On this day, a century ago, twenty-two young women received their white veils at the Mallinckrodt Convent of the Sisters of Christian Charity at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
The New York Times listed 17 of them: Gertrude Schumacher, Anna Mueller, Catherine Huelsing, Clara Forst, Martha Schumann, Catherine Lang, Emelia Frank, Jane Weiss, Elizabeth Nehls, Theresa Hemmer, Catherine Wagner, Veronica Homan, Irma Blankenburg, Anna Wiltgen, Cecelia Gangelhoff, Elizabeth Harvey, Mary Puls, and Catherine Ringwald.
The article in the New York Times was short, giving no details other than the names of the bishop who presided, the priest who preached the sermon, and some of the women who received their habits that day. It is likely that the accounts in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton newspapers were longer, with descriptions of the music, the flowers, the gowns, the service, as was typical at the time.
The new novices all had German names, which was to be expected, since they were entering a German order. In those days nuns in German orders conversed in German, prayed in German, taught in German, sang in German, and observed German rules.
The new novices were from Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Newark, Iowa, etc. It was not unusual at the time for postulants to come from cities and farms far from the motherhouse of the order they were entering. Priests traveling around the country would recruit young women for orders they knew. Girls attended convent boarding schools far from their homes, attracted by ads the orders placed in newspapers. Many entered the convent after graduation.
Click here to see the 1893 Prospectus for the boarding school conducted by the Sisters of Christian Charity at their motherhouse, in the American College and Public School Directory. Boarders at the school were charged $200.00 per annum.
Click here for a year-by-year summary of the history of the Sisters of Christian Charity in America, beginning with their arrival at New Orleans in May, 1873.
Mother Pauline von Mallinckrodt, founder of the order, arrived in June of that year and bought the land for the motherhouse in July.
By 1893 the congregation had 427 Sisters, 61 novices, and 55 postulants.
In 1911, when the women in the article received their habits, the community was so pressed for space in Wilkes-Barre, that they were considering buying a site for a new motherhouse in Chicago.
In 1912, they bought land in Wilmette from the Wheaton Franciscans, and in 1915, the last ceremonies of Investing and Profession were held at Wilkes-Barre. In 1916, the Final Vow ceremony was held in the new Wilmette motherhouse for the first time.
The history makes it clear that the American community's continuing relationship with their Sisters in Germany was important. Superiors traveled back and forth, and postulants and novices from Germany came to join the American convent. In spite of two world wars, the ties remained strong.
In 1927, the North American Province divided into the Eastern Province and the Western Province.
Mother Pauline von Mallinckrodt was beatified in 1985. Click here for images of Blessed Pauline.
What happened to the twenty-two women who received the habit of the Sisters of Christian Charity on May 16, 1911? Did they persevere? Were they the first group to make final vows in the new motherhouse at Wilmette? Did some of them go to the Eastern Province in 1927? Did they become teachers?
One of the interesting things about the Sisters of Christian Charity was their professional training. At a time when many nuns went into classrooms with little or no education beyond high school, Mother Pauline's order was different.
"Prior to their establishment in America they had conducted both elementary and higher Catholic schools, supported and supervised by a Government which engaged only professionally trained and certified teachers. The enlightened Foundress and the pioneer Sisters fully recognized the absolute necessity of well-qualified teachers in order to labor successfully as educators of the Catholic youth, and therefore at once organized a Normal and Training School for the young Sisters at the Mother-house."
--"The Sisters of Christian Charity", Religious Orders of Women in the United States, by Elinor Tong Dehey, 1913, pages 250-258.
Now that the investigation of American nuns is coming to an end, will the Vatican acknowledge the inestimable service they provided for Catholics in this country? Will there be a Year of the Religious Woman in which to honor them and thank them? The Vatican and the American bishops have the names and the statistics. Will they publish a book of remembrance or an online resource listing the names and dates of all the women who gave their lives to the Church? When and where was each Sister born? When did she enter the convent? Where did she teach, nurse, keep house, pray, care for orphans, the poor, the aged? When did she die? Where is she buried?