« PreviousContinue »
tuted a new method, consisting in the mortification of the will, rather than of the body, whereby the stream of conduct, so to speak, might be purified in its source—the very citadel of the soul possessed and manned against besieging temptations. And this method-suited to temptations the subtlest as well as the simplest, to constitutions the most delicate no less than the most robust, and equally to every stage and phase of advancing civilization-distinguishes more or less conspicuously all religious orders since founded. But perhaps it has never arrayed itself in a more amiable and captivating form than in the Order of the Visitation of our Lady the most glorious Virgin Mary, founded, in the dawn of the seventeenth century, by Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, who breathed into it the sweet and lofty spirit that still animates it, and which makes it to-day, as two centuries ago, a star of purest lustre in the religious firmament.
The founders of this Order were both of high birth, Francis de Sales having been the eldest son of the Count of Sales, one of the principal nobles of Savoy, while Madam de Chantal, married at an early age to the Baron de Chantal, a nobleman of Burgundy, was the daughter of Benigne Fremyot, President of the Parliament of Dijon, and an illustrious member of one of the best families of the noblesse de la robe ; and both also were endowed with singular gentleness of character, clearness of intellect, and strength of will, the works of Francis de Sales, whereof the “ Introduction to a Devout Life" and the “ Love of God" are the chief, sufficiently attesting his rare intellectual endowments, and the letters of Madame de Chantal, in freshness, vigor, and grace, rivalling those of Madame de Sévigné herself, who, by the way, was her granddaughter. The married life of Madame de Chantal, remarkably serene and happy, was suddenly terminated by the accidental death of her husband; and, in the shadow of her great bereavement, she not unnaturally turned, with redoubled zeal, to devotional exercises, of which, however, she had never been unmindful. During the third year of her widowhood, in the world yet not of it, and yearning ardently for a religious life, she first met Francis de Sales, then Bishop of Geneva, who became her spiritual director, and eventually, having satisfied . himself of her vocation, unfolded to her the project, already matured in his mind, of establishing a congregation of the Visitation; which she at once joyfully welcomed, and, despite some formidable obstacles, successfully cooperated with him in founding, becoming herself the first superior of the first convent of the new Order. In due time both were canonized; and it may be said that the institution they founded, as it had mirrored the spirit of their lives, caught up and has steadily reflected the light they shed from the altars of the Church: in it they still live.
The Order of the Visitation, as befits its origin, fulfils the twofold intention of religious orders in a way notably gentle and at the same time complete, blending harmoniously the rigors of monastic discipline with the charities and amenities of the highest refinement. The Order was especially designed to open a religious field to ladies whose delicate rearing and feeble constitutions unfitted them for the life of the more austere orders. As originally conceived by its founders, indeed, it resembled the Institute of the Oratory, the members not being cloistered, and taking the simple vows only, thereby retaining the liberty of returning to the world, if dispensed by their lawful superior; and in this form it was actually opened at Annecy in Savoy on the 6th of June, 1610. But, in compliance with the urgent representations of the Archbishop of Lyons, Francis de Sales yielded his original conception, and eight years later, accordingly, in virtue of a bull of Pope St. Pius V., the institute was erected into a regular monastic Order, with enclosure and under the solemn vows. It was thus finally planted in the strong subsoil of the Church; and seldom has a cloistered stem borne so fair a flower or rich a fruit. Nor has its growth been less noticeable than its fruitage. Before the death of Francis de Sales, the mother-house at Annecy had put forth branches in the principal cities of France; and, within fifty years after his death, the number of convents of the Order had increased to more than, one hundred. They now, we need not say, flourish in all quarters of both hemispheres.
