Project Canterbury

Ten Decades of Praise
The Story of the Community of Saint Mary during Its First Century
by Sister Mary Hilary, CSM

Racine, WI: The DeKoven Foundation for Church Work, 1965. 226 pp.


THE DECADE WHICH SWEPT THE WORLD into a new century called for fundamental changes. As the older Sisters died, it became necessary to codify the Community rules, ceremonies, customs and constitutions for future generations. Moreover, changes in ecclesiastical thought permitted a fuller expression of Catholic life than had hitherto been advisable. Catholic worship and discipline had displaced much of the mild "High Churchism" of forty years before, and militant Calvinism had disappeared, as one editor exulted, like "an iceberg in the Gulf Stream." The Community, it must be said, was fond of old ways, and caution combined with conservatism to oppose change. Twelve years of patient effort were required to yield formularies truly expressing the original objectives and the Community spirit; to spell out and systematize customs and traditions and couch them at last in traditional Benedictine terms.

The move forward was glacially slow at first. When Mother Harriet died in 1896 the Community acted to forestall change by electing Sister Sarah as her successor. Venerated as one of the founding five, beloved Novice Mistress until 1890 and Assistant Superior from the first, she was a woman of unswerving integrity, in whose soul "there dwelt habitually the spirit of silent reverence and recollection." Sadly, the Sisters soon saw that Mother Sarah lacked administrative capacities. The Assistant Superior who might have helped her expedite pressing matters was not named for a year and a half. The result of this would have been disastrous had it not been for the quiet, loyal assistance of Sister Edith, Novice Mistress.

Fortunate also was the arrival of a new Chaplain, the Rev. Alfred Langmore, S.S.J.E. Sister Margaret Clare on a trip to England in August, 1896, negotiated with all the delicacy of a seasoned diplomat for the appointment of a Cowley father to the Chaplaincy. With her characteristic vision and vigor, she outlined the Community's great need of organization and discipline, of an amended constitution, of a proper convent and of instruction for the young, and reminded the Father Superior somewhat hyperbolically, "Our Rule was drawn up by your Founder. And will you pardon me if I say, you began a good work in America, will you see it fail?" When arrangements seemed completed, Mother Sarah boggled at Father Langmore's youth—he was thirty-seven years old and had been professed only one year—and decreed that he be named Assistant Chaplain "to our dear Dr. Houghton," whereupon S.S.J.E. withdrew the offer. By October the difficulty was overcome, and Father Langmore assumed the full title and responsibility for five years. He found the Community at low ebb. For twenty years Dr. Houghton had been prevented by his multiple responsibilities from doing more than hearing confessions in the eastern houses. Father Langmore set about unflinchingly to supply the needs of the Community. His fortnightly visits to all the eastern houses included regular instruction on the religious life, Church history, Bible and liturgies. He prepared a revision of the Rule, retaining the simplicity of the original Rule but improving it by the experience of the English communities. His sanity and sanctity, his firm faith and sweet reasonableness, won the Sisters to his teaching. Fifty years after his transfer to India there were old Sisters who still quoted Father Langmore as a final authority in controversy.

When Mother Sarah's health failed in 1899, it was Father Langmore who gently and lovingly convinced her that she must resign. At the election which followed, the Community divided between Sister Catharine and Sister Edith, between the old ways and the new. On the third ballot Sister Edith was elected, to the evident consternation of the older Sisters, to whom she appeared dangerously modern and liberal in her views. Mother Edith had come to the Community from St. Ignatius' parish in New York, where she had been instructed in the Catholic faith by the great Catholic apologist Dr. Ferdinand Ewer. Professed on September 8, 1879, she was sent the following day to take charge of Kemper Hall. In 1883 she was recalled to take over St. Gabriel's School, Peekskill. In 1890 she became Novice Mistress, a position in which her intellectual and spiritual gifts, utterly free from sentimentality, made a lasting impression on the lives of her Novices. Her election as Mother on June 8, 1899, turned her from the teaching and study she loved to less congenial administrative duty, but she set herself to the new task with courage, and accomplished heroic feats of development and expansion.


