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 94-127]


MY acquaintance with the Reverend Mother began about the year 1865. She was one of those persons who make an impression which no lapse of time can efface. Probably she owed to her remote French ancestors certain striking characteristics in her bearing and actions; her vivacity, her brightness, the conversational charm which she possessed; her sympathetic interest in everything which came under her inspection. She had a very keen sense of humour, a ready wit, and a merry laugh which was irresistible; she had the high-bred air distinctive of those of gentle birth; a lady, all through. She reminded me of St. Theresa, as described by her biographer, Cardinal Manning; there were the same simplicity of character, directness of purpose, activity of motion, humility of soul, self-deprecation, which marked the Spanish woman; indeed Mother Harriet, as I found out, had a special admiration of Sister Theresa, and a great love of her, and, no doubt, unconsciously, made her a model in practice. She was a great worker, and a great traveller, making long journeys from point to point, visiting the Sisters, wherever scattered abroad, and keeping herself informed of everything relating to themselves, their lives, and their respective houses in the East, the West, and the South. As a business woman, she would have taken a high place among men of that class; thoroughly versed in whatever she needed to know, wisely administering the financial affairs of the Sisterhood, watchful, prudent, forecasting. She had a heart full of sympathy for the troubles of others; she shared the sorrows of each one of her spiritual daughters; she was their confidant and comforter. She suffered keenly whenever, in that family of hers, anything went wrong; when dissension troubled the domestic peace; when tempers proved incompatible; when workers had to be changed from place to place; when some lapsed and left their associates for alien relations; when, as in some cases, unfortunate women looked back, became discouraged, and reverted to a world which they had renounced with vows destined, alas! to be broken. Infinite patience, unwearied love, unfailing pity were in her soul; a strong desire for her own sanctification and that of all with whom she had to do. As the slow years passed, bringing

"Many a sorrow, many a tear,"

one could see the furrowed lines of care deepening on the features of her on whom that heavy load was laid, but her bright, cheerful, hopeful Spirit never failed; within was calm and steadfast resolution; that well of delightful good humour still sent forth its fresh and sparkling streams to gladden and brighten the vale of misery; her trust in God and her Beloved grew stronger, and the refrain of the latter years was the ardent desire for the rest of the Paradise of God. Perhaps no one has ever more fully illustrated in her life work, through all its stages, these words, written in the breviary of the Saint with whose spirit her own dwelt in such harmony and affection:

"Let nothing disturb thee,
Let nothing affright thee.
All passeth away,
God only shall stay.
Patience wins all.
Who hath God needeth nothing,
For God is his all."

An early Associate of the Sisterhood sent me some valuable and appreciative observations, drawn from her long and loving intimacy with the Mother, first as Sister Harriet, and then as the Superior, from which I make this extract:

"My own feeling is that the Mother's especial characteristic was the virtue of Hope, or perhaps I should say the Charity that 'hopeth all things.' Before I had ever seen her, and shortly after the foundation of the Sisterhood of St. Mary, I was told what struck me so forcibly that I have always remembered it; one of the Sisters had been talking about making a quest for money, and Sister Agnes said she thought it would be more important to seek candidates. Sister Harriet (as she was called then, indeed I believe I was one of the very first who called her Mother, before some of her own Sisters) answered that she always expected to go down to the door some morning, and see a whole row of women asking to be admitted into the Community. Certainly her prediction was fulfilled in a way she could hardly have imagined herself in those days of 'small things.'

"She was always very kind to me, from the time when I first knew her, through going to the Sheltering Arms to work for a little while. To manage the large tables full of children at meals was rather beyond my powers, and she came down so kindly to help me enforce discipline, and show the unruly children they would not be lowed to misbehave, tho' the one in charge was not a Sister.

"She was so fond, in later life, of the text 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.' I have heard her dwell upon that as a kind of epitome of what should be the life of a religious community, in speaking of various tribulations and trials through which their own had had to pass. I think she felt sacrifice to be the essential of the Religious Life, for the individual and the Community so strongly."

The correspondence of the Reverend Mother must have been immense. Her letters are carefully preserved in the houses of the Sisterhood as sacred treasures. If these were accessible to the general reader they would present that character in the light in which it has been portrayed; but that, of course, cannot be. A selection of them has been most kindly sent to me for examination and publication in this memoir.

