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But before they had fairly entered upon it, the foundation at Kaskaskia, sad to say, was toppling to its fall. The catastrophe came on apace. Two weeks after the departure of Mother Agnes and her associates, the Kaskaskia river, ordinarily two feet lower than the Mississippi now at extraordinary height, began to swell and flood the fields lying between it and the convent garden. On the feast of St. Aloysius the garden was half covered with water, and the Sisters made their last procession in honor of the Sacred Heart over two of the upper walks that continued dry. That night the whole garden was inundated, and at eleven o'clock the following day the water rushed into the cellar. The next morning the well caved in during mass. The situation had now become serious; for the surface soil of the Kaskaskia plain lay on a stratum of quicksand, and it was feared, not without reason, that the entire town would sink in the mighty flood. The Sisters were urged to leave; and at six oclock the same evening, Mr. Amadée Menard, son of Col. P. Menard, brought a flat-boat, propelled by stout rowers, and, taking Mother Isabella and a good many Sisters, conveyed them to his own dwelling on the bluffs east of the river. This was Saturday evening. The Sisters thus brought off probably had no Mass the next morning, but Father St. Cyr said Mass at the convent for those who remained ; and immediately after, the Sunday obligation having been dispensed with, they began packing up, and spent the day in hard work, bundling and sewing, covering carefully with cloths their best pictures and ornaments, and taking down every thing belonging to the altar and chapel, where Mass would never again be celebrated At breakfast time, they took notice, the bricks in the kitchen sank when they stepped on them, and one end of their refectory was now submerged, making it certain that the first floor, though several feet above the ground, would be entirely under water before night; hence, after packing up, they hastily carried tables, dishes, provisions, utensils and furniture to the assembly-room on the floor overhead, where they passed the remainder of this memorable Sunday, at the close of which they, too, quit their doomed convent, and were rowed to the Bluffs. Col. Pierre Menard, the late proprietor of the mansion on the Bluffs, had just been laid in his grave beneath the weltering waters, having been spared the pain of witnessing the destruction of his beloved convent, the object of his solicitude even in his dying hours. When told on his death-bed of the rapid rise of the Mississippi and Kaskaskia, he said repeatedly, “How are the Sisters ?” enjoining his sons to take care of them. He was pre-eminently their benefactor. Their convent in effect had been built up and maintained by him. In the purchase of the land, and in the payment of the notes on the building, he cheerfully
advanced the money, whenever, as happened too often, their means fell short. Neither did he for several years demand any interest, and, when at length he did, it was on the most indulgent terms. Besides, he educated at their school his numerous granddaughters and nieces, and most of their other pupils were obtained through his influence. He died only a few days before the submersion of their grounds, and his house, as we have seen, became their refuge.
Meanwhile, Bishop Kenrick, who had heard nothing of the distress of his nuns, was on the way to Kaskaskia, with their new Bishop, the Rt. Rev. W. Quarter, accompanied also by the Rev. J. Timon and Father de St. Palais, both of whom afterwards became bishops. Bishop Quarter supposed, as did the others, that he was simply to make the acquaintance of a flourishing community that had signalized its transfer to his jurisdiction by giving birth to a new community, destined to flourish likewise in the original diocese; but far different was the meeting. They found, in place of what they had anticipated, the convent abandoned and the homeless Sisters and children crowded together at the Menard mansion, around which the houseless people of the town had taken refuge under tents and awnings. The arrival of the episcopal party, which was at noon on Monday, proved opportune, for the Menard family, it may be imagined, knew not what to do with the Sisters and their pupils, the latter, I should note, numbering sixteen, all the rest of the fifty composing the convent school at the beginning of the flood having been withdrawn by their friends. Father Heim had gone in quest of a boat, but without success, no captain he saw being willing to come up to Kaskaskia. Father Timon now set out on the same errand, and, hailing a steamboat on its way to St. Louis, induced the captain to put out his own cargo, and turn his boat into the Kaskaskia river. Early on Wednesday morning, June 26th, 1844, before daybreak, the puffing of the