It was not till the beginning of the present century, however, that the Order of the Visitation was introduced into this country, the first foundation having been opened at that period in Georgetown, D. C., by Bishop Neale, then coadjutor to Archbishop Carroll, first Archbishop of Baltimore; though the foundation was not settled till 1816, when Bishop Neale had succeeded Archbishop Carroll; and, at his instance, supported by a statement of the facts, Pope Pius VII. formally admitted the young community to the rank and privileges of a religious house. The progress of the Visitation in the Old World had been comparatively easy sailing; but no sooner was the Order launched in the New World than difficulties arose, not so much from the roughness of the waters, to pursue the figure, as from their trackless expanse, with the lack of suitable vessels, experienced crews, and the requisite sailing directions. The house at Georgetown, to drop metaphor, was opened with only three Sisters, natives of Ireland, at whose head was Miss Alice Lalor, who subsequently became the first Superior. Miss Lalor, known in religion as Sister Teresa, was born at Tenakil, Mountrath, Queen's County, Ireland, and was first cousin to Mr.
Patrick Lalor, formerly Member of Parliament for Queen's County, in which post he was succeeded by his son, Mr. Richard Lalor, who now fills it. Neither she nor the good Bishop knew the rules of the Order; and their school was held in a little frame building near the house of some Poor Clares, who, coming to this country from France a few years before, had sought to establish a convent of their Order in Georgetown, and with whom the Sisters of the Visitation, by the advice of the Bishop, took up their temporary abode. Among the books, however, belonging to these Poor Clares, strange to say, was found a volume containing the rules and constitutions of the Visitation Order, which the Bishop straightway translated; and one difficulty of the community was mastered. In a few months, the Superior of the Poor Clares died, and the remaining members returned to France, when the Bishop, alert on behalf of his foundation, purchased their property, and the Visitation Sisters occupied their house as a convent, still using the little frame building as an academy; and one other difficulty was at least mitigated. They had now tolerable vessels, and full sailing directions; but their crew remained scant and inexperienced. To supply this deficiency, Bishop Neale applied to the Order in Europe for some of its trained members; but none came. Another matter of solicitude on the part of the new community was the proper costume of the Order, of which they were ignorant; and the Bishop, though for years he anxiously scrutinized every package of devotional objects sent to the American mission, could find no book or picture that enlightened them respecting this point, until at length, on taking out one day the contents of a large box, his eyes met a handsome lithograph of St. Jane de Chantal herself, and the point was cleared up; although the poor nuns, it is said, could afford, after all, to furnish only Mother Teresa with a habit in fulfilment of the rule. Of the simple vows they had made, that of poverty was, indeed, easily kept; necessity alone would have exacted its observance. From this condition they soon emerged, without, however, the protection of the founder, who did not live to witness the triumph of his cherished community.
Archbishop Neale died in 1817, less than a year after the Papal recognition of his foundation, which he committed, by one of his last official acts, to the charge of Father J. P. Clorivière, a descendant of an honored house of Brittany, a soldier decorated by his sovereign with the Order of St. Louis, and a priest of marked ability, varied accomplishments, and unswerving fidelity. Under his direction, and that of his successors, aided by lights in the Sisterhood, the Mother Convent of the Visitation in this country, entering on a career of prosperity unchecked, if not unshadowed, realized at last the ideal of its founder, the three Sisters sheltered
in the house of the Poor Clares multiplying into a populous and far-famed convent, and the humble school in the rude annex developing into one of the most complete and renowned seminaries in the land. The weak craft, with scant crew and no supplies, that we saw struggling out of port, if we may recur to the nautical figure, was in the course of the voyage transformed into a palatial ship, which, richly equipped and nobly served, now rides at anchor in the harbor of its destination.