"I found the selection difficult," says the Sister who sent them, "because the letters which were most characteristic and telling, often had personal references to individuals or situations which made me shrink from sending them. I have arranged the letters under subjects, hoping to save trouble. The arrangement may not always be obvious, but I think something may be saved."

The arrangement shall be followed, in the transcription, although even these may have to be somewhat further pruned. They will be read with deeper interest, particularly by those younger members of the Community who knew the Mother less intimately, and by those who are to come after. These words of hers constitute a legacy to them, which will be reverently accepted and affectionately preserved. The reader will often find, in the preceding memoir, the explanation of matters referred to in the correspondence.


"St. Mary's, Rockaway Beach,
"Aug. 14th.
"My very dear Sister:
"I received your letter on Tuesday of last week, and should have replied before, but for the coming here. Sister S—— returned on Wednesday evening, and I had many things to look after, that I might be free to leave on Thursday evening for New York. On Friday evening I came here; here at last, after the long waiting for a little rest and sea air. I should like to answer your letter in detail, but I know it is best for me just now not to write long letters. I am satisfied, nay I am more than that, I am sure that it is God's will that you should serve Him in the Religious Life, and that in His Providence you were led to seek that life in this Community; and I truly believe that as you surrender your whole being more perfectly and entirely to the Divine Will, so your vocation will become clearer to you and you will marvel at the hesitation and the holding back of the past. We may not look for perfect unity of [1] opinion in a Community: there must be diversity, it is impossible that all should think alike on munor points, and even in graver matters there will be differences. On general principles there must be agreement. With a loving heart I say, my very dear Sister, come back to us, and with us ‘fight manfully unto your life's end.’
"The Retreat will be somewhat shorter than usual, for various reasons; it will begin with Vespers on Monday, Aug. 28th, and close on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 2d. I should like you to reach St. Gabriel’s on Saturday, Aug. 26th.
"I hope to have at least two weeks here for my treatment, which consists in breathing the charming sea air and taking a few sea baths, and being with forty or fifty children; but I do not mind their noise so long as I am not responsible for them. I hope to take my first sea bath to night. Sister ——— is here and looking so well and strong.
"With dearest love, believe me, ever most affectionately yours in Xt,

"St. Gabriel’s, Peekskill,"
Dec. 14th.
"My Dear Sister:
"I think of you now as hard at work in the great city of Chicago (Sister F——’s pet). I imagine you will become greatly interested and absorbed in mission work; it is always fascinating and it is quite unlike your work of the past few years. I trust all will go well; but in every house we find trials awaiting us; we must meet them, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Great Master, who never fails us, if we leave all in His hands. You are now, as it were, making a new beginning. Dr. Pusey somewhere says, our whole life is one of new beginnings; and so it is, falling and rising again, time after time. . . . I think you know I cannot do much letter writing on account of my eyes, but you must write to me from time to time. My dear love to Sisters F— and C—.
"Affectionately yours,

"St. Gabriel’s School,
"Peekskill, N. Y.
"Oct. 28th, ——.
My dear Sister:
"I am sure you are enjoying the old home faces and having a quiet time with your Sisters. I think of giving you to Sister Eleanor for a while to work in the Trinity Mission, but it is not fully settled yet. . . . We are filling up the vacant places in the Novitiate. Sisters M— M— and E—P— are in New York at St. Mary’s Hospital; in their places we have four 'minor postulants' in the Choir: we have three, and soon will have four, Choir Postulants. It is wonderful how God calls one after another to leave all and follow Him, and still the labourers are few. We cannot begin to answer the calls upon us for work."


"St. Gabriel's,
"Oct. 19th—.
"My Dear Sister J——:
"Many thanks for your nice letter. Do you know, it so happens that the month of September. brought me, first your letter, then one from Sister L——, then one from Sister J——, and I hope to answer each one before the last day of October comes upon us, altho' I am not much up to letter writing; almost everything I try to do is done by a great effort. . . . Father Allen's sister has just died, and she is to be buried at Po'keepsie. She once thought of coming to us. No, dear Sister, it cannot matter what work we do, because we do all to the glory of God, and to Him. Whether we offer the work of the hands, or the work of the intellect, it matters not. We are living in a very wicked world, and judgment upon it cannot be far away. Let us have our lamps trimmed, our ears alert to hear the voice of the Bridegroom, for He will surely come, He will not tarry.
"We have a very large household this year; the school is very full, and everybody is very busy. We have made a refectory of the little parlour, for the use of the School: if the Sisters had a house to go into, the School would soon turn us out of our present one. Thus far it does not seem to be God’s will that we should begin our Convent, and I am content to do His will. With very dear love for you and all,
"Affectionately yours,

