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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Charles Nerinckx

Camillus Maes

published by
Robert Clarke & Co.
Cincinnati, 1880

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 18

 p280  Chapter XVII


Taking the veil. — Sister Monica. — Blessing the church and convent. — "Do not forsake Providence." — Pittsburg stoves. — New postulants. — Protestations of the people. — Bishop Flaget explains.

The 15th day of August, 1813, feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was a day of unusual commotion in the ordinarily quiet settlement on Hardin's Creek. The little log church of St. Charles was crowded to its utmost capacity, and many, unable to gain admission, lined the road, staring wonderingly at the devout procession, which was slowly winding its way from Loretto convent, over the hill to the church. Father Nerinckx was evidently taking more than ordinary interest in the ceremonies of the day, as he stood waiting at the communion railing within the sanctuary. Had not the best sacerdotal apparel which destitution could command bespoken the extraordinary event, the emotion now visible in his usually cold and stern countenance would have betrayed it. Was it a tear of joy he brushed away, when the school children passed two and two up the narrow church  p281 aisle, followed by the five novices, appearing for the first time in their religious dress? Curiosity more than devotion had attracted the forward, pressing crowd; yet, when, at the foot of the altar, Dear Mother Mary, and Sisters Christina, Clare, Ann, and Sarah pronounced, in a firm voice, the holy vows of perpetual Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, which bound them for life to their Heavenly Spouse, the listeners were filled with a reverential awe; they assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that followed, and listened to the earnest words of the priest, with a till then unknown attention and devotion. Father Nerinckx was not himself; his pent-up feelings gave vent in burning words of eloquence which enraptured his listeners, and made them forget for a moment all the empty joys of the world, to live on the emotions of the hour that filled their breasts. "The country was rid of those old maids," indeed; but what was that something which welled up in their hearts, and made them feel such respect — aye, admiration — for the self-sacrificing young ladies? Few stopped to consider it; and they soon forgot the holy impressions of that solemn day, in the usual turmoil of worldly occupations.

But one had heard the voice of the Spirit in her inmost soul; and scarcely had the door of the poor little cabin of Loretto shut upon the five humble sisters, when a gentle rap distracted them from the holy joy of heavenly contemplations  p282 which filled their hearts. What worldling dare intrude on such a day and at such an hour on their sacred solitude, and interrupt their intercourse with God?

Open the door wide open, Dear Mother; another child is gathered to the happy little family. She has tasted of the sweetness of self-denial; her "soul thirsteth for the living God," and will only be satisfied when she is gathered to your bosom as one of your own. Miss Monica Spalding was looked upon by all who knew her as a model of piety and christian modesty. She was a second cousin of Richard Spalding, of Holy Mary's on the Rolling Fork, and was well known by Father Nerinckx. He used to stop at her kinsman's house when saying Mass at Holy Mary's, where he had baptized, three years previously, Richard Spalding's youngest child, Martin John, the future Bishop of Louisville and Archbishop of Baltimore. The sisters also respected her greatly for her virtuous character, and she was accepted as a postulant the same day. After a short trial, she was permitted to become a novice, retaining her christian name of Sister Monica. Fervent in the world, she continued so in religion; plain and unassuming in her manners and conversation, she made herself agreeable to all. The Almighty was pleased to bless her with a long life, nearly fifty years of which she spent in religion.

A short time after Sister Monica became a  p283 novice, a Miss Hayden arrived from Missouri, and begged of Father Nerinckx and the sisters to be received into the society. Far from church and priest, she never had had the opportunity of making her first communion; but no sooner had the news reached her in her distant home, that a sisterhood was established in Kentucky, than, anxious to consecrate herself to God, she started on her long lonely journey, and she had the happiness of receiving her God in her heart the very day on which she pledged to Him her virgin affections by becoming a novice among the Friends of Mary.

As the community increased in numbers, the school became more and more popular and frequented. On his missionary tours, Father Nerinckx would often expatiate on the advantages of a catholic education, and he prevailed upon many parents to send their girls to Loretto in order to have them receive the catholic instruction and literary training which they could not procure for them in their new settlements. Upon returning to their homes, these young ladies were a great help to the missionary priest, who intrusted to them, during his absence, the catechetical instruction of the children. Their proficiency in reading and writing and their polished manners also favorably impressed the parents, and induced many more to procure for their children the same priceless boon of a convent education.

