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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
New Orleans:
The Place and the People

Grace King

published by The Macmillan Company
New York, 1926

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 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

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Sun dial at the Ursuline convent.

 p51  Chapter IV
The Ursuline Sisters

From the beginning, the Mobile days of the colony, the emigration of women being always meagre, there had been a constant appeal to the mother country for that requisite colonial settlement, — wives. The Canadians of position, who were married, brought their wives with them to Louisiana, and many of them had grown daughters who naturally became the wives of the young Canadians, also in good position. The French officers, younger sons of noble families, who could only marry their equals, led their life of bachelorhood in gay and frolicsome unconcern, the absence of wives being, it is feared, by them considered a dispensation rather than a deprivation. But for the rough, the crude human material of the colony, the hardy pioneers of the axe and the hatchet, there could be no possibility of domesticity in their log cabins, unless a paternal government came to their aid. "With wives," wrote Iberville, "I will  p52 anchor the roving coureurs de bois into sturdy colonists." "Send me wives for my Canadians," wrote Bienville; "they are running in the woods after Indian girls."​a "Let us sanction with religion marriage with Indian girls," wrote the priests, "or send wives of their own kind to the young men." And from time to time the paternal government would respond, and ships would be freighted in France, and sail as in an allegory, to the port of Hymen. Of all the voyages across the ocean, in those days, none so stirs the imagination or the heart of the women to‑day. And upon no colonial scene has the musing hour of women been so prolific of fancy as upon the arrival of a girl-freighted ship in the matrimonial haven.

Dumont, who, like Du Pratz, threw his experiences in the colony into the form of a history, describes the arrival of such a vessel, but he looked at it with the eyes of the dashing young officer that he was, and not through the illusions that would have made it sensational to a woman. What heart and brain shadowings must have appeared on the faces of these emigrants, in a double sense of the word; thoughts and plans, fears and hopes, — above all, hopes, for the hopes predominate always over the fears of women sailing to the port of Hymen, — even of the most timid, the most ignorant, the most innocent women. And even, too, of the others who came, for tradition says and we know there was more than one Manon deported for the certain good of one country, and possible good of the other; . . . even these women, whatever shame and disgrace they may have left behind, their hearts must still have hoped, aspired. Here was indeed a new world for them, a new life, a new future, a new chance for immortality.  p53 There would be no past here, that is, no tangible past, and so a forgettable past. "When they were landed," Dumont writes: "they were all lodged in the same house, with a sentinel at the door. They were permitted to be seen during the day in order that a choice might be made, but as soon as night fell, all access to them was guarded à toutes forces. It was not long before they were married and provided for. Indeed, their number never agreed with the number of aspirants that presented themselves. The last one left on this occasion became the subject of contest between two young bachelors who wanted to settle it by a fight, although the Hebe was anything but beautiful, looking much more like a guardsman than a girl. The affair coming to the ears of the commandant, he made the rivals draw lots for her.

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Front view of the Ursuline convent.

 p54  Once, one of the girls sent out refused to marry, although, as Bienville wrote, "many good partis had been offered to her." And thus, also, this girl has been a fruitful theme for idle feminine musings breeding the still more idle longings to know more of her, her name, her reasons, her after life. And in this connection there comes also to the mind a quaint fragment in the voluminous complaints and accusations against Bienville, written by his enemies to the home government. It is a letter from the superior of the Grey Sisters, who had been sent out in charge of a cargo of girls; and she says that the Sieur de Boisbriant, a kinsman of Bienville's, had had the intention of marrying her; but that M. de Bienville and his brother has prevented him; and she was sure M. de Bienville had not the qualities needful for a governor of Louisiana.

In the course of twenty-five years these women created the need of other women. There were children in the colony now, and wives, home wives, or as we might say, Creole wives, to be educated for the Creole youths; there were orphans to be reared, the old and infirm must be cared for; so again recourse was had to the mother country, and an appeal made for women, but not wives, — sisters. And the Company of the West, through the Jesuit father in New Orleans, M. Beaubois, contracted with the Ursulines of Rouen for the establishment of a convent of their order in New Orleans.