"St. Gabriel’s, Nov. 13, 1891.
"My dearest Sister:
"Yes: it is some time since I have written to you, but I know you will forgive me. I have been so pressed at every turn, and my eye is very weak, and I am often obliged to stop in the midst of my writing and give that one eye a rest. It does not pain me in the least but is very, very weak. I spent two weeks at——, and on my return found such a load of work! I was days and days getting at the bottom of it. . . . I will not write of all that is in my mind concerning the action of the Society. [2] The Church is certainly passing through a great crisis, and I may say, Religious Orders through a still greater crisis than even the Church. I feel like one who is holding on to some tender, small tree, the tree looking as if there was scarcely anything to hold on to, yet feeling sure that the root, which one could not see, was firm, strong, solid, and would not fail one. . . . The lesson of detachment is a very hard lesson for most of us to learn. . . . I hope the points of the Chapter [3] would have been sent before this . . . . The point about the Offices was not one of my points. I suppose the idea in the minds of the Sisters was, that it was an occasional thing happening seldom. I should be very sorry to have the memorials left out, except now and then in case of necessity. Are you quite sure that the Offices must be so said? I fancied, with school work, Sext and Nones could be managed separately for the most part. . . . My special love to dear Sister H. T— and to all. I am having many worries just now; if one had only some one to look to for help! but such is not God's will, and there must be perfect trust and no murmuring."


"Feby. 25th.
"Dearest Sister:
"Your letter of yesterday was very discouraging. I shall anxiously await the word of the Chicago doctor. I understand the 'I think.' I cannot feel that dearest Sister will not get better, yet I fear. May we all accept lovingly whatever God has in store for us concerning our beloved. It pleased Him to take my first Sister Constance; if it is His will to take my second Sister Constance it must be right. Give love to the precious invalid from us all: we pray constantly for her, and also for our dear Sister A——.
"I trust you will have that supernatural strength given you which you need, for only the supernatural can help you to bear all cheerfully.
"Ever lovingly in our Blessed Lord,

"St. Gabriel's,
"June 3, 1884.
"My very dear Sister:
"I am good for nothing to-day, not feeling at all well, but I must manage to answer your letter.. . . I always say, if there exists the need, and one has counted the cost as in the sight of God, one must undoubtedly make the venture of faith, believing that ‘the Lord will provide'; it would be difficult for me to express in words how very strong that feeling is with me. . . . Our little addition gives us a nice class-room, and six alcoves, each containing an entire window. This, including the fitting up of the alcoves, putting in gas pipes, etc., etc., cost $1200, and it has been paid from the school receipts of the year. I suppose you will use brick. [4] Not having that interest to pay gives a chance of meeting expenses. I hope the Trustees will not borrow money to pay it and so increase the debt. I cannot remember telling you that the first few years the interest was all at 8 and 10 per cent. You can imagine the drain on the School fund: I was amazed; it seemed like usury to me. I think now it is all reduced to 6 pr. ct. . . . You will have to be wonderfully busy to get ready for the Retreat in the short interim of School closing and Retreat beginning. You are fortunate in having Father Maturin again. We shall remember the Mission."

"St. Gabriel’s, Sept. 7, 1885.
"Dearest Sister:
"I take it for granted the telegram was recd. and that our dear Sister is by this time safely at St. Paul’s: the change will be good for her in addition to the medical advice. . . . The day for the Profession is not yet determined upon: I will write as soon as I know, if only a postal.. . . I feel greatly distressed when I realize how I have failed to rise up to the difficulties of the past year, which certainly have been great, yet their greatness is no excuse for my spiritual weakness nor do I know that I ought to excuse anything on account of physical weakness, yet that too has been very great. I wonder sometimes how it came about that I should be so nervously unstrung: that is passing off and we will hope that it will soon be all gone."