In any account of Mother Edith's immense influence, first place must be given to her greatest legacy—a Rule based on classical conventual traditions. She guided and goaded the Community through a fourth and final revision of its formularies—the Rule, the Constitutions, the Custumal, and the Ceremonial—along traditional monastic lines. Every change had to be hammered out in a revision committee, presented to the Chapter section by section for discussion, amendment and approval by two-thirds vote, and this not once but several times. Persuasion is necessary in a democratic organization, and Mother Edith found it necessary to speak again and again to reassure the older Sisters that she envisaged no departure from the original objectives. At the August Chapter in 1900, she explained that they were merely verbalizing the Community's unwritten rules:

The Mother protested against the word "reform" as used by one of the Sisters. She said that the government of the Community needed development—that the changes to be made were in accordance with the mind of the Mother Foundress, and they would have met with her approval; that the Mother Foundress was progressive and she would have modified her own ideas in some respects and expanded them in others. The old Constitution was not well developed, and in consequence we had a large body of unwritten rule which from necessity, had come to have the same practical authority as the written rule. So tradition had become more forcible than usual. The committee on revision had tried to reduce this to paper, and about ninety per cent of the old rule had been incorporated into the new.

In all the revision proceedings, from the preliminary session of August 30, 1900, to the July Chapter of 1906 when the finishing touches were put on the formularies, and the Rule, Constitutions and Custumal were ratified by a vote of sixty-three to thirteen, Mother Edith's sagacity and statesmanship were everywhere evident. The minutes prove that the Community was well supplied with that virtue "which in saints is called perseverance and in others, obstinacy." In one early session in which thirty-seven were present, permission was sought for the Sisters to go without their cloaks in very hot weather. The clause was passed twenty-seven to ten. The term "Mass," which the Community had used from the first, was objected to, but its use was approved twenty-two to fifteen.

During the six-year period in which the formularies were in tentative use and undergoing revision at the hands of Chapter, the Community was advised in turn by three Chaplains, each of whom made a distinctive contribution. At the approach of Father Langmore's scheduled departure in the autumn of 1901, the Sisters asked Father William McGarvey to take the Chaplaincy, but he declined because of the pressure of his parochial duties at St. Elisabeth's, Philadelphia. The Rev. William Walter Webb, a professor at Nashotah House, was elected, but a year later he was named Dean of Nashotah and was obliged to resign the Chaplaincy. At Father Webb's suggestion, Father McGarvey was elected, and this time he accepted; he was installed on August 2, 1902. At forty-one he was at the height of his power, and well qualified for the post. He had good sense and unquestionable integrity. He was an able scholar and an effective teacher; his sermons, lectures and retreat addresses display that combination of simplicity and profundity which springs from a deep and disciplined spiritual life.

It is reasonable to suppose that Father McGarvey had a hand in formulating the fourth and final revision of the Rule, as it was adopted by the General Chapter of 1905, which Chapter tendered him a "vote of thanks for his self-sacrificing labours on our behalf." This Rule, finally ratified with minor amendments by the General Chapter of 1906, was a vast improvement on the so-called Langmore revision. It is important to note, however, that the changes are chiefly in style and not in content. In content, the fourth Rule represented a skillful synthesis of its three predecessors:

The rule prepared by Dr. Dix 1865-1877
The rule as slightly revised by Fr. Benson 1877-1901
The rule prepared by Fr. Langmore 1901-1906

Added to the composite were portions of the address Bishop Horatio Potter delivered at the Community's founding on February 2, 1865, and splendid paragraphs introducing each of the twenty-four chapters, brief and crystalline expositions of such subjects as poverty, humility, silence, enclosure and charity. In these, and in the few other paragraphs that were added, the words and ideas were from Holy Scripture or the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict. The style was changed from that of abrupt command, in the third person— from "Each Sister shall . . ." and "No Sister may . . ."—to a mellow and mature second person thee and thou which somehow contributes to the tone of classic spirituality. How much of this changed tone can be attributed to Father McGarvey there is no way of knowing; he sat with the revision committee, but the proceedings of that committee were not kept. It is worth noting that the revised Rule bears no resemblance in content or expression to the rule of Fr. McGarvey's own Companions of the Holy Saviour, although phrases from the Companions' rule do occur in the Community Custumal. The Community Ceremonial, translated from several monastic sources by Father McGarvey, was acclaimed at the time it appeared as the peer of any in Roman or Anglican liturgies. The Constitutions and Custumal were later found to be too detailed, requiring frequent amendment. Much of the later inadequacy of the Ceremonial stemmed from liturgical improvements in the Church at large, rather than from any inherent fault in Father McGarvey's work. His contribution was summed up by a Sister:

He found the Community emerging from mid-Victorian High Church Anglicanism; he completed the evolution and left it on the whole in full practice of the Catholic faith and traditional monasticism, free from inhibitions or self-consciousness.

