Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Date to Remember: July 3, 1831

St. Patrick Church, 1831 in Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell

From Bishop Fenwick’s Diary: The Bishop this day performs the ceremony of dedication of the catholic Church in Lowell, under the auspices of St Patrick.  The Very Rev Dr O'Flaherty preaches on the occasion & the Rev Mr Mahoney celebrates Mass.  An immense concourse of people attend of all denominations, as also many Catholics from Boston.  The large open space around the Church is literally covered by those unable to obtain place in the Church.  The Choir is conducted by singers chiefly from Boston who volunteered on the occasion.  In the afternoon the Bishop administers the holy sacrament of Confirmation to thirty nine persons.  The weather is excessively hot.  The Church at Lowell is 70 feet by 40 & is neatly finished in the Gothick style.  

July 3rd, 1831.  The dedication of Lowell’s first Catholic church (only the third in all of New England) received but a single sentence in the Lowell Mercury.  More space was given to elections in Kentucky or rowdiness of certain boys in the city.  Other cites’ newspapers gave more space to the event than did the Mercury.  

The day was exceptionally warm.  Dr. O'Flaherty who gave the sermon was the preeminent Catholic speaker of his day.  The Catholic Miscellany (the forerunner of The Pilot) stated that the Catholic population was about a thousand people in 1831, and 2 to 3 thousand showed up for the dedication.  The church was likely constructed by the Irish workers who made up the Paddy Camps.  It was made of wood with a stone basement.  The top of the steeple was surmounted by a gold orb and cross.  (The top of the cross is among the prized artifacts in the parish archives.)  Surely the steeple was one of the tallest buildings in the town of Lowell and made a bold statement to the Yankee population.  

In the afternoon the bishop confirmed 39 candidates.  It was a busy day for the Bishop with Benediction and Vespers rounding out the day.  The Miscellany concluded by saying, "May Lowell enroll it among the happiest days of her history."

Interestingly, just weeks before the Mercury gave detailed accounts over several days of the troubles in the Acre while the church was being constructed.  In May of 1831, several groups of trouble makers (some say unemployed men, others say out-of-towners) made threats upon the Paddy Camps with threats of burning down the church which was under construction.  

Father Mahoney of St Mary’s church in Salem MA had been assigned as the visiting priest prior to the church being built. Poor Mahoney had a wide circuit, probably on horseback, of riding through different towns during the week to celebrate Mass.  Bishop Fenwick made him pastor in Lowell to the disappointment of those in Salem.

When the church was opened in July of 1831 it was already too small for the growing congregation.  People traveled as far as Nashua and Groton to attend Mass.  If Mahoney knew what was in his future he may have told the Bishop no thanks.  Within a short time, trouble within the Irish community brewed to the point of in-fighting between those who came from different counties in Ireland, problems with his new curate, and problems with fundraising for extensions and paying workers.

It’s good for us who claim Irish roots to remember this date and to remember those who went through trials and tribulations so that we can be here today.  For 184 years St. Patrick’s has been a landmark in the Acre continuing the mission of those who started our story.  May they be remembered.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lowell's Civil War Nuns

Sisters at Saterlee Hospital, Philadelphia 

You can barely make them out.  Along the edge of Yard 4 of Saint Patrick Cemetery is a series of stones.  They are small, all similar, and quite plain in keeping with their owners’ way of life.  This lot belongs to the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Sisters who served St. John’s Hospital from 1867 to 1961.  Their habit made them quite memorable with their large winged headpieces, reminiscent of the Flying Nun TV series of the 1960s.  The markers have become overgrown with grass clippings and sod and are slowly sinking into the ground.  It is almost metaphorical to the work the Sisters labored at for decades; few remember their ministry of healing the sick.

Though no words mark their deeds, three of the stones draw special attention.  Sisters Matilda, Amelia, and Frances all have a special place in the history of our country.  They are three of the 600 Sisters who served as nurses during the Civil War.  

There were not many life opportunities for women in the 19th century.  The great majority knew that their lives would be spent as farmer’s wives, bearing children and spending endless hours doing chores, often dying in childbirth or meeting an earlier death than their male counterparts due to exhaustion or disease.  A few women were able to learn a trade or become teachers, but they were few and far between.  Some women sought the religious life as a way of breaking out of the norm.  Religious women were often in places where other women could not be; hospitals, administrators, or traveling to places outside their homes. 
A number of Catholic orders trained their religious to become nurses, a job often looked down upon for the type of work they would be asked to do.  When the Civil War broke out the Sisters took it upon themselves to use their services for both sides of the conflict, often bringing contempt upon themselves from both sides for aiding the enemy.

Not everyone appreciated the work of the Sisters.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was ripe during this period, especially in the South.  Some doctors refused to have Sisters as nurses.  The great Florence Nightingale was so anti-Catholic she would not allow Sisters in her wards.  Others recognized the work of the nuns.  Secretary Stanton and even President Lincoln requested Sisters to work in military hospitals.  Often they were better trained than their civilian counterparts and worked endlessly when civilian nurses would refuse certain duties or leave when met with the brutality of war.