The following letter refers to a visit to a Sisterhood which had been established in Toronto, in the Dominion of Canada. The Sisters of St. Mary felt a great interest in it, for the reason that the founders were trained in New York, so that it was, as it were, a mission offshoot of their own Community. Mother Harriet speaks of it in a letter written at St. Gabriel's, as follows:

"We had two Novices admitted this morning: one is for the Canada Sisterhood. I think you know we are training two Canadians to be returned to Toronto, to found there a Sisterhood. Sister Hannah, who is to be the Superior, will probably be professed in September and go directly to Toronto. Sister Hannah goes to New York this week to get a little insight into our work in the city; you may see her at the Infirmary, Varick St. It has been very pleasant to have the training of these two Sisters: one would hardly have thought that St. Mary's would have trained two Englishwomen for the Religious Life. ‘God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.’"

"St. Gabriel's, Peekskill,
April 21, 1886.
"My very dear Sister:
"You will think me long in writing, but the days are so full just now. I reached Toronto in good time, without mishap of any sort or kind. I found no one awaiting me; my letter did not reach Mother Hannah in time; but I easily obtained a carriage and was soon at my destination. I had a very charming visit, all were so kind. I had two drives, seeing all that was worth seeing of Toronto. The Sisters are very pleasantly situated, and are getting on nicely in every way. At present, the novitiate consists of three Novices and three Postulants. Nursing is quite a feature of their work. I left Toronto at 3.55 on Saturday afternoon, and was obliged to change cars three times before reaching Peekskill, at which place I arrived safely on Sunday morning at 10 o’clk. I found Sister F—— very ill, congestion of the lungs; one of the maids also very ill with lung trouble; this morning she passed away into that other world; she was one of our own people, and not a Romanist, we are glad about that. She will be buried from here, probably on Saturday. She was a good girl; she was able to receive the Blessed Sacrament yesterday morning. Sister Agnes is not so well; there can be no thought of her going far from home: I begin to fear that she may not rally from this illness. Sister S—— or myself will go down to see her directly after Easter. I feel as if the next autumn would bring with it great difficulties, but I know that whatever comes, all is from a loving God, and I trust we may all be guided and strengthened to meet whatever trials may be in store for us. I thought so constantly of you, dear Sister, after our parting at the station; the returning alone to Kemper Hall; but I am so sure you are able to bear this sorrow, to accept lovingly God’s will for you. May we not believe that the spirit of our sweet Sister will hover over the house, and that you and all will feel the nearness? With dearest love for you and all,

"St. Gabriel's, March 8, 1888.
"My very dear Sister:
"I must write you a line to-day because it is March 8th, and we remember that two years ago the soul of oar sweet Sister passed away, entering into that life eternal, that new life that knows no ending. To-day it is Wednesday; that other day it was Sunday, the Lord’s Day; so fitting for our dear Sister to go to Him on His own Day. [5]
"I received your note about the change of quarters in Chicago. I do so want to see the Chicago home! Our Novitiate has not had as many recruits this last year: I dare say it will soon take a fresh start again soon. I have several letters just now about candidates.
"With dearest Easter love for all,
"Affectionately yours.

"St. Gabriel’s, Nov. 11, 1890.
"My very dear Sister:
"I am afraid you will think I have quite forgotten you, it is so long since I have written: dearest Sister, believe me, I do not forget you even for a moment, nor do I forget the little points you ask me about. I have a little box and drop into it the queries from time to time as I receive them. I have been so very, very busy, and I have not always felt up to letter writing, when the writing could be postponed. You can hardly think how I long for Kemper Hall to be almost the very same as the Mother House. [6] God in His wisdom took from it our precious Sister E—— seemed so necessary from our point of view; now He may will to take Sister H——, and if we could have our way, how we would have both with us, would we not? Yet we know without a shadow of doubt that all things work together for good. Sister E—'s balancing power was something wonderful, still God willed that the work was to go on without her."


Alluding to the defection of Father Rivington, one of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, she writes:

"St. Mary’s, 8 E. 46th St.
"April 13th,
"I have before me your letter of woes. I mean, however, to look on the bright side of it just now. I say to myself: I would rather hear that one of my dear Sisters had entered Paradise, than to hear she had left the Church of her baptism for the Church of Rome. I mean, any Sister of mind and position. I do not, of course, mean just any Sister, whose mental powers one could not hold in esteem. Father Rivington’s action passes my comprehension."
She made several visits to England. Previous to one of these she writes:
"I wish very much to go to England this spring, and study up a few points concerning religious Orders: if any kind Associate will give us a little money I can manage it, but we cannot afford the expense. I should take Sister C—— with me. But alas! for the filthy lucre! where is it to come from?"