Father McGarvey's chaplaincy brought the Sisters into close association with the Companions of the Holy Saviour, which he had founded in 1891 to promote the celibate ideal among Anglican priests. With few exceptions, the Companions were impressionable young priests and seminary students who looked to Father McGarvey for leadership at a time when the Catholic movement was notably lacking in aggressive leaders. Judging from the two first-hand accounts extant, the Companions reflected both the high ideals and the severe limitations of Father McGarvey's thinking. He had been born of Irish immigrant laborers and at the age of nineteen had come under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Percival, for whom he worked for a time as a lay assistant at the Church of the Evangelists in Philadelphia. After graduation from the General Seminary he returned to become curate of the same parish. In 1896 he became rector of the daughter parish of St. Elisabeth's, where he established a clerical community of Companions.

For Father McGarvey, the veil of the temple had never been rent. His was a narrow, hot-house ecclesiasticism, a "sacristianity" which blinded him to the realities of the Church's life and his position in it. From Father Hawks' and Father Hayward's accounts, one gathers that nothing was ever thought out, much less plotted, and that by drift rather than by design the Companions began to aim at re-casting the Church in a mold more to their liking, to give it the Italianate flourishes so notably absent from main-stream Anglicanism. With the flourishes, they desired a formula of certitude which, whether in its fundamentalist or papalist form, is always more manageable than the mobile synthesis of authority and freedom that remains the glory of Anglicanism.

The Sisters were less aware of this aspect of Father McGarvey's position than has sometimes been supposed. In his official capacity he at no time expressed pro-Roman views. Outside the Community, however, there was widespread alarm over the Companions' activities, beginning as early as 1903 after the dedication of St. Mary's Convent, for which" Father McGarvey had culled the old Pontificals to compile a service worthy of the occasion.

At 10 a.m. on October 21 the Sisters formally departed from the old wooden convent, followed by the girls of St. Gabriel's School in white. At the top of the hill they were met by the clergy, thirty priests in addition to the ten officiating priests and two bishops, the latter in copes and mitres attended by deacons in splendid dalmatics. Finally came the Associates of the Community, sixty in all, whose gifts, along with two Sisters' legacies, had made possible the $75,000 structure. Large enough to accommodate seventy-five Sisters, built of grey granite quarried from the hill on which it stood, the massive three-story L-shaped convent stood now as the realization of many dreams. Through it the procession moved, their old friend Bishop Seymour of Springfield and Bishop Weller of Fond du Lac censing and sprinkling the rooms in turn. An old account described the scene vividly:

The procession entered the convent singing the Miserere and passed through the house up the stairs to the infirmary and down through the guest House. On reaching the refectory, this being the largest room, a halt was made. The Sisters stood on one side, the clergy on the other, the Associates between. At one end of the room stood a table with linen cover, crucifix and candles; across it lay the great crucifix. A hymn was sung, after which the Bishop blessed the crucifix. The beautiful collects from the "Order of Service" were read and then with great ceremony Fr. Cowl raised the crucifix to the place where it is to hang.

The small Chapel within the Convent, dedicated to St. Scholastica at Father McGarvey's suggestion, was not as yet finished, and the procession went through the cloister with its low-sloping slate roof to St. Mary's Chapel. The doorposts and walls were sprinkled to the chanting of Psalm 122, and the altar anointed first with the oil of catechumens and then with the oil of chrism, and finally vested for the Mass.

The sacred ministers in the sanctuary included eight Companions of the Holy Saviour. We can only wonder if their presence influenced the tone of Dr. Dix's sermon:

Dr. Dix spoke tenderly of the early days of the Community, and likened the building of the convent to the growth of the Religious Life, out of the stony rock of indifference and apathy of forty years ago. He traced the beginnings of the first English Sisterhoods, and told of his visits to East Grinstead, to Clewer, to All Saints'. He set forth the value and the responsibility of Sisterhoods as witnesses to unchanging truth and unaltered standards of righteousness in a world given over to restlessness and unbelief and laxity. A self-centered life is of the nature of suicide. The Sixth Psalm is said daily in the choir offices to set forth the excellence of a life under rule. To the Sisters he addressed himself with all the vigor and authority of a true spiritual director, reminding them that these were his last words of counsel to them—to beware of self-congratulation, arrogance, censoriousness, criticism, class-feeling; to repress individualism and restlessness, to be loyal to the Church.