This induced Father Nerinckx to think seriously  p284 about the necessity of increasing the boarding facilities of his now flourishing institution; and it being impossible to collect the necessary funds among his people, he again applied to Bishop Flaget for permission to go to Europe to solicit the required help. His request was granted in the Spring of 1814, and Father Nerinckx at once set to work completing the only unfinished buildings, viz.: the church and convent. He soon had the church adorned inside, as well as his scanty means would allow, and ready for services. The altar being built, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was again transferred, from the oratory in the kitchen building, to an honorable place above the tabernacle. The bell belonging to Father Nerinckx, and which, up to that time, had remained at Father Badin's dwelling, was carried home and placed in the handsome little steeple gracing the middle of the roof. Its silvery tones rang out sweet and joyful when, a few days after, Bishop Flaget blessed the church and convent, into which the sisters moved the same day, giving it the title of Little Loretto. Every thing now being ready, and the Bishop having volunteered to attend as best he could to his numerous congregations scattered far and wide, Father Nerinckx set out for Baltimore. Here he had the happiness of paying his respects to his Grace, Archbishop Carroll, whom he had not seen since he first set out for his Western missionary home. The Archbishop received him  p285 with the utmost kindness, and having learned the object of his coming, urged him strongly to defer his trip until the war with England would have ceased; because, apart from the danger of his being captured by the British, the high seas were just then also infested with Algerian pirates. Father Nerinckx promptly complied with the advice of the good prelate, and he hastened home again, where he was welcomed with the most unequivocal demonstrations of joy by sisters and people.

He at once resumed his accustomed labors. The prospects were rather gloomy: no means on hand, debts incurred for the latest improvements; no land cleared; how could the sisters be sustained? Who would clear the land for them? But, always full of confidence in God, Father Nerinckx struggled bravely on; and to those who would fain have discouraged him, by asking how he would manage to keep up the struggling institution, he invariably answered with his now famous motto: "Do not forsake Providence, and He will never forsake you." Nor was he deceived.

An old widowed lady of most virtuous life, Mrs. Ryan by name, having been received among the novices, her aged brother, Mr. Vincent Gates, soon after offered to Father Nerinckx his life-long services for the benefit of Loretto convent. Being of an irreproachable character, he readily obtained Father Nerinckx' consent to live in the middle cabin near the garden;  p286 and, helped at times by the priest, he set to work clearing the land around the convent home, and procuring for the sisters' use the firewood which, up to this time, they had had to cut themselves. A horse, the gift of Bishop Flaget, was a welcome addition to their means of support, and, though partly blind, became a valuable aid in hauling logs and in plowing up the limited clearings. Under the interested and careful management of old Mr. Gates, the farm soon yielded the vegetables, continuation, and flax for the use of the house. Having received a small amount of money from Europe, Father Nerinckx also sent, in 1814, for the first stoves introduced into Kentucky. They were shipped on the Ohio, all the way from Pittsburg, and cost him $100 apiece, besides freight charges!

In the meantime, the school flourished beyond all expectations under the wise superintendence of Sister Clare. The young ladies made rapid progress not only in learning, but especially in virtue. Daily witnesses of the austere life and virtuous demeanor of their teachers, they could not but feel the beneficial effects of their example, and they formed themselves into sodalities and other pious associations, which soon bore their happy fruits. Early in 1815, Miss Ann Hart, who had been a pupil at Loretto, where she had qualified herself to teach a school in the neighborhood of her parents' home in Breckinridge county, returned to the convent for the ostensible purpose of pursuing her studies, but in  p287 reality with the intention of joining the sisterhood. When she was yet a scholar in the institution, her parents had prevented her from becoming a nun, alleging that she was too young. She was now independent, being of age; and, upon her earnest solicitation, she was admitted temporarily into the community with the consent of Father Nerinckx, who advised her parents of the step she intended to take. Her father came to Loretto, had a private interview with her, and, having declared himself perfectly satisfied as to the call of his child to a religious life, the new postulant soon received the habit and took the name of sister Agnes.