"St. Gabriel’s, Peekskill,
"Nov. 14, 1883.
"My very dear Sister:
"I have your nice, long letter; also the little note telling me of the case of fever, which I hope most earnestly is not a very serious one. Thus far we have gotten on without much illness, a few little ailments only.
"I did not enter much into the Prayer Book matters as handled at the Convention; I hardly know what was proposed. . . . You know all about the translation of our dear Dr. Ewer; I was one of his admirers. Have you heard of the death of our sweet Lily D——? only twelve hours’ illness, and her pure spirit departed: the idol of the family and loved by all who knew her. I grieve for her dear mother and father; the latter seems utterly crushed. . . . As you see, I am ‘Monarch of all I survey,’ Community, Novitiate, Housekeeping, etc., etc. We are making additional refectory room for the children. We have a young girl with us as candidate for the Minors; I hope she will remain and go on."


"Jany. 25, 1887.
"Just a word of love on this your day. I am reminded of the poem, 'We are Seven.' Our seventh is at rest, the six still toiling on in this lower world, doing His will most imperfectly, while our seventh, may we not believe, thinks of us, joins her prayers with ours, as she does that will more perfectly in her Paradise of Rest in the Heavenly Home. The day is very beautiful here, and the two of the seven here are unusually well and bright. . . . On Thursday, if all is rell, I propose to start for Memphis—Sister H—— is to go with me. I feel that I must give all the time I have to spare from here to Memphis, and I ought to be back by the end of March, I hope before the 8th. This year that day falls in Passion Week."

—, —, 1888.
"This is your day with all its beautiful lessons and all its memoties of joy and sadness. I can scarcely realize so many years have passed since that Profession Day. . . . Our day is almost here; we shall probably have the usual Chapter on the Octave of the Purification."


It seems to have been a part of the duty of the Reverend Mother to plan the vacations so that the workers might be relieved and the work go on. Many letters are taken up with these arrangements, involving much thought and consideration.

"I sent the telegram: I am quite clear that Sister F—— should go to her mother at this juncture: as to who shall be sent to Chicago, I am uncertain."
"I sent the night telegram begging you to set off to Clifton as soon as possible. Your letter was delayed again, being sent to that unknown place that once before took one of your letters about dear Sister. I am glad the Retreat was so fully attended and appreciated. How wonderful are God’s ways! And how much He permits us, poor weak mortals, to do for Him!"

"St. Mary’s, Rockaway.
"I am just sending a telegram saying, by all means take the California trip. I am more than delighted at the proposal for you, it quite seems to cover the whole ground. Don’t say, three weeks; say, four, five, yes, even six! Now as to crossing the sea another year: who can tell what may happen before another year comes round? Do plan everything new without reference to that. I beg you will take full time and over. I know that the Sisters and Teachers will all be faithfulness itself, and it is so important that you have a change, absolute change and rest; important for you, and important for those working under you. We go to the city to-day. We have had two storms for my benefit (I love a high sea) and the two yachts passed us for our benefit also; so I had a full view of the great race of the season. I am writing in great haste, as everything must be packed away this morning."

"St. Gabriel’s.
"I am just leaving here for N. Y. on Hospital business which seems to have neither beginning nor end; it obliges me also to go to White Plains, and I am stealing a little time to write to you before I leave. . . . Sister J——’s aunt has secured a promise from us that she should pay her a visit: she will go directly her aunt returns, and then we will forward her to you. . . . Your month off, now: nothing must prevent you from going away for one full month, and leaving all your cares behind you. The Sisters are perfectly capable of going on, and you must, as I say, have a full month; we will not put it four weeks, but one full month. You know, dear Sister, I am not an Autocrat, but you may call me such in this matter or give me any bad name you like, and I 'll not say a word. As for the expenses, that is not to be mentioned; you are entitled to whatever you need, and you must be sure to do that which will be the most perfect rest to you. And now I have got to the end of my paper."

"St. Gabriel’s, July 31, 1894.
"We shall be delighted to see you and Sister F—— once more, and have you with us for the Retreat, which begins with the Vespers of Monday, Aug. 7th, and closes with the celebration on Saturday, Sept. 1st. We could not take in a Sunday, as Father Benson was obliged to be in Boston for Sunday duty. I see no objection to your stopping over to consult the Doctor. . . . Oh, this heat! I am almost melting: it seems sometimes as if I could not endure another day, andvegetation is crying piteously for a littlerain; a little rain, but the little rain don't come."