At the consecration the great bell in the belfry, inscribed with the name of Mother Harriet, rang out with joyous peals, and after the Mass the procession moved through the autumn-painted woods to pray beside the graves of Mother Harriet and the thirty Sisters at rest.


Like a good field general, Mother Edith deployed her troops to best advantage, withdrawing Sisters from Trinity Infirmary and the Laura Franklin Hospital against much opposition both within and outside the Community. Time proved her wisdom in taking these steps—there were then seventy-four Sisters, some of them infirm, scattered too widely in twelve different houses. Soon after her election there were signs of growth. The little parochial community of The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, asked to be received into the Community of Saint Mary. The Superior, Sister Mary Maude, had been trained and professed at Peekskill and was at once enrolled as a Choir Sister; Sister Mary Gabriel, who had taken her vows in New York, was given a year's training in the Novitiate at Peekskill. These, with others, made nine additional professed Sisters and a large Novitiate. When an appeal came in 1902 from the Bishop of Iowa for the Community to take over St. Katharine's School at Davenport, Mother Edith thought it well to undertake the work.

The work in the South was expanded, too. Early in Mother Edith's first term she saw the advisability of establishing a permanent school for mountain girls at Sewanee, and St. Mary's-on-the-Mountain came into being, with Sister Hughetta in charge.

The death on Easter Sunday, 1903, of the last of the founding five, Sister Mary, who had been in charge of the House of Mercy since Sister Jane's death in 1868, and the death two years later of Sister Gertrude Clare, Superior of St. Gabriel's School, were sad blows and imposed hard decisions on the Mother. Sister Mary's place was taken by Sister Gertrude, but not until 1907 was a Superior found for St. Gabriel's School, when Sister Mary Maude was brought back from Memphis to fill that post.

Weighed down by responsibility, with houses distant and travel difficult, it seemed to Mother Edith that the Community should be divided into several autonomous geographical provinces. Most of the support for this proposal came from the South. The Sisters in Kenosha made it clear that their petition for provincial status was submitted in deference to the wishes of the Superiors at Peekskill. As early as 1901, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Gailor, Bishop of Tennessee, wrote to the Community authorities that he regarded this measure of independence necessary if the work in Tennessee was to survive. After much discussion, the General Chapter of 1903' amended the constitution to authorize the establishment of provinces, each having its own Convent, Novitiate, and Mother Superior, all under the oversight of the Mother Superior General. Following this plan, the New York houses became the Eastern Province, with a Mother Provincial and Chaplain Provincial; the houses then in the Chicago area comprised the Western Province; and the Tennessee houses became the Southern Province.

The provincial system of government was inaugurated on the Community's fortieth anniversary, February 2, 1905, when St. Mary's Convent, Kenosha, was dedicated and Sister Margaret Clare was installed as Mother Superior of the Western Province. Despite bitterly cold weather, many guests travelled to Kenosha for the ceremonies, in which seven bishops and six priests participated. To the chanting of prayers and psalms, the Rt. Rev. Isaac L. Nicholson, Bishop of Milwaukee, sprinkled the lintel and door-posts with holy water and proceeded through the Sisters' quarters, sprinkling and censing each room. Then, as the hymn "O Mother dear Jerusalem" was rung on the chimes, the procession entered St. Mary's Chapel, the Sisters followed by the resident chaplain, the Rev. F. L. Maryon, master of ceremonies; the Rev. William McGarvey and the Rev. W. W. Webb, Chaplains respectively of the Eastern and Western Provinces; the Rev. Frs. J. W. Gilman and G. E. Taylor as crucifer and thurifer, followed by the Bishops, vested in copes and mitres, the Rt. Rev. Frs. Osborne, Fawcett, Weller, Anderson, Morrison, Grafton and Nicholson.