rescuing steamer was heard at the Menard dwelling. Mr. Amadée Menard sprang from his bed, and, half dressed, ran out to warn the captain against some dangerous spot in the channel, but was relieved of this necessity on seeing Father Timon standing aloft near the wheel, and directing the pilot. After breakfast, all got on board, and steamed for the convent, of which only one-half appeared above water. A portion of the piazza balustrade was sawed off, and the boat lashed to the house through the doors and windows; whereupon the bishops and priests led the way in carrying the furniture on board, the Sisters, for their part, lifting whatever their strength would permit. The pianos, harps, stoves, desks, benches, and such things, were put in the hold to serve as ballast. By one o'clock in the afternoon the boat had been loaded as heavily as was safe; and the Sisters,
bidding adieu forever to their long-loved convent and to Kaskaskia, turned their course towards St. Louis, where they arrived at dawn the next morning: and the sorrowful exodus was accomplished. The steamboat, after unloading, returned to Kaskaskia for the remainder of their furniture, while they, with their pupils, were taken to the house on Sixth street, occupied, it will be remembered, by the Sisters from whom they had recently parted, and who, going forth to found a community, turned out but heralds of the parent house, which, instead of planting a new foundation, transplanted its own.
Yet two years were to elapse before the divided community should be restored to unity.
The house on Sixth street was much too small to accommodate the whole community, but the rescued Sisters, not knowing where else to go, remained in it two days and two nights, when Mrs. Thomas, a lady of wealth, came and took six of them out to her newly-enlarged residence in the country. Pending the uncertainty as to their future abode, Mrs. Ann Biddle, sister-in-law of Gen. W. S. Harney, offered them and their pupils a home in her own family, and this generous offer, when Bishop Quarter's proposal to remove them to Chicago had been definitively overruled, they accepted; and early on the following Monday carriages were sent to take them to her dwelling on Fifth street, which was now transformed into both a school and a convent. Mrs. Biddle's house was very large, and she gave up to the use of the refugees all the apartments, excepting one only, her own bedroom, the servants lodging in a back building. She supplied the table of the Sisters, and attended to their every want. Their meals were prepared by her own cook, two of the lay sisters assisting. On the 26th of July, the feast of her patroness, St. Ann, a general communion was offered for this benefactress, and Bishop Kenrick celebrated mass at her house for the same intention. Her back parlor served as the chapel, she having, besides, two front parlors. Mrs. Biddle on the occasion treated the community to a grand fite, every feature of which was in sumptuous style. Her kindness did not stop here. After entertaining the Sisters and their sixteen pupils for a full month, she established them, during the summer vacation and before the opening of the first session of their school, in her spacious mansion on Broadway, where the pupils enjoyed the advantage of extensive grounds, with delightful walks and shades. Their school increasing, they built, by the advice of the Bishop, a two-storied structure, containing a dormitory and a play-room, each about forty feet by twenty, with a flight of stairs leading from one to the other. The lower room answered the purpose of study-hall, class-room, and wash-room, as well as play-room. When they left, the Bishop, as he had engaged, took this building at cost, and had it rolled over
to St. Patrick's Church, for the use of the parish school. Mrs. Biddle charged the Sisters for her mansion and premises only a nominal rent, the payment of which, it is believed, was never exacted. The Superior of the Broadway division was Sister Isabella King, under whose charge the last days at Kaskaskia had been spent and the final escape effected. Naturally, her thoughts reverted to that devastated seat of the community, and renewed her solicitude to discharge the pecuniary obligations contracted there. The heirs of Col. P. Menard held the notes of the convent for seventeen thousand dollars, at five per cent. interest. The Sisters, troubled by this indebtedness, endeavored to sell the convent land and buildings at any sacrifice, and had the property advertised for a year in the newspapers of the great eastern cities; but nothing came of it. At length they proposed to the Menard heirs to pay down one-third of the debt in ready money, give the equivalent of another third in schooling, and surrender the land and house for the remaining third. This proposal the heirs agreed to, and the burden which had weighed so heavily on the community was removed.