"St. Thomas’ Day,
"O Rex Gentium.
"This is St. Thomas' Day, and we are reminded that the Great Feast is very near. How beautiful the ‘Great O's’ are, as day by day we approach the Feast! [7] To say the Divine Office is indeed one of the great joys of the Religious Life: I love it more and more, although I have been compelled to give up Matins since that illness of mine."

"St. Gabriel’s, April 10, 1884.
"My dear Sister:
'"It is Maundy Thursday: our Matins and Lauds for this day, may I say it ? were perfect. I think the Office was never more beautifully rendered in our Chapel than last night at 12. Oh! what a mystery this week is, Shall we understand it all some day? With dearest love for all, ever lovingly yours, in the Crucified One."

"St. Gabriel’s, Dec. 27, 1890.
"My dear Sister:
"I sent off a hasty scrap yesterday: now I will write not so hastily.
"We say the Peace of the Church on Advent Ember Days. There is no regulation as to abstinence when travelling; a matter of that kind must be governed by circumstances; it might be best at one time, and not at all best at another time. Whenever Sext and Nones are said together it should be by aggregation: there should be no provision for any other way for saying the two Offices together. . . . We had our usual Christmas Offices; we began Matins at 10.45 and went on until 2. I was well tired when I went to my room, and not equal to rising at 6 A.M. All these years I have been able to have the midnight services at Christmas and again in Holy Week. I wonder if I shall have many more. Tears are passing; the time cannot be far off, when mine will no more be passing, but past. I send you a motto for the coming year. [8] I hope the sky will be a little clearer for you, dear Sister, as the days go by. We know our discipline comes from God, and we must vindicate Clod by our acceptance of it. Have you read Godet’s Studies on the Old Testament? If not, try to get the book and read his exposition of Job. With dear love, affectionately yours,

In another letter, which I have mislaid, she wrote to this effect: "The longer I live the more I delight in the study of the Bible: I am becoming a Bible Christian."


Of the letters entrusted to my care, none are more touching than those written on occasion of fatal illness and impending death in the Community, or after the departure of some elect soul to the rest of Paradise. From these I hesitate to make many extracts: they might sadden and depress the reader, or appear like violations of the sanctity of sorrow. But in them all comes out the loving tenderness of the Mother's heart, and they show how habitual was the thought of the vanity of life and the near approach of the end. Words of comfort and consolation abound; soothing, tender words, which none knew better how to speak to the mourning heart. Some brief extracts will suffice, taken here and there from a large number now before my eye. The following contains an impressive description of a Christian transit hence.

"Kemper Hall, Kenosha, Wis.,
"March 29, 1886.
"My Dear Sister:

"Our dear little Sister Elise passed away at the hour of Prime on Sunday morning, the first hour (ecclesiastical) of the Resurrection Day, and on the 28th of the month (four times seven). Alll through the day before she was very weak, and it seemed as if she could not survive the night; none of us went to bed. About twelve I went to my room, lying down dressed, thinking any moment I might be called; but I was not called till I was preparing to go down to Prime. We were all with her. I read the short office from our Manual for the dying: then we all repeated the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. She ceased to breathe so quietly that we hardly knew the exact moment; but Sister M—— C—— took out her watch, and it was precisely half past six. We then said the office in our Manual for one departed, lingered a few moments, then went down to Chapel and said Prime without ringing the Chapel bell. The funeral service will be in the Chapel to-morrow morning: there will be two celebrations. I think I never knew a more quiet departure or more quiet illness. Everything in regard to the School went on as usual, no noise disturbed Sister, and she wished everything to go on up to the last moment. A characteristic illness and death in her case, just as it was in Sister Esther’s: and now we have another name to add to our March commemorations. Sister made her last Communion on Saturday at 12 noon."

In this letter I find a slip of paper written in another hand; that of a priest who was there at the time.

"Praise to God for the deliverance of Sr. Elise, a very sweet, true, pure soul, perfected through suffering and fit for Paradise."