After the dedication ceremonies at the altar, Sister Margaret Clare was presented by Mother Edith to Bishop Nicholson, who led her to her stall and conferred upon her full authority to rule the Province in accordance with Community law and customs. Sister Ella was then blessed as Assistant Superior and Sister Florence as Novice Mistress. Sister Frances was blessed by Bishop Charles P. Anderson of Chicago as Superior of the Chicago house; Sister Esther was blessed by Bishop Theodore N. Morrison of Iowa as Superior of St. Katharine's School in Davenport. Bishop Morrison preached a stirring sermon on the text, "This shall be my rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein," concluding:

Truly as we make much of our joy in God's House shall we bear without heartbreak or loss of faith and fervor the burden of work and anxiety we must carry for His Name's sake.

Among the children from St. Mary's Home, Chicago, brought along to serve the guests at dinner following the ceremonies was a little girl who would grow up to become a Sister of Saint Mary and who, as Mother Mary Ambrose, would bear for over thirty years "without heartbreak or loss of faith and fervor" the burdens and anxieties of Mother Superior of the Western Province.

Thus was solemnly launched, with episcopal blessing, the frail vessel of the Western Province. It comprised in 1905 only three centers of work. The "Convent" was really a corner of Kemper Hall and remained so until 1911, when the cornerstone was laid for a new Convent building. Kemper Hall was still burdened by debt. The Durkee annuity did not lapse until 1911, at which time the school had paid some $25,000 for less than nine acres. By 1913, however, the floating debt had been retired, three new buildings erected, an adequate breakwater built, and the chapel enlarged, improvements totalling $287,000. Moreover, under Mother Margaret Clare's direction, the school had won for itself a lasting place in the affections of the local community.

It need scarcely be said that the woman who accomplished all this was a person of keen intellect and strong character. Born near Flint, Michigan, Mother Margaret Clare was orphaned early and left alone by the death of her only brother. The small legacy left for her support was spent preparing for a teaching career, but she had only begun to teach when she became engaged to a Detroit businessman, Heber Crane. They decided to delay their marriage until his business was established, but the Civil War intervened, and Mr. Crane induced his fiancee to marry him at once, to assure her a place in his family should he be killed. They were married in October, 1861, and she followed him to St. Louis where he helped train the recruits of the Third Michigan Cavalry. Six weeks after her arrival, in April, 1862, Lieutenant Crane died of typhoid fever. The young widow returned to Detroit and found a teaching position. She began to attend St. John's Church, where the Rev. William D. Armitage, later Bishop of Milwaukee, was rector. Following her confirmation in 1863 she spent vacations in New York, where she worked at Trinity Infirmary and won the Sisters' grateful affection for her tireless help. Over forty, she entered the Peekskill Novitiate with young women half her age, and immediately after her profession was sent to Kenosha.

She possessed that judicious penetration usually regarded as a masculine trait, and combined with it a womanliness of the highest chivalric ideal. To the Bishop of Milwaukee, she was the "strongest person in the Diocese"; to the Bishop of Iowa, "womanly and gentle, yet masterful and effective." She strove for academic ideals surpassing the finishing-school standards of the time; she built a history library of outstanding excellence, and insisted that the natural sciences be taught with laboratory techniques, even equipping the school with an observatory and telescope for the courses in astronomy. Generations of graduates were awed by her austere manner and the way she used the word "honor." Mother Margaret Clare's list of KEMPER HALL DON'TS were aphorisms in her own unmistakable style:

Refinement consists less in what one does and says than in what one leaves undone and unsaid.

Don't talk about yourself or your family affairs. It is a sign of verdancy.

Don't be inquisitive with either tongue or fingers, because curiosity is wholly vulgar and common.

Don't begin sentences with "Say!" Leave that to gum-chewing girls.

Don't make a display of ruffles and ankles while sitting on the porch; don't sit on your spine.

Don't be ungracious. If you do a favor, do it in a whole-souled way; if you receive one, accept it with honest thanks and acknowledgments. If you beat a game or excel in a lesson, don't exult.

Don't be afraid to say upon occasion, "I don't know," or "I was mistaken."