In July, 1846, after two years of separation, the Sisters on Broadway and those on Sixth street were reunited, taking possession of the Archbishop's place on Ninth street, under Mother Agnes as Superior, the health of Mother Isabella at the time disabling her for the office. Here the community, permanently unified, remained twelve years, enjoying the spiritual blessing of a close proximity to the Lazarist Fathers, who during that time served the convent as chaplains, confessors, and spiritual directors. Here, too, the Sisters built up, on the solid basis of their past but relatively obscure achievements, that splendid superstructure of academic instruction, the fame of which casts lustre upon the West, and does honor to the whole Union. On September roth, 1846, almost coincident with the reunion of the community, occurred the death of Sister Teresa Lalor, whom our readers will remember as the first Superior of the mother house at Georgetown. Her light went out just as the torch kindled at its flame began to burn with steady brilliancy. In June, 1848, Sister Genevieve King, one of the most loved and most lovable of the community, was elected Superior. Pending the election, a letter came from Bishop Portier, of Mobile, requesting the community to lend his house in that city two or three members. In compliance with this request, the deposed Mother, Sister Agnes Brent, with Sister Helen Flannigan, Sister Augustine Barber, and Sister Cecelia Del Vecchio, left soon afterwards for Mobile, where the latter two Sisters died, Sisters Agnes and Helen returning after a stay of four years. The triennial of Mother Genevieve's government was a period of trials as well as
of blessings. The chief of the former was the interruption of the school twice by pestilence; and among the latter must be included the visit, in the spring of 1850, of the celebrated Father Theobald Mathew, who edified the community in various ways, and to whom its members had the consolation of going to confession. At the close of this triennial the convent elected as its Superior Sister Isabella King, cousin of Sister Genevieve, and one of the most efficient and acceptable administrators it has known.
About this time, Bishop Loras, of Dubuque, wishing to establish a house in his diocese, applied to the Sisters for a colony, which, however, they were unable to spare, the growth of their seminary crowding hard upon their means of teaching, and rendering them more disposed to borrow than lend. Some time in 1852, therefore, Bishop Loras, on behalf of his project, sent one of his priests, Father de Villars, to the house of Monlud, near Lyons, France, the uncle of this priest being at the time, and having been for many years, chaplain and confessor to that community. Father de Villars, on his way to Europe, called at St. Louis. As Mother Isabella remembered with pleasure the French Sisters (models of perfect observance and of every religious virtue) whom she had known at Georgetown, she strongly desired to reinforce her community by two or three such as they, and judged this a favorable opportunity to obtain them. Accordingly, with Archbishop Kenrick's consent, she wrote to Paris by Father de Villars, who, in June, 1853, returned with two Sisters for St. Louis from the First Monastery of Paris, along with his own colony from Monlud. These colonists remained with the St. Louis Sisters about two months to study English, and on their departure for Keokuk, the destined seat of the new house, took with them two of their late entertainers to assist in the school. The two Sisters from Paris stayed at St. Louis a twelvemonth, when one, Sister Augustine Borgia, gave her services to the Keokuk house for a year or more, and then went back to Paris; the other, Sister Frances Gonzaga, returned directly to Paris, where, in the fall of 1869, the writer had the pleasure of seeing her, still far from what Victor Hugo calls the youth of age, and in the full bloom of her conventual graces.
In the interim, a home for the community, suited to its thriving state and commanding reputation, had been in course of erection on Cass Avenue, and at length neared completion. The lot on which this edifice was built, it is proper to say, had been bequeathed to the Sisters by Mrs. Ann Biddle, the excellent lady, meanwhile deceased, who had befriended them in the days of the flood, and whose benefactions ended only with her life. The time now approached for their last removal. The extensive additions they had made to