It was not to the mother convent, however, that we referred in the opening of this article, but to one of the fairest and most vigorous of its offspring-the Visitation Convent of St. Louis. The St. Louis foundation was first planted at Kaskaskia, Illinois, a flourishing town before St. Louis could boast of a name, and once the capital of the State, as well as the centre of civilization in the West, but now, through a tragic succession of flood, earthquake, tornado, and pestilence, reduced to a hamlet, containing less than thirty families, and without sight or sound of commerce; a complexion, indeed, to which it had already come, though still trailing faint clouds of traditionary glory, when the founders of the new community arrived there fifty years ago. Kaskaskia, it should be premised, was in the diocese of Bishop Rosati, of St. Louis. The journey of the colony thither, it would seem, arose from a formal application by the Bishop, who, in his letters to the mother convent, had left the impression not only that accommodations had been provided at Kaskaskia for the Sisters, but that the parish priest had resolved on surrendering to their use his own dwelling, insomuch that, on the eve of their departure, the Rev. William Matthews, Spiritual Father of the Convent, said jocosely to Mother Agnes, the head of the adventurous band: “If you have turned the priest out of his house already, I do not know what you will do after your arrival in Kaskaskia.” The event, we regret to say, turned the good Father's pleasantry into somewhat bitter irony. With no misgiving of the event, however, the Sisters of the foundation, on the 17th of April, 1833, set out from Georgetown for the seat of their mission. We subjoin their names: Mother M. Agnes Brent, Superior ; Sister M. Genevieve King, Assistant and Mistress of Novices; Sister M. Gonzaga Jones, Procuratrix, Dispenser, etc.; Sister M. Ambrosia Cooper, Sister M. Helen Flannigan, Directress of the School; Sister M. Isabella King, Teacher, Sacristan, Robier, etc.; Sister M. Josephine Barber, Postulant; Sister M. Catharine Rose Murray, Lay Sister, Cook, etc.
The Sisters travelled under the protection of the brother-in-law of Sister Genevieve King, Mr. Richard Queen, who in his marriage to Miss King, we may be pardoned for saying, showed that fate, like Shakespeare, is not above questionable punning. On reaching Balti
more, they had the honor of dining with Archbishop Whitfield, and, after viewing his grounds, and visiting the Cathedral, Seminary, and other places of interest, drove to the Carmelite Sisters, who were in the act of celebrating the golden jubilee of one of their number, and by whom they were welcomed heartily and detained till the afternoon of the following day, when they resumed their journey, going from Baltimore to Frederick by horse-cars, which they saw then for the first time. At Frederick they were met by Father Virgil Barber, of the Society of Jesus, father of their postulant, and were introduced to Father McElroy, who died in the summer of 1877, aged ninety-five. The day afterwards, exchanging horse-cars for fourhorse coaches, they began the ascent of the Alleghenies, which they crossed in four or five days; and, taking a steamboat at Wheeling, arrived in Louisville on the last day of the week, in time to go to confession to the saintly Bishop Flaget. The next morning they assisted at high mass in the Cathedral, and in the afternoon at Benediction, renewing their journey the following day, being accompanied through the locks of the Louisville and Portland Canal by Bishop Flaget, Mother Catherine, of the white
Sisters of Charity, and Father Abel, the last of whom gave them a very doleful description of Kaskaskia, telling them they would "all die of pleurisy the first winter,” which, adds the accomplished historiographer of the convent, was not very far from the truth."
On the succeeding Friday, May 3d, being the anniversary of the Finding of the Holy Cross, the wayfaring Sisters reached the point at which they were to leave the Mississippi, the captain rousing them from their berths at three oclock in the morning, and explaining that, as there were no means of accommodation or conveyance on the Illinois shore, he would put them out at St. Mary's landing, on the Missouri side; which ere long he did. Near the landing stood the residence of a Mrs. Davis, which they had been told was a tavern, and whither accordingly they bent their steps, Mr. Queen, with a freedom proper to the guest of an inn, proceeding forth with to order breakfast for the party, which was duly served; though while at table their hostess, with becoming delicacy, let it be known that her house in fact was a private one, upon which Mr. Queen, finding his foot in the snare that Tony Lumpkin sets for Young Marlow in the play, extricated himself by a fitting apology, wherein the Sisters eagerly joined. The drama of their Western life thus opened with a comedy act. After breakfast Mr. Queen, constituting himself a committee of one to examine the prospect, crossed the broad Mississippi, and made his way to Kaskaskia, two or three miles distant; whence he returned after dinner, reporting that the arrival of the Sisters was unexpected by everybody, not excepting the parish priest, whose house actually was so dilapidated