A truly great educator, Mother Margaret Clare perhaps did not feel for the Community's work in Chicago the devotion she had to Kemper Hall. Even so, St. Mary's Home flourished under Sister Frances. The Home became incorporated in 1901 as St. Mary's Home for Children and Free Dispensary for the Poor. (The second part of the title was dropped in 1921.) The first commitments from the Juvenile Court were received in 1902, and in 1903 the Home moved into the splendid new structure at 2822 Jackson Boulevard, on land given by Mr. Thomas Lowther, with $30,000 obtained by Bishop McLaren and the Church Club of the Diocese. This four-story building enlarged the Home's capacity and called for more Sisters; for a time the Community reluctantly withdrew the Sisters from the Mission House. In 1905, Bishop Anderson appealed to the Community to resume that work, and the Sisters went into residence again on September 8. For more than a decade the mission work continued. Sister Mary Wilhelmina did a splendid job among the women prisoners at the Bridewell; it was said that she could not walk down State Street without a greeting from at least one of the women who had received her kindly ministrations.

Every summer until 1922 the children of St. Mary's Home were transported to Kenosha free of charge by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, a move involving more than one hundred persons plus a freight car for clothing and household needs. In Kenosha the Mother Superior provided the Home with a horse and wagon with which to make daily collections of food. In 1904 the children consumed $100 worth of butter and milk a month; flour sold for $7.25 a barrel and two barrels disappeared every week. Donations were necessary, and the names of generous Kenosha families begin to appear in the acknowledgments—Simmons, Vincent, Alien, Lance, Cavanagh, Hannahs, Pennoyer, Head.

Back in Chicago in the autumn, the same begging procedure yielded their daily bread, and on one occasion provided a society portrait painter with a commission. Mrs. William G. Hibbard, an avid supporter of the work, asked her grown children to buy a new dray horse for St. Mary's Home. They had not quite fallen in with the idea when they asked Mrs. Hibbard to have her portrait painted by the Spanish portraitist Sorolla, who was then working in Chicago. Never given to ostentation, Mrs. Hibbard hesitated. Suddenly inspired, she struck a bargain; one portrait for one horse. "Sorolla," a chestnut mare, was added to the staff. The children at the Home were not entirely pleased; they wanted their beloved old gray horse back. But the drayman assured them that this was their old gray mare, only he had painted her chestnut, making a botched job of it on the legs, which were black.

In 1909 the Sisters purchased a building next to the Home and equipped it as a baby shelter and infirmary, a trained nurse in charge. This work was given up in 1911 for lack of funds.

In 1915 a gift of $10,000 presented by Mrs. Joseph Worthington of Washington enabled the Sisters to build St. Mary's Domestic Science School. The World War and industrialization provided so many jobs for the unskilled that Worthington House came to be used instead for a working girls' club. The year 1915 saw also the founding of St. Frances' Guild, named in honor of Sister Frances and founded by Mrs. Charles Palmerston Anderson, wife of the Bishop of Chicago. Until her death in 1948, Mrs. Anderson devoted herself to the Guild, working, advising, inspiring and sewing dresses for the St. Mary's children from patterns she had used for her own daughters. Her children recalled the day she slipped on the ice in front of her home on Prairie Avenue, went to the doctor to have the broken bone set, and continued on her way to a Guild meeting.

In 1920 Judge John Barton Payne gave the Sisters a large house and twenty acres of land in Elmhurst. St. Mary's Home used this spacious country house until 1923, when the city of Elmhurst refused to admit children from the Home to the public schools. This was six years before the law was passed authorizing the use of state funds to pay the tuition of nonresident children attending public school from an orphanage. The property therefore was sold and the funds used for the Home.

From 1925 to 1930 the children of St. Mary's Home spent their summers at Doddridge Farm, Libertyville, Illinois, at the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home. In 1934 the trustees of Racine College, Racine, Wisconsin, invited the Home to use its forty-acre campus on Lake Michigan for summer camping. In 1935 the Sisters purchased the campus as a summer home, thus preserving to the use of the Church the property representing the lifetime labor of the great Dr. James DeKoven.

The third work of the Western Province at its inception was St. Katharine's School, Davenport, Iowa, where the Sisters prayed and labored for forty years, in what one Church paper truly called "an educational outpost." The school had been founded in 1884 by the Rt. Rev. William Perry, Bishop of Iowa, but it had fallen on hard days. The Sisters took over the work in 1902, and Sister Esther arrived from Peekskill in July to supervise construction of a chapel and gymnasium. The property comprised several acres overlooking the Mississippi where, legend said, the first Eucharist ever offered on Iowa soil had been celebrated in the early 1840s by a Jesuit Father. Sister Esther, who was ecumenical fifty years before it became fashionable to be so, was always delighted when local Roman Catholics came as pilgrims to the shrine of "Mass Mound," and through this link she struck up friendships with Roman priests and prelates, including faculty members at St. Ambrose College. The School's growth crowded its facilities, and in 1923 the Sisters purchased a nearby house for a faculty residence. This was named the Marion Crandell Memorial House, in memory of a former teacher, Associate of the Community and Red Cross worker, who was the first American woman killed on active duty in World War I.


