Project Canterbury

Harriet Starr Cannon: First Mother Superior of the Sisterhood of St. Mary

A brief memoir by
Sometime Pastor of the Community

[New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1896; 149 pp
pp 146-149]


MY task is completed; and now, with a full knowledge of its unworthiness and imperfections, her old friend reverently lays this offering upon that grave wherein her mortal body is sleeping in peace. It has been a help and a relief to spend so much time during the past summer in this communing with the holy dead. These pages were written in part by the sea-shore where the grey Atlantic spreads its waste of waters, often veiled in fog and mist, and still beating out the perpetual chime against the grassy dunes; in part on the banks of the lovely St. Regis lake, where the tall pines lift their solemn shafts and foliage to the sky, and the mountains, changing with every hour, announce, as of old, the righteousness of the Eternal. In either place, there was pause from the confusing noises and uproar of these troubled and anxious months; brief respite from the din made by the enemies to our peace and to the good order of society, the noisy orator, the political agitator, the stirrer of strife among brethren, the new woman of the period, the prophets of evil, and those who deem it their mission to upset, subvert, and destroy the landmarks set by our fathers. When the world seems in throes, as about to bring forth one knows not what new and monstrous progeny, and when the hearts of men are failing them for fear and for looking for those things which are coming on the earth; it may be counted a privilege beyond estimate to have been drawn, either by the sense of obligation or by the strength of a deep attachment, or in any other way, to lengthened communion with an unworldly and exalted soul, to have been permitted to watch a star of God shining more and more unto the perfect day; and while musing of a life rooted and grounded in love, strong in reverence for the things eternal, devoted to God, and liberally provident of the best gifts that can be had here below, to have forgotten meanwhile, or ceased to observe that there are anywhere about us persons without religion and without grace, whose lives are led outside the Kingdom, the centre of whose thoughts, desires, and hopes is in a world which decays and is ready to vanish away. And now, gentle reader, that we have meditated together on this precious story, let it be asked, whether we can do anything to express gratitude and appreciation, if the narrative has awakened them within our spirit? What permanent memorial should there be of the first Mother Superior of the largest of our American Sisterhoods? Let this suggestion be made: that, by many offerings of love, from many warm hearts and many hands, there be erected in time on the place where she dwelt and where her body rests, a Mother House, apt and meet in all respects to be the dwelling of the Community. Let us arise and build, to the glory of God and to the memory of His devoted daughter. Perhaps this little narrative may meet the eye of some woman whose heart is in the world, whose life has little else to show but a round of self-seeking and amusement in society. Were it not well for her to look on such a life as this, and by some timely offering establish a sympathetic relation with one, side by side with whom she must finally meet her Judge? It is possible that these pages may be read by some one of the women of the advanced school, who, doubtless with an intention which seems to them to justify that course, devote their best power to the demolition of that ideal of womanhood, which only, thus far, has helped and blessed the world? Might not the heart of such a one be reached and softened, by seeing what good was done by a great, earnest, loving spirit working on the old lines, true to that womanly model which we reverence in the Church and honour with "all but adoring love" in the Blessed Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ? Howsoever it be, let us arise, bring presents, and offer gifts. It is memorable, and as true as strange, that not one woman rich in this world's goods has ever cast in her lot with this Community: their recruits have come from the ranks of those who were rich in faith alone. It is time that others in a different position recognize a privilege here which, once seen, will be gladly acknowledged. Great as was the work of their first Mother Superior, we trust that the Sisterhood of St. Mary are to see greater things than these, and that the light now shining in their houses shall shine more and more for many generations after we have vanished from sight.

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