It is with feelings of the tenderest veneration and pride that the Louisianans tell of the Ursuline sisters. They are the spiritual mothers of the real mothers of Louisiana. It is with intent that their advent in the colony has been chronicled in this way, just after and in  p55 connection with those rude pioneer efforts to establish homes and domestic life in a new and still barbarous country; it seems proper that the mission of nature should serve as introduction to the mission of grace. To say that the convent of our good Ursulines of New Orleans is the oldest establishment in the United States for the education of young ladies, that it made the first systematic attempt to teach Indian and negro girls, that it was founded in 1727 under the auspices of Louis XV, and that the brevet from that monarch is still to be seen among the archives of the convent, — to say this seems to express so little; it is only the necessary, that skeleton, a historical fact. It is not that way that one begins the story of the Ursulines in Louisiana; one always begins with Madeleine Hachard.

Madeleine Hachard was a young postulant in the Ursuline convent of Rouen, who obtained the consent of her father to accompany the mission to Louisiana. On account of her facility with her pen, and, we are quite sure of it, on account of her constant, hearty, and cheerful amiability, she was selected by the superior, Mother Tranchepain, to act as her secretary and write the reports of the mission to the mother convent in France. But while Mother Superior Tranchepain dictated, her mind fixed on her convent and her mission, the young sister Madeleine wrote, her thoughts fixed on her dear father and all her good sisters and brothers in Rouen; and for every letter from the mother superior to her spiritual relations, we have one from Madeleine to her natural ones, — the same letters, with only the interpolations of endearments and careless variations of a mind unconsciously copying. Her good parents in Rouen, pleased beyond measure with  p56 their daughter's epistolary talent, and proud of her wondrous experiences, had the letters published immediately, for the print bears the date of 1728. Mother Tranchepain's letters were published later, and thus Madeleine's innocent plagiarisms were brought to light.

The reverend Mothers Tranchepain, Jude, and Boulanger, chosen respectively for superior, assistant and depository, went to Paris in advance, to sign the contract with the gentlemen of the Company of the Indies. They were joined in Paris by Madeleine Hachard, Madame St. François Xavier, of the Ursulines of Havre, and Madame Cavelier of Rouen, from the community of Elboeuf. One cannot forbear the surmise that this latter belonged to the family of Robert Cavelier de la Salle, and joined the mission through hereditary affinity for Louisiana. It was on Thursday, the 24th of October, 1726, when Madeleine took the stage from Rouen, that her mission to Louisiana — that is, her wondrous adventures — began. Nothing but the fear of garrulity can excuse the churlishness of not giving her account of it, — how they arrived in Paris, at four o'clock of the afternoon, at the place where the stage stops, and found the portress of the Ursulines of St. Jacques waiting for them, and that she had been waiting for them ever since nine o'clock in the morning. And how, during their forced stay of a month in Paris, the comforts and interests of the convent life there tempted her almost to feel temptedº to accept the invitation of the mother superior of St. Jacques, and give up the mission to Louisiana. But, on the 8th of December, at five o'clock in the morning, the coach for Brittany stopped at the convent door for them, and the sisters took their places in it for Lorient.  p57 The consciousness of the eventfulness of her journey thrills Madeleine through every moment of it, and (this was before her official duties had commenced) her only fear is that she will forget to tell her father some happening of it. It should have been explained that the reverend Father Doutreleau and Brother Crucy, Jesuits, who were also going to Louisiana, accompanied the Ursulines.

To commence with, they dined at Versailles and visited the magnificent palace of the King, and saw so much to glut their curiosity and wonder, that the young novice had a possessing thought that she should shut her eyes to mortify the flesh. The next day's adventure was furnished by a good-looking cavalier, who, pursuing the same route as they, proposed to pay for and occupy the vacant seat in their vehicle, instead, as he said, to pass the time more agreeably in such pleasant company. His proposition was not received with enthusiasm by the agreeable company, however, and Father Doutreleau gave him to understand that the ladies observed a three hours' silence every morning and evening. The cavalier replied that if the ladies did not wish to talk, he would entertain himself with Brother Crucy. But, when he made himself known as the president of Mayenne, where their boxes, valises, and packages were to be examined, they all clearly saw that they would have need of him, and not only no more demur was made to his joining the party, but they entertained him so well that, on their arrival at Mayenne, their luggage was put through the customs in a trice. We must not forget to say, — as Madeleine did until the end of her letter, — that the six hours of silence announced by the priest were not scrupulously observed during the episode, by the ladies.