The formal inauguration of the Southern Province was a two-day affair, held in the chapel of St. Mary's School, Memphis. On November 14, 1906, Sister Hannah made her profession. The following day, Sister Anne Christine was blessed by Bishop Gailor as the new Mother Superior, and she in turn presented Sister Herberta for blessing as Mistress of Novices. Father Grafton then presented Father Shirley Carter Hughson, O.H.C., for blessing as Chaplain of the Southern Province, thus forming a close tie with the Order of the Holy Cross, which had begun work at St. Andrew's near Sewanee in 1905. In his sermon, Bishop Gailor cited the establishment of the Province as a mission call for the Christian renewal of the South, and recalled the yellow fever deaths, which by this time had become a symbol for the ideal of sacrifice. No one, certainly not the Bishop, foresaw the trials which the newborn Province was to undergo in its brief life.

It was hoped that a Convent could be built in Sewanee, where the Community's work now centered, but at first the Novitiate remained at the Church Home in Memphis, the only house with adequate space. The Sisters in Memphis did their best to keep up the School, the Church Home, the sewing guild and sacristy work for the Cathedral and weekly instruction for the Associates. But as early as 1898 it had become evident that chronic lack of funds and frequent fever quarantines might require moving the work to another city. In 1902 Sister Hughetta had left her beloved Memphis and gone to Sewanee to re-open the Training School after a three-year lapse, and Sister Mary Maude was sent out from Peek-skill to make one last great effort to strengthen the Memphis school.

The St. Mary's Training School was well worth the Community's best efforts. Sister Flora had devised the plan for the School in response to a plea from Bishop Quintard, who lamented the failure of the Church to Christianize the mountain people. Even his own evangelical fervor fell short, despite the fact that many a lowland parish in Tennessee dates its founding from a fiery sermon preached by Bishop Quintard in a sawmill or a saloon. Sister Flora reasoned that if the mountain girls could be taught homemaking and Christian doctrine, they would soon elevate their homes above the primitive level that prevailed. Just as the monks of the Middle Ages civilized the barbarian tribes in one generation by bringing children to live in their schools, so Sister Flora and Bishop Quintard employed the only system which would have a lasting influence. The School opened in 1896, and reopened in 1902.

Here, for eight months of the year, twenty or more girls aged ten to eighteen lived and studied the rudiments of what was called "a plain English education." They were inordinately proud of their uniform, blue dress with white apron and cap. Only for lack of space were applicants turned away. While few families could find the $50 to support a daughter for a year, hard work at home by the girls themselves and appeals for help through the mission leaflet kept the door open. Once, about to tell a second-year girl who had brought her little sister that there was no scholarship available, the Sister capitulated to the plea, "She can sleep with me, and she don't eat much." One girl who was in the Training School for only one year brought all twenty of her kinfolk to baptism. By 1906 the Sisters had more than three hundred godchildren on the mountain. The mountain people brought in their eggs and garden produce to exchange for clothing and household goods at the Mission Store, to which Churchmen from all over the country contributed. One dignified old man exchanged the twenty cents which a Sister paid him for some beans for the tin dishpan his wife had "always set her heart on."

On the Feast of All Saints, 1904, the Sisters prepared for fifty guests and one hundred came. Holy Baptism was administered to twenty-six children and adults; as they were leaving chapel an alumna of the Training School came hurrying up with her little baby, so the procession returned to the font. Starting out a second time, the procession was interrupted by an older couple with their two grandchildren who had left home before sunrise to come the twelve miles on foot, and everyone returned smiling to the font. Old accounts failed to say whether these delays gave the cooks time enough to double the rations.

Some of the baptismal names on St. Mary's records are a tribute to the human imagination. One mountain woman named her twelfth child "Even Dozen." A boy was named "Bishop Quintard," while one unfortunate infant boy was named "Sister Caroline." "Hugh" and "Etta" were common, along with such names as "Phronie Bee." One parent gave the baptizing priest the name "Virgin Mary", which Sister Hughetta quickly corrected to "Virginia Mary".