When the battle of Gettysburg was over a group of Daughters of Charity left their mother house about 20 miles away in Emmitsburg, MD and went to work with the wounded from both sides.  Though the Sisters were offered wages, they refused them requesting only medicine and supplies for their work.

All three of the Sisters at the cemetery served as nurses at the Satterlee Military Hospital in Philadelphia.  At one point the hospital held 6000 patients, though built for 4500.  Sr. Martina was born in Maryland and worked in the tents that were set up around Satterlee to meet the overflow numbers in the hospital.  She spent many years as the night supervisor at St. John’s Hospital in Lowell before her death in 1926.  The daughter of a barrel maker, Sr. Amelia was born in Pennsylvania.   She worked in a number of Southern schools before the war and then did nursing at Satterlee.  She spent her final years working at St. John’s spending 60 years as a nun and dying at the age of 80.  Born in County Sligo, Sr. Mary Frances was the daughter of an Irish farming family.  The war years prevented her from taking her final vows but it did not stop her from also nursing in Philadelphia.   She too spent decades serving at St. John’s and upon her death her funeral was held at Immaculate Conception church with burial at St. Patrick’s. 

Though application for veteran stones were made out for the 3 Sisters in 1928, no veteran markers were ever placed recognizing the service the Sisters gave to their country and their God.  Today’s regulations for a veteran stone demand that a direct descendant must apply for the stone meaning they will not be given the  recognition they deserve.

As usual Walter must be given credit for finding the original requests for markers which started our story.  Photo credit belongs to Daughters of Charity Archives, Province of St Louise.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lowell’s Irish Mercer Girls

Harper's Weekly, Jan. 6, 1866

Asa Shinn Mercer had a goal.  He was given the task of bringing young New England women to the quickly growing Washington Territory.  Men far outnumbered women in the lumber-rich West, and if it was to be settled marriageable women, teachers, and seamstresses were needed.  Where would he find women of fine moral character who could provide the services he needed to bring back to Seattle?  Why Lowell, of course! 

Mr. Mercer visited Lowell in 1864 in the midst of the Civil War and spoke to an interested audience at Rev. Mr. Hinckley’s Unitarian Church.  He told of the wonders of the West, the travel opportunities, the men who looked forward to the women’s arrival, and the guaranteed jobs that awaited them.  In February of 1864 he took out an ad in the Lowell Daily Citizen.  Only those of high moral character should apply. He was looking for teachers and seamstresses that would be paid five dollars a week.  He kept rooms at the Washington House for interviews.  Each would have to pay her own way ($250).  Eight Lowell girls signed on.  The Daily Citizen of March 12, 1864 in an article called For the West, lists the names of the “young ladies” They would leave from New York by steamer, sail to Panama, cross the isthmus (where the girls would see their first palm trees according to a letter sent home by one of the girls), then sail onto San Francisco.  When they reached there, many men showed up to beg the women to stay in the city by the bay, but they sailed onto Washington Territory.  There they were given a grand reception.  Many of the girls became teachers and most quickly married. 

The city of Lowell was enthralled, and the papers kept all informed of their progress.  Mr. Mercer wrote back to the daily Citizen, The young ladies who came from Yankee land with me seem to be well pleased, and all are doing well. He announced he would visit the area again and this time bringing 100 families back with him.  He added, be it distinctly understood that no man of Jeff Davis' proclivities is admitted to our party.  Mercer’s later attempts were not as successful, but he did help open new lands.

Two names stand out in Mercer’s list of Lowell young ladies, Ann Murphy and Sarah Jane Gallagher.  

The Lowell City Directory of 1860 lists Ann Murphy as a teacher at Primary School #11 on Cross Street in the “Acre.”    A notice appeared in the papers before Mercer’s appearance that Murphy was not rehired as a teacher since the school had closed.  This may have been the catalyst in making this life changing decision.  She did not stay long in Washington and may have returned to San Francisco.

Sarah J Gallagher
The daughter of Irish immigrants, Sarah Jane Gallagher was born in Lowell in 1845 making her 19 at the time of her arrival at Washington Territory.  Her parents were James, listed as an innkeeper, and Ellen.  She was well educated and became a music teacher in Washington.  Within a year of her arrival she married widower, Thomas Russell who already had a child.  She later had a son.   Sarah Jane was one of the few Catholics in Seattle at the time, numbering about 10.  She became the church organist once a church was built and taught at Washington Territorial University. (Photo fr Univ of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)

As usual these stories just show up on my doorstep when I’m researching something else.  Some of this info came from two very interesting sources.  Mercer Girls Chapter, NSDAR:  and Peri Lane Muhic’s website: