Monday, April 27, 2015

Looking Over the Convent Wall

From the Annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame- Lowell  , MA
December 1, 1879           

About this time was purchased a lot of land from a certain John Hennessy for $4,000, and the buildings having been moved in the Spring of 1880, and the ground cleared, a brick wall was built on Adams street extending 123 ft in length.

This is the first mention of the brick wall that surrounded the school, academy, convent, chapel and grounds of the Sisters.  One of the next entries in the Annals tells that the Sisters had to sell off their cows and poultry and to close the gardens which grew some of their food.  The Rule of the SNDs was changing.  The Sisters who once freely mixed with parishioners and often visited homes as nurses were now to be semi-cloistered.  The wall was extended along the Suffolk Street side as well and the vegetable gardens were transformed into formal gardens.  The greatest section of the wall was brick with a granite capstone.  Looking at the eastern wall of St Patrick Church a large outline of a doorway exists today.  Though many recall it as a way to get from the school to the church, originally it was where the Sisters would sit to observe the Mass.  The Order mandated that the Sisters were no longer to assist at Mass sitting with the congregation and to remain within the cloister.  The Sister who wrote the annals during this period put in that this was a sad time for both the Sisters and parishioners.  The inclusion of such personal feelings was highly unusual and shows the close ties the two groups must have enjoyed.   The convent wall was a source of intrigue for many neighborhood children who would devise means on finding their way in and mention is made of neighbors hearing the nuns chanting the Divine Office or the Tantum Ergo on Sunday afternoons.  Even William Cardinal O’Connell mentions that he would make his way over to the Acre and scale the wall with his friends to see the Sisters walking in the flower gardens and grotto.

When the old school was demolished and the new school built in 1958 most of the wall was taken down with it.  The Sisters moved to the Academy grounds at Tyngsboro and made the daily trek by car.  The wall no longer served its purpose.  A small section remained in front of the current school along with several granite capstones strewn along the fence near the housing.  By the 1980s the wall was becoming a hazard.  Bricks were falling out.  The mortar was deteriorating making the wall a potential hazard.  I was there the day they took it down, pleading that maybe a small section could be retained.  As the workmen left I stole a single brick, the only relic to tell the story.  If walls could speak……..