Her example was not lost on the other pupils. The greater number, indeed, returned to the world, fully prepared to battle with life, becoming the joy and pride of their parents, and, in the course of time, the respected mothers of exemplary catholic families. But that same year, three of the boarders, only fifteen years of age, manifested a wish to join the sisterhood. They had deliberated earnestly and for three years on this most important step, and, although young in years, had, under the solid training of the sisters and the austere discipline of Father Nerinckx, become much more grave in disposition and sedate in manners than many a young girl of mature age. Their minds were fully made up, and their entreaties to be received as postulants were so persistent that, with the consent  p288 of their parents, they were admitted on probation.

Hitherto, the ceremony of taking the veil and making the vows had been performed in St. Charles church. When the time came for the young ladies to be admitted as novices, Father Nerinckx gave orders to have it done in the convent chapel, which had by this time received all the interior decorations which poverty could well bestow upon the house of God. In consequence, Misses Ann Clarke, Esther Grundy, and Ann Wathen, emphatically the children of Loretto and the institution's offering of first fruits, had the well-merited happiness of being the first to consecrate themselves to God in the convent chapel. Father Nerinckx gave them the names respectively of Sisters Isabella, Theresa, and Juliana. The day of their reception was one of unclouded happiness and inexpressible joy for sisters and children, and for Father Nerinckx, it was an unmistakable token that Providence had blessed his work.

The whole thing passed off to the satisfaction of all parties concerned; but as usual, the outside world, ever narrow and mercenary in its views, and ready to unwarrantably interfere, assumed the privilege of a word or two on the subject. Everywhere and at all times abusive and inconsistent, the worldlings, who a few months ago congratulated themselves and Kentucky at large upon old priest Nerinckx' ridding the country of its old maids, and held him up to  p289 the ridicule of their fellow-men, now censured him severely — aye, threatened him publicly with their vengeance — for thus taking from their midst the youthful and promising portion of the community, the hope and pride of their families, and shutting them up in a nunnery to pine away and wear out their lives in a few short years by austerity and penance. Good old Sister Isabella could afford to laugh at their idle fears when, sixty years later, she lived to remember and relate to the writer these wild predictions of men who had then rested for many long years under the green sod.

However, their clamorous protestations grew so loud and fierce that Bishop Flaget thought it his duty to interfere. The announcement that the Bishop, who, in the short time since his arrival in the country, had completely gained their good will, was to officiate in St. Charles, brought a great concourse of people to the church on that particular Sunday. The prelate ascended the pulpit after the Gospel amidst the breathless expectation of the curious auditory. He commenced by congratulating the congregation upon the great advantages which the possession of a convent would confer upon themselves and their children. He feelingly expatiated on the happy results and lasting benefits which their families would derive from the teachings of the sisters, and sketched the vocation of a religious and teacher of the ignorant in such glowing  p290 colors, that many a mother felt aggrieved that such a glorious career was not in store for her daughter. He then gained the men over to the cause of religion and education, by reflecting severely upon the unjust attacks made by certain parties against their pastor, for allowing young ladies to be free in the choice of their own vocation, whilst these very men had not a word of blame for parents who would compel their daughters to enter the matrimonial state against their wishes and make them miserable for life. In the case in point, the postulants were able to choose for themselves, and had the fullest consent of their parents. Young ladies would never be received into the society as long as parents or guardians had any reasonable objection to offer; but when they were of age, and no serious objection could be urged against their admission, no catholic priest would prevent them from following the will of God; it would be a downright folly to blame the priest for accepting them, and an intolerable tyranny to curtail their freedom.

This address of the Bishop somewhat checked the outspoken complaints of the fault-finders, his clear reasoning on the subject precluding all specious objections; and the young ladies who had been the innocent cause of this outburst of fanatic indignation and of unasked-for pity, joyously entered upon the duties of their new state of life. The high hopes which Father Nerinckx had conceived of them and which the devil  p291 had tried so hard to thwart, were subsequently more than fulfilled. Two of them lived to become Dear Mothers or Superiors General of the Friends of Mary; the third one had the honor of establishing the second branch-house of the society, and the happiness of securing its permanent usefulness under her short but saintly administration.

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