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Back of the old Ursuline convent now used as the Archbishop's Palace.

 p58  They then passed that dangerous place where, eight days before, the stage from Caen to Paris had been robbed. And after that, the roads becoming more and more impassable, they had to start long before day and travel late into the night. Once, on the road, at three o'clock in the morning, their coach bogged, before they had gone two miles, and while it was being dragged out by a reinforcement to their twelve horses of twenty-one oxen, the party walked on. After three miles on foot, they found themselves very cold and tired, but not a house was to be seen to grant them warmth and rest; so they were obliged to sit on the ground, and Father Doutreleau, mounting a convenient elevation, began, like another St. John the Baptist, to preach to them, exhorting them to penitence; but, as Madeleine, what they needed was patience, not penitence. Resuming their march, they finally, to their great joy, discovered a little cottage in which there was only one poor old woman, in bed, and it was not without many  p59 prayers and promises that she allowed them to enter. She had neither wood nor candle, and the weary, frozen pilgrims were forced to content themselves with a fire of straw, by the light of which the reverend father read his breviary, while the rest waited for daylight. The stage did not come up with them until ten o'clock; and even then, most of that day's journey was performed on foot. But, in spite of their fatigue, Madeleine says they never left off laughing; amusing adventures constantly happening to them. They were mud up to their very ears; and the funniest part of this was the veils of the two mothers, which were spotted all over by the whitish clay, giving the wearers a most comical appearance. And so on: every night a new town, a different tavern, or a different convent to stop in; every day a new page of adventures. During a visit to one of the convents, Father Doutreleau was taken by the superior for a priest of the Oratory, and, as no one corrected the mistake, there was much private merriment over it.

Sister Madeleine here remembers that she has again forgotten to give her father an important detail, — that all the way from Paris, Brother Crucy and she have been at war. When they left Paris, his superior had charged her to be Brother Crucy's director, and the superior at St. Jacques had charged Brother Crucy to be Madeleine's director, — and so they were equipped for many mischievous sallies at one another's expense, contributing not a little to the general gaiety and amusement. But, to quote Madeleine again, when one travels, one laughs at everything.

They remained at the convent in Hennebon until their vessel at Lorient was ready to sail, and here Madeleine took the veil, her novitiate being shortened  p60 as a special favour. She signs herself henceforth, "Hachard de St. Stanislas."

Three Ursulines joined the mission here, which raised its number to eight sisters, two postulants, and a servant. The Jesuits were taking with them to Louisiana several mechanics; "as for us, my dear father, do not be scandalized, it is the fashion of the country, we are taking a Moor to serve us, and we are also taking a very pretty little cat that wanted to join the community, suing apparently, in Louisiana as in France, there are rats and mice. . . . Our reverend fathers do not wish us to say 'our,' as you know it is used in the convent, because they say the first thing we know we will hear the sailors making fun of us, with 'our soup,' 'our cup,' and so on. And, as it happens, ever since it has been forbidden us, I cannot prevent myself from using 'our' even to saying 'our nose.' Father Tartarin (one of the Jesuits bound for Louisiana) often says to me, 'My sister, lift up our head.' "

At last, "the day, the great day, the longed for day," arrived, when word was sent from Lorient that they must get ready to embark in an hour. The joy of all was inexpressible, but poor Madeleine's grief at leaving her parents breaks out in a sob at the end of her letter. She assures them that the voice of God alone could have separated her from them, and begs them, "in mercy, not to forget their daughter."

Her second letter was dated from New Orleans, and gives an account of the voyage across the ocean. Surely, sailors were never better justified in their superstition of the Jonah luck of priests, and it does seem that Jonah's eventual escape was no more miraculous than that of our band of missionaries. To begin with the  p61 first alarm, the "Gironde" struck on the rocks just outside of Lorient, and almost went to pieces forthwith, in the estimation of the frightened passengers. The winds then commenced their malificº contrariness, and beat directly against their route and kept the ship pitching so violently, that the sisters not only could not prevent their food from upsetting at table, but could not prevent themselves from being thrown one against the other. But neither this, nor their sea-sickness, nor their uncomfortable quarters (all six in a cabin, eighteen by six) could destroy their good humour nor arrest their laughter; and in all the trying experiences, still to be endured, the mother superior never once lost her calmness and courage, nor for a moment regretted the holy mission she had undertaken.