Sister Agnes will long be remembered as the accomplished and admirable head of St. Mary’s School in 46th St.; a wonderful woman, for the perfect calmness, quietness, and steadiness of her ways, and her great influence on all who came in contact with her; nothing ever seemed to ruffle, disquiet, or trouble her.

The Reverend Mother, in a letter written at St. Gabriel’s, Nov. 4th, refers to her illness.

"Sister Agnes is, I think, slowly but surely passing away. She still clings to the daily routine. I hope to see her soon, but I cannot be much away in Sister ——’s absence. . . . We did not have a ceremonial procession to the Cemetery on All Souls’ Day, but we all visited it, and laid our gifts of flowers and bright leaves on the graves of our beloved ones. The day was perfect."

In another letter she gives some particulars of the transit of that brave, calm, earnest woman.

"St. Mary’s, E. 46th St.
"April 28th.
"Our dear Sister Agnes entered into rest on Thursday, April 21st, at 10.15 A.M. She suffered very much all through her illness, and the last two days from great restlessness. . . . Sister was in the Community room, dressed as usual, on Tuesday morning, but at noon she said she felt so very ill she must go to bed. From that time she failed; and on Saturday we laid her to rest in our quiet Cemetery. Dr. Richey went up with us, as well as Dr. Houghton. All the funeral service was private. As we left the Cemetery a little robin on the top of a tree began singing with all his might. Dr. Houghton says, ‘Who that was present can ever forget that song?’"

A few more notes may be added to these pathetic descriptions, taken here and there from the papers before me.

April 29, 1891.
"I had a faint hope that our sweet little Sister Helen Theodora might rally with the warm weather, and possibly might be able to come home, and so finally rest with us here. But your letter makes it clear that this cannot be: give her my dearest, sweetest love, and tell her I had so hoped to see her once more. As I go into the Mortuary Chapel from time to time I often say to myself, who of us will first find rest here? We have many delicate Sisters, now; very many; yet it may be that the strongest and least ailing will be the first called."
"I am reading with intense interest the "Mystery of Pain"; I brought it with me from Memphis."
"The weather is very hard upon me [written in August during great heat], and there is so much to do and so much to think about. The telegram telling us of the death of the All Saints’ Superior read ‘Our Reverend Mother Rests.’ That one word, ‘rests,’ how much is contained in it!"

"Dec. 22d.
"Before this reaches you, you will have entered into the Christmas joy, have taken the Christ Child afresh into your heart. May all Christmas joys be with you, and all the dear Sisters with you. I am thinking so much of our sweet Sister——, as this precious season draws near. Before determining the time of Sister S——'s visit, I would like to know as nearly as possible just how she is. I wish above all things that Sister S—— might be with her when those last hours seem to be very near: please write me how it is."

"Jany. 12, 1888.
" . . . . You have received before this the news of Miss M 's death. Sisters, Postulants, Associates, one after the other, and pupils too; all passing through the gate of death, all entering into the Blessed Presence. Miss M was ready for the change. Mary Parker we shall miss sorely; she had given herself to God, and the offering was accepted." [9]

"Feby. 6th.
" . . . . A thousand thanks to you and all the dear Sisters for their loving remembrances. I steal a little time in the midst of ‘our week’ [10] to write a few words for you all and to tell you that right in the midst of 'our week' we say our last words over dear Sister Gabrielle. To-day we lay her away in her lonely bed: now she is in the Chapel, and her face is very sweet, and beautiful, and peaceful.... She never lost her consciousness for one moment. She was only 22. In the midst of life we are in death."

Referring to the death of another Sister and her burial at St. Gabriel's, she writes:

"She was one of the seven at your profession: she came between you and Sister F . Sister Eleanor went on to her and reached Augusta in time to be with her several hours. She especially asked to be taken to Peekskill for burial; it seemed to have been much on her mind. Now, the Seven are divided; five in the Church Militant, two in the Church Triumphant; and so, one by one, we go on our lonely journey, as one by one we entered into this world. . . . One by one we drop out and another takes our place; and so it will go on and on until that Second Coming.

"Have you seen the book, 'Earth's Earliest Ages'? The author seems to think the world now is much as it was in the days of Noah; touches upon the Theosophy of the present day, etc., etc. Well, we know God rules over all, while apparently Satan is having it all in his own way; this Theosophy is certainly a special device of his to ruin souls."