In 1903 the mountain men asked the Sisters to hold classes for them in reading, writing and arithmetic. One man argued persuasively:

There's Joe Barry, he gets forty dollars a month where we get twenty and he gets it because he can figure up accounts in his little book. He-came up here to the Sisters nine years ago and learned a powerful sight out of books and this has give him a chance we others haven't had.

The Sisters agreed to hold instruction classes, intending tuition to be free, but the men were proud and insisted upon paying fifty cents a month.

A widower with two small sons insisted that his oldest child, a girl, be spared to get some schooling with the Sisters, for a most touching reason:

Susie's mother could read out right clear like, and seemed to take a powerful comfort in it, specially on the winter nights by the lamp when she couldn't sleep. She died young. She just faded and faded for a whole year and died young. She was a good woman.

Again and again, the Sisters were touched by the sweet generosity of the mountain people despite their abject poverty. One man earned ninety cents a night watching for rocks on the tracks of the mountain railroad and on this meager wage supported his wife and five little children. A woman walked for miles over mountain trails to bring the Sisters a gift, explaining:

Sister, Matt has given me six fruit plates and I want to give two of them to you. I never have had anything before nice enough to give you.

A "parlor" to the mountain folk was a second room with a bed in which they could accommodate guests. One woman who had a two-bed "parlor" could boast that she sometimes kept half her forty grandchildren with her over Sunday.

The "coves" were hamlets built in enclosed circular valleys formed by spurs projecting out from the vast truncated plateau. There were Lost Creek Cove, Hawkins' Cove, and Crownover Cove, among many others. On the Feast of All Saints in 1906 more than one hundred persons came from Rowark Cove to the festivities. One man brought his father-in-law, a handsome, bearded old gentleman, and took him around to see the sights. He said, "See, Pa, there's the glass clock I told you about. You can look right into the works and see the wheels turning." But the old man was most interested in seeing "the little holy stable" his grandchildren had described to him. Another man brought his forty-year-old son to see the Christmas crib and reported, "Well, Sister, he said it was the prettiest sight he's ever seen—like what we read about in old times."

Mountain people of all ages responded eagerly to the sacramental life. On the great Church festivals hundreds came, many for baptism, and those already confirmed to confession and communion. In visiting the sick, a Sister found a four-year-old girl critically ill and asking to be baptized. Her mother insisted she must wait until she grew up and "got religion." When the Sister returned two weeks later, the child had died. Her mother told the story:

Yes, Sister, she set her little heart on being Jesus' child. She give her pa and me no rest, night or day. Well, our minister come riding across this way and stopped in to have a sup and say a word. I told him about how Agnes took on so about being baptized, and he said it wasn't to be thought on. When he rose to go, she cried, "Don't doe away until you make me Christ's little child." He come back at that, and said, "Give me some water in a bowl," and he baptized her. I never did see a child so happy! The next day she died, sudden. Our minister came back yestereven, and when he heard she was dead, he cried like a woman. ''I'll never say no to baptizing a child, again. They are the lambs of the flock."

The minister later was confirmed in the Church.

In June, 1908, the Southern Novitiate was transferred to Sewanee, living at the Mission House until the new Convent was ready for occupancy in February, 1909- In May, 1909, the Mission House burned to the ground one night; the Sisters were grateful that everyone escaped injury and that Sister Hughetta saved the Blessed Sacrament, though all clothing and household goods were destroyed.

While the work in Sewanee prospered, the Memphis houses drifted toward disaster. St. Mary's School was relinquished by the Sisters in 1910 and came under the able direction of two Associates, Miss Helen Loomis and Miss Mary Paoli. The Community's impending withdrawal from the Church Home impelled Mother Anne Christine to withdraw from the Community and found the Community of the Good Shepherd, which never numbered more than one Sister, herself. Keen, smiling, quickwitted, she was greatly loved in Memphis for her work at the Church Home. At her death in 1945 at the age of eighty-six, she was eulogized in many newspapers, and never better than by the testimony of one of her orphans:

She taught me a lot, but the greatest things she ever taught me were faith in God and the power of prayer.

Her departure from the Community was a blow from which the Southern Province never recovered. The Province was dissolved in 1910, having fallen below the twelve Sisters required for provincial status, and the Sewanee house became a house of the Eastern Province.

Project Canterbury