A terrible storm caused the death of most of the live stock, and the fare was reduced from the beginning to short rations of rice, beans cooked with suet, as they had no butter, salt meat, and pork so bad that they could not eat it; and even this did not, in Madeleine's chronicle, depress their spirits. In fifteen days, they did not make the progress of three, so the water and bread had to be measured out to them. A short stop was made at Madeira, where the supplies were replenished. But, two days after leaving the island, while the wind beat again directly against them, a pirate was sighted! Immediately preparations were made for a fight. Each man armed himself and took his position; the cannon were loaded. It was decided that during the engagement the nuns should remain shut up below. The secular women, there were three of them aboard, dressed themselves in men's  p62 clothing and pluckily joined the combatants. Père Tartarin stationed himself at the stern, Père Doutreleau at the bow, Brother Crucy on the bridge to pay out ammunition to the men. "All these warriors, armed to the teeth, were admirable in their courage. . . . As for us, our only arms were the chaplets in our hands. We were not cast down, thanks be to the Lord! and not one of us showed any weakness. We were charmed to see the courage of our officers and passengers, who, it seemed to us, were going to crush the enemy at the first blow." . . . All the doughty preparations, fortunately, were useless, the suspicious vessel, after much circling and doubling, concluding to retire. . . . And they had a similar alarm afterwards. On Good Friday they crossed the tropic, and the usual burlesque ceremonies were deferred. Instead, there was a devout adoration of the cross, observed by the nuns, walking barefoot, the priests, officers, passengers, and crew. On the feast of the Holy Sacrament​b there was a pretty procession on deck.

As if possessed by a mocking devil, the sea grew more and more violent and threatening, and the sisters had to tie themselves in bed to stay there, and their promised land seemed more inaccessible than ever. It is a surprise that the "Gironde" arrived even at St. Domingo. Here they laid in another supply of provisions, and loaded with a cargo of sugar, the nuns and priests each receiving a present of a barrel. The Gulf of Mexico had its pirates for them also, and to the contrary winds of the Atlantic it added its own contrary currents and deathly tropical calms. Borne out of their course  p63 they came in sight of an island which was taken for Dauphin Island; close upon the mouth of the Mississippi. The sisters were all on deck yielding without restraint to their feelings of joy, when all of a sudden the vessel grounded and with such a shock that "we took our rosaries and said our 'In manus'c believing that all was over and that our Ursuline establishment would be made then and there." In vain every manoeuvre was tried to move the ship; she only settled deeper and deeper into the sand. The captain decided to lighten her. The cannon were thrown over, the ballast; the luggage was to go next; the nuns resigning themselves heartily, "in order to endure the greater poverty" — but the sugar was selected as a sacrifice, and the whole cargo, even to the barrels given to the nuns and priests, went into the Gulf. Still, the vessel did not budge, and again the luggage was doomed, and again, with the permission of God and the protection of the Holy Virgin, the liquor belonging to the Company was substituted; and a lot more of ballast found somewhere.

Madeleine understood that they were not to go ashore in the island, except in case of dire necessity, because it was inhabited by cannibals, who would not only eat them, but put them through preliminary tortures. The "Gironde," by the help of the rising tide, was finally eased away; and so proceeded hopefully to its next accident, on another sandbar, against which it beat and thumped so fearfully that there could be absolutely no hope now except in the almightiness of God. Even the captain was astonished that the vessel could stand it, saying that nine ships out of ten would have gone to pieces; that the "Gironde" must be made of iron.  p64 Every one fell to praying, no matter where, each one making vows to no matter whom, — "all being in such a state of confusion and alarm that we could not agree upon any particular saint to recommend ourselves to. . . . Most of us were at the feet of our amiable superior, who represented to us that we ought to have less trouble than the others in suffering death, since before embarking we had made the perfect and entire sacrifice of our life to the Lord. . . ." The vessel was again delivered from the jaws of destruction, but all these delays had exhausted the supply of water, which had to be measured out, a pint a day to each person. As the heat was intense, there was great suffering from thirst.