The charge of four large schools, with constant attention, not only to the expenditures and receipts, but also to the details of the management of those institutions, one in the City of New York, another in Putnam County, a third in Wisconsin, and a fourth in Tennessee, must have been most exacting and laborious. Allusions to the school work are constant. A postcript to a letter written at Rockaway Beach says:

"K. H. has 64.
"St. G’s 54; last year we managed to stow away 58; this year all are large girls; we can only manage for 54."

Of Kemper Hall she writes:

"Sister F— seems wonderfully well again; I hope she may continue so; I am surprised to see how much she seems able to do. I think she has all her classes except Astronomy; she could not go to the Observatory, so Miss H— has that class."

Kemper Hall stands on Lake Michigan: there was when the Sisters first took charge of it a great deal of trouble, with heavy expenses, in protecting the front by a breakwater or dyke from the heavy waves on the shore.

"Thanks for your note, and the account of the fearful storm. At the rate of 15 ft. a storm, how soon would the house go? Can you do that sum? I received a letter from the Bishop about some definite plan for the School, but I could not say anything about it until we could talk it all over; and besides I have a fancy for Dr.— seeing the property; you know he could easily manage this at the time of the General Convention. [11]

I have just heard of the death of Dr. Mulford: I think you knew he was a friend of mine. He was only 51 in years, and we thought him strong in body as well as strong in mind, and he was altogether a most charming man: you would have enjoyed him thoroughly, had you known him. As a scholar he was wonderful. I shall cherish his last gift to me, ‘The Republic of God.’"

One who was very intimate with her writes as follows:

""Ever since I have known the Mother I have found her interested in every branch of Natural Science, especially, of late, in the subject of light and recent discoveries in that department of knowledge. She was glad to discuss these subjects with others and eager to interest them in the same. It was her habit to reserve articles which specially pleased her, for the girls in the School. Just before her departure she had been reading Canon McColl's 'Life Here and Hereafter,’ a book on ‘Our Life after Death,’ and Willink’s ‘World of the Unseen.’"


"St. Mary's, Memphis,
"February 11th.
"To The Rev. W. C. F ., D.D.

Rev. and Dear Sir:

"It gives us all great pleasure to receive your beloved daughter, and the more so because of your tender letter of commendation.

"I trust God has indeed chosen her to be among His special ones; the elect of the chosen, if one may so express it; that is, if we may, while we call the whole body of the Church the Elect, call all Religious Orders within the Church, the elect of the elect.

"I left St. Gabriel’s on the evening of Thursday the 3d, and will probably not be home again until the end of March.

"I passed through Cleveland on Friday, and thought of you and yours, as the train stopped for a few minutes at the depot.

"With true regards, believe me,
"Sincerely and reverently yours,
"Mr. Supr. Com. S. M."
(Copied by Mrs. F——).

"Trinity Hospital,
"Nov. 9th.
"My dear Sister,

"Will you kindly tell the Sisters with you that Sister M—— E—— has left the Community and intends joining the Roman Church. I need not add, that this is a trial to us all, but we will forgive her the wrong, and try to forget it, saying as little as possible of what she has done.



[1] A blot appears on the sheet at the side, with this explanation: "A mosquito caused this blot." No wonder, at Rockaway!
[2] The reference is to the Evangelist Fathers.
[3] Prior to the meetings in Chapter, a list of topics to be considered appears to have been sent to each one entitled to a place and a vote.
[4] The reference is to work at Kenosha.
[5] It will be remembered that the Mother herself had the honour of being taken on Easter Day.
[6] This seems to be a reference to her wish for a kind of provincial arrangement of the branches in the South and West.
[7] Some of our readers may need to be informed that by the "Great O’s: are meant the Antiphons to he Magnificat sung during the third and fourth weeks of Advent; they were as follows:

Dec. 16th, O Sapientia.
17th, O Adonai.
18th, O Radix Jesse.
19th, O Clavis David.
20th, O Oriens.
22d, O Rex Gentium.
23d, O Emmanuel.

[8] The motto was, "Thy Will, thy blessed Will, whatever it may be."
[9] A memorial window bearing the name of this lovely young girl may be seen in the Trinity Mission House, No. 211 Fulton St. She was the only daughter of the Rev. Dr. Stevens Parker; as pure a soul as ever passed hence into the light beyond.
[10] The reference is to the anniversary of the Community, and the Chapter then held each year.
[11] Held in Chicago, in 1886.







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