La Croix was born at Hoorebeke, Saint Corneille, Belgium, in 1792. He was preparing for his theological studies, when, owing to the intrusion of the Imperial Bishop into the See of Ghent, he left Belgium. He was soon after apprehended and incorporated in the regiment of the imperial guards. He escaped from Paris, and entered the Diocesan Seminary of Ghent, October 1, 1814, and was there ordained by Bishop Dubourg for the American mission. He arrived in America in 1817; was successively pastor of the Barrens, Mo., and St. Ferdinand and missionary among the Osages till 1823, when he gave up his mission to the Jesuit Fathers, owing to ill-health. He then became pastor of St. Michael's parish (Louisiana), but was soon compelled to give up his charge in 1826, and seek for better health in his native land, where he remained till 1829, when he returned to Louisiana. He resumed his pastoral duties at St. Michael, built there a beautiful chapel, and, upon the death of Bishop De Neckere, obtained leave from Vic. Gen. Blanc to return to Europe in 1834. The rest of his life was passed in Ghent — the Bishop of that See having appointed him a canon of his cathedral — in various duties of the sacred ministry. He died, August 20, 1869.
14 They were: Rev. Fathers Van Quickenborne and Timmermans, with the young men whom Father Nerinckx had brought from Belgium, and Brothers Peter Demeyer, Henry Rysselman, and Charles Strahan. Of these reverend gentlemen Father Nerinckx writes, June 9, 1823: "After our sisters started from Louisville, Kentucky, to St. Louis, Louisiana, the following day arrived, at that place, fourteen Jesuits — two priests, three lay-brothers and nine students — all Flemish, who came in America with me or after me. They come from Georgetown College, with six negroes, to settle at Florissant, on the Missouri, •sixteen miles from St. Louis, which place Bishop Dubourg gives to them, with the missions of the wilds and civilized of that tract. Our sisters, as the Bishop told me, may, before long, be sent to the savages, named the Osages; if they be, I would go and join them."
15 In 1834, some sisters were sent from Bethlehem to take charge of a school at Frederickstown, in Madison county, Mo.; but, as they were unable to procure a deed to the property, they abandoned the place in April, 1837.
16 The Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross. This and the two previous letters, are taken from: "Nouvelles recues des Missions. Association de la Propagation de la Foi. 2me. edition. No. V, pgg. 47, and 51, 52.1825.
17 MSS. of Loretto Convent.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 29 Jul 10