Five months to a day after leaving France, the "Gironde" anchored in the harbour of the Balise. The nuns, with their luggage, in two barges, proceeded towards the establishment of the commandant, where they were to remain until boats could be procured from New Orleans for them. But their troubles pursued them still; the sea was rough, the wind against them, the barges too heavily loaded, and the sailors drunk. The poor women were glad enough to be put ashore at a little half-acre of an island in the mouth of the river, where Madeleine records that in their lives they had never heard men curse so fluently as these sailors did. The commandant sent his own pirogue for them, and this time they reached their resting-place.

After a week's waiting, boats arrived from New Orleans for them, two pirogues and a barge. They were seven days on the river; and even the intrepid Madeleine confesses that all the fatigues of the "Gironde" were nothing in comparison to those now experienced.  p65 Every day they stopped one hour before sunset, in order to get to bed before the mosquitoes — Messieurs les Maringouins — and the Frappe d'abords commenced operations. The oarsmen made their mosquito baires for them, by bending long canes, fixing the ends in the ground over their mattresses, and covering the frame with a linen which they securely tucked in all around. (Baire is still the Creole, bar the American, name for a mosquito netting.) Twice the mattresses were laid in mud; and once, a heavy storm breaking out in the night and pouring through their bars, Madeleine declares that they floated. During the day it was barely more comfortable. The pirogues were piled high with freight, upon the top of which the nuns perched in a cramped position, not daring to move for fear of upsetting the boat and going to feed the fish. Their food was trappers' fare, biscuit and salt meat. Madeleine, writing after it was all over, gives the true traveller's sigh of satisfaction, however: "All these little troubles are trying at the time, but one is well recompensed for it in the end by the pleasure one takes in telling of them, each one recounting his own adventures. . . ."

The whole colony was immeasurably surprised to hear of the safe arrival of the nuns, the "Gironde" being given up long ago for lost. As it was five o'clock in the morning when their boats touched the landing, few people were there to meet them.

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Tiled roof house on Chartres St.

The convent that was being built by the Company was far from completion, so Bienville's hotel was rented for them. Madeleine describes it to her father: "The finest house in the town; a two‑story building with an attic, . . . with six doors in the first story.  p66 In all the stories there are large windows, but with no glass; the frames are closed with very thin linen, which admits as much light as glass. Our town," she continues, "is very handsome, well constructed and regularly built, as much as I could judge on the day of our arrival; for, ever since that day we have remained cloistered in our dwelling. . . . The streets are large and straight; . . . the houses well built, with upright joists, filled with mortar between the interstices, and the exterior whitewashed with lime. In the interior they are wainscotted. . . . The colonists are very proud of their capital. Suffice it to say that there is a song currently sung here, which emphatically declares that New Orleans is as beautiful as Paris. Beyond that it is impossible to go. . . . The women here are extremely ignorant as to the means of securing their salvation, but they are very expert in the art of displaying their beauty. There is so much luxury in this town that there is no distinction among the classes so  p67 far as dress goes. The magnificence of display is equal in all. Most of them reduce themselves and their family to the hard lot of living at home on nothing but sagamity, and flaunt abroad in robes of velvet and damask, ornamented with the most costly ribbons. They paint and rouge to hide the ravages of time, and wear on their faces, as embellishment, small black patches."

In another letter she finds it impossible to realize that she is in Louisiana, there being "as much magnificence and politeness" there as in France, and gold and silver stuffs in common wear, although costing three times as much as in the mother country. As for food, she rattles off an astounding list for the good Rouennais ears: wild beef, venison, swans, geese, fowls, ducks, sarcelles, pheasants, partridges, cailles, and fish: cat ('an excellent fish'), carp, bass, salmon, besides infinite varieties not known in France. For vegetables and fruits there were wild peas and beans, and rice; pineapples, watermelons, potatoes, sabotins (a kind of egg-plant), figs, bananas, pecans, pumpkins. . . . They drank chocolate and café au lait every day, and were accustoming themselves wonderfully well to the "native food of the country," bread made of rice or corn and mixed with flour, wild grapes, muscadines or socos, but principally riz au lait and sagamity; hominy cooked with grease and pieces of meat or fish (the original of the Creole Jambalaya, in which rice has since most toothsomely substituted for corn).

Tradition asserts that the Ursulines did not long remain in Bienville's hotel, finding it too small. As soon as a sufficient building could be hastily constructed, they removed to the plantation given them,  p68 whose location is commemorated by those two quaint straggling thoroughfares in the lower part of the city, Nun and Religious streets.

The colonists, delighted to be relieved of the expense of sending their daughters to France for an education, soon provided the Ursulines with all the scholars they could attend to. Seeing the young negro and Indian girls growing up in ignorance and idleness about them, the good sisters gathered them into the convent of afternoons, formed them into classes, and taught them their letters, catechism, and sewing. The orphanage was opened, and the care of the sick in the hospital immediately taken in hand. And the year following, the governor gave them charge of the last shipment of girls sent by the mother country. This was an interesting lot of sixty, who, intended as wives only for young men of established character and means, were of authenticated spotless reputation, having been carefully selected from good families. They are known as "les filles à la cassette," from the little trunk or cassette, containing a trousseau, given each one by the Company. They stayed in the convent while the young men of character and means availed themselves of the notable opportunity offered. Here and there in the state, tracing up some Creole family, one comes to a "fille à la cassette"; and it is a tribute to the careful selection of the Company that she seems always found maintaining the recommendation of her good reputation and that of her family. Almost at the same time the Natchez massacre sent a boatload of orphans to the asylum. Indeed, as the items and records roll into the convent, and one looks back upon its manifold ministrations, and sees the nucleus of good that it was,  p69 one must conclude that one might as well try to found a city without wives as without sisters.

It took seven years for the company to finish the convent. In the meantime, the administrators of the Company of the West had surrendered the Louisiana Charter, and the colony had once more returned into the wardship of the royal government. Pontchartrain immediately reinstated Bienville in his old position of governor. It was he, therefore, who, in July, 1734, formally handed over the new convent to the Ursulines, and installed them therein. We see his fondness for ceremony and state in the account of it: At five o'clock in the afternoon the convent bells rang forth a merry peal. The colonial troops marched up and ranged themselves on each side of the gate. Bienville, with the intendant and a suite of distinguished citizens, arrived to serve as escort. The chapel doors opened and the procession filed out. First came the citizens; after them the children of the orphanage and day school, followed by forty ladies of the city, all holding lighted tapers and singing hymns. Then came twenty young girls dressed in white, preceding twelve others in snow white robes and veils, bearing palm branches, representing St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins, attended by little girls dressed as angels. The young lady who personated St. Ursula wore a costly robe and mantle, and a crown glittering with diamonds and pearls, from which hung a rich veil; in her hand she carried a heart pierced with an arrow. Then came the nineteen Ursulines, in their choir mantles and veils, holding lighted candles; after them the clergy bearing the sacrament under a rich canopy. Bienville, the intendant, and the military officers, all with lighted  p70 candles, walked at the head of the royal troops, which closed the procession, their drums and trumpets blending with the chanting of the nuns and priests ahead of them. As soon as they came in sight of the new building, its bells began a chime of welcome, joining in with the fifes, drums, trumpets, and singing. That new convent is the present Archbishopric, — the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, the oldest conventual structure in the United States. As much as a building can, it may be said to be indigenous to the soil. Its sturdy walls are of home-made brick, the beams and rafters are rough-hewn cypresses that grew, perhaps, on the very spot where not they support their ecclesiastical burden; the bolts, bars, nails, hinges, and balustrades are of iron, handwrought in the government workshops by brute African slaves, as they were then designated.

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Interior of the Archbishop's Palace.

Here Madeleine Hachard lived until 1762, when she  p71 returned to France. For ninety years the gentle sisters here pursued their devotional works among the women most the colony, sowing the seeds of education and religion, until, generation after generation passing through their hands, — daughters, grand-daughters, great-grand‑daughters, rich and poor, brides for governors and officers, noble and base, bourgeoise and military, — they have become a hereditary force in the colony and state; and in truth it is not an exaggeration to say that there is no Louisiana woman living to‑day who, directly or indirectly, is not beholden, for some virtue, charm, or accomplishment, to that devoted band who struggled across the ocean in the "Gironde."

Panics of Indian massacres, and slave insurrections, wars, revolutions and epidemics, have beat about the old convent walls, without power to disturb the sacred vocation within. Through them the sisters heard the shouts of the frantic population huzzaing over their expulsion of hated Ulloa. From their windows they saw his ship pass down the river; and from the same windows they watched O'Reilly's twenty sail pass up. They saw the banner of France descend from its staff in the Place d'Armes, and the gold and red of Spain unfold its domination to the breeze; and it was in the sanctuary, behind these walls, that on their knees they heard the musket shots, in the barracks yard near by, that despatched the six patriots out of life. They saw the flag of Spain replaced by the Tricolor of the French Republic, and the Tricolor by the Stars and Stripes of the American Republic. It must have seemed to them — particularly to that one old sister who lived through it all, to shake hands with Jackson in 1815 — that no government in the community was steadfast  p72 except that of St. Ursula, nothing lasting in life save the mission of wives and sisters.

Here, during the never to be forgotten days of 1814‑15, they listened to the cannonading from the battlefields below, where a handful of Americans were standing up against the mighty men of valour of Great Britain, and when the day of Chalmette came, with anxious eyes they watched from their dormer windows and balconies the smoke rising from the battlefield, the rosary slipping through their fingers, their lips muttering vows, prayers, invocations. All night long they had knelt before their chapel altar, and they had brought and placed over the entrance of their convent their precious image of "Our Lady of Prompt Succour."​d Twice before she had miraculously rescued them, and preserved their entrance inviolate, and saved the little city, so hard pressed by overwhelming numbers. And when General Jackson left the Cathedral door after the solemn high mass and thanksgiving for his victory, he failed not to go to the convent, and pay his respects to the sisters, and thank them for their vows and prayers. They then had opened their doors wide and turned their schoolrooms into infirmaries for sick and wounded of both armies, upon whom they were lavishing every care.

Every year since, on the 8th of January, high mass is celebrated and a Te Deum sung for the victory, with a special devotion to "Our Lady of Prompt Succour." This annual devotion, erected into a confraternity of Our Lady of Prompt Succour, has spread throughout the United States, and now, in this year of 1895, the  p73 Sovereign Pontiff has conferred the privilege of solemn coronation upon the statue of the divine patroness of New Orleans, a privilege restricted to the most renowned shrines alone of Christendom, and the first of the kind to take place in the United States.

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Knocker on porter's lodge, Archbishop's Palace.
In 1824 the Ursulines removed to their present establishment on the river bank, then three miles below, now well inside, the city limits. With its groves of pecan trees, its avenues of oaks, its flowers and palms, its cloisters and terraces over­looking the river, its massive, quaint buildings filled with generous dormitories and halls, its batten doors opening on broad galleries; its chapel and miraculous statue, its historic past and present activity, its cultivated, sweet-voiced sisters, the old Ursuline Convent, as it has come to be called, is still the preferred centre of feminine education  p74 for Creoles, and a favourite one for all Roman Catholic Americans in the state.

The young girls of 1895, in their convent costume, flit through corridor, gallery, cloister, to schoolroom and chapel, or pecan grove and terrace, continuing the study, the prayer, the romps, the aspirations and fancies, of the young girls of 1727, watching with impatience the shadow that travels around the old dial, now as then, and as young girls will do forever — until it measures their meridian of womanhood and freedom, the prime meridian of all times and places, be it in 1727 or 1895, in Ursuline convent or elsewhere for all young girls.

In the Archbishopric, the Ursuline Convent has been respected. Nothing is changed in its aspect, interior or exterior, none but the necessary repairs commanded by time, permitted. In the convent chapel adjoining, behind the archbishop's chair, are enshrined the hearts of several bishops of New Orleans.

Thayer's Notes:

a A pun; since in the original French, Bienville must have written something very much like ils courent les bois après les filles indiennes."

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b The feast of the Holy Sacrament almost always means Corpus Christi, which in 1727 fell on June 12th. Our nuns, however, landed at the Balise near New Orleans on May 8th (p64), and some other date must therefore be meant. The next best possibility is Maundy Thursday, the day on which the Church celebrates the institution of the sacrament — but that's the day before Good Friday, which has already been mentioned; so the sequence here seems odd, unless Sister Madeleine had an afterthought.

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c The prayer that starts In manus tuas, domine, commendo spiritum meum ("Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit"), based on the last words of Jesus on the Cross.

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d In French, Notre Dame de Bon Secours; as stated a bit further on, she is the patron saint of New Orleans.

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Page updated: 24 Sep 05