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Nov302009

1896 - 1902 - "Germans & Irish"

HOW THE FRANCISCANS CAME TO TAKE CHARGE OF ST. MARY'S, O'NEILL, NEBRASKA:

The country back of St. Francis Mission, in the Rose­bud Agency, has numerous lakes which provide splendid facilities for hunting.

Reverend M. F. Cassidy and Pat McManus, two famous hunters of ONeill, were accustomed to spend a week each autumn at St. Francis Mission, in order to make use of this region for their favorite pastime.  It was during these visits that the Franciscans at St. Francis Mission had an opportunity of becoming well acquainted with Fath­er Cassidy. When leaving for home, he invariably begged Mother Leopoldine to permit some of the Sisters to visit O'Neill.  As a result of his pleading, Mother Leopoldine, who was in Europe in 1896, wrote back to the Mission that Sr. Alexia with Sophie Walking Eagle, Frances Cut Cut should come to O'Neill for a few days, meet her at the train in 0Neill on her return trip, and accompany her back to the Mission.

Owing to the fact that Sister had the two Indian girls with her, she did not go to the rectory but to the home of Mr. John Hunt, who with his brother Denis had done plastering at the Mission.  The Hunts were very hospitable and Mrs. Hunt drove to most of the homes with Sister so that she met most of the Catholics of O’Neill.

Every afternoon she called at the rectory, and it was chatting with Father Cassidy on his front veranda, from which point the burnt convent was in full view, that Father Cassidy said, "Sister, if your Community will come here and rebuild the Convent, I will give them the lots and every­thing on them." Sister did not reply but tried to turn the conversation to another topic.  After a while Father came back with, "You did not give me an answer to my proposi­tion." Sister answered, “Father, you do not want a German community in this Irish community." But he continued, "I dont care who or what they are if they are only good teachers."

On the train going back to the Mission with Mother Leopoldine, Sister told Mother all that Father Cassidy had said. Mother Leopoldine was at once taken up with the pro­posal and entered heart and soul into having it accepted. She wrote at once to Reverend Mother who had Mother Cecilia and Sister Leonarda, then the business manager, come to ONeill, meet the school children at the rectory, and then send her a report as to the advisability of taking over.

As the parish was unable to raise funds for the erection of another Convent to replace the one destroyed, Reverend Father Cassidy pleaded long and earnestly to have our Sisters undertake the rebuilding at our expense, and Reverend Mother Ludmilla finally gave her consent to the erection of a Con­vent to serve as parish school and boarding school, the lat­ter to be used especially for children of the surrounding country in order to prepare them for their First Holy Com­munion.

The site, including eight lots and the ruins of the old Convent, were presented as a free gift to our Sisters and the necessary legal documents were drawn up for the transfer.

In the autumn of 1899 further agreements were made and it was decided that a few Sisters should come to O’Neill at the beginning of the next year, live in a rented house, and support themselves by the teaching of music and fancy work; hence, on April 19, 1900, Sister Mathilda, Sr. Catherine, and Mother Kostka bade farewell to Holy Rosary Mission and arrived in O'Neill the following day.  A delegation of parish­ioners met them at the depot and conducted them to their new home for the present, a modest cottage on the hill west of the burnt Convent.

On the way to the cottage, it was necessary to pass St. Patrick's Church, so we entered, and kneeling at the Commun­ion Rail offered ourselves to Almighty God reminding Him that He had called us and we were here to do his bidding.  On ar­riving at the cottage, a hearty greeting was given the Sis­ters by good Brother Stander, S. J. , an architect from St. Francis Mission, who, in answer to a petition from the Sis­ters had been permitted by his superior Very Reverend P. Rockliff, S. J. , Provincial in Buffalo, N. Y. . to take charge of the building, the work, and the laborers needed for its erection.  Our Community is and always will be sincerely grateful to the good Jesuits for this favor.

Brother Stander took up his residence at the rectory and received the kindest hospitality gratis.  The temporary home of the Sisters consisted of several small rooms with, a smaller kitchen, and the furniture boasted of having three old beds, several wash tubs, a supply of bed clothing donat­ed by kind benefactors, a generous supply of baking powder , and ten dollars worth of groceries on a table, all supplied by kind-hearted parishioners.  Everything spoke of poverty — extreme poverty.  A number of utensils had been donated by the missions.  The first cupboards, snail tables, prie-dieux were made by the Sisters out of dry-goods boxes.

In the meantime, the plans for a new Convent and the foundation itself in 1900 received the approval of the high­est authorities of our Congregation in Europe and in Buffalo, and on the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, June 15, the corner stone was laid by Reverend Father Opava, temporal pas­tor in the absence of Reverend Father Cassidy, who was tour­ing Europe at this time.  He visited our Motherhouse at Non-nenwerth during his travels.

Under the Divine protection from on high, the work on the new building progressed rapidly, and on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, a statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, (the of­ficial title of the new Convent) — a gift of Doctor Gorrigan of O'Neill, was solemnly unveiled and dedicated, and on the following day was erected in the niche above the main en­trance to the Convent.

With deep gratitude to the good God, to Our Blessed Lady, and St. Joseph, we wish to record that not a single accident occurred during the entire time of work on the construction of the building, and we were repeatedly assured that no curs­ing or swearing was ever heard from the workmen.

During vacation, several Sisters arrived as an increase to the Community which now numbered ten.  On Sept. 10, 1900, following a High Mass in honor of the Holy Ghost, the first school year in St. Patrick's parish was begun.  One hundred and six pupils were enrolled the first day.  With the Bishop's permission, two classes occupied the church, the Blessed Sacrament having been placed in the sacristy.  A third class took up its abode in the City Hall (skating rink) a favor of the city mayor, Ed. F. Gallagher.  As the small house in which the Sisters lived temporarily did not provide sufficient room for all, several Sisters slept in an unoccupied house near the new convent. It had been generously offered for their use, gratis, neighbors.  By the end of October, 1900, one wing of building was sufficiently completed to permit the in case of necessity, to dwell in it, although there were as yet no banisters on the stairways, no plastered walls, no finished floors, etc.  On October 29, after the spiritual exercises were ended, the statures and pictures belonging to the Sisters were carried to the Convent, and after 7:00 A.M. generous kindhearted people appeared with horses and wagons and transported all the belongings of the Sisters from the cottage to the new Convent. The Sisters were de­lighted to be united again under their own roof.  Our feelings during the past six months, partly grateful and joyful, partly full of care and often sorrow, cannot be described — words are inadequate.  Let us suffice, however, to say that we always felt the protection of the Almighty over us and the reward of Holy Obedience.

St. Mary's Convent is founded on many bitter sacrifices and lack of the things which make life easy.  May Almighty God always bless the work here begun! As early as possible, a room was prepared to serve as temporary chapel where we could have the Blessed Sacrament with us always.  Permission had been given by the Right Reverend Bishop, so an altar was erected and within a week. Holy Mass was celebrated for the first time under our roof.  You may imagine how happy the Sisters were.  The Sisters who first entered the new Con­vent and worked there the following year were:  Mother Kostka, Sr. Alcantara, Sr. Crescentia, Sr. Laurentia, Sr. Catherine, Sr, Mathildae, Sr. Sophie. Sr. Geralda, Sr. Antoinette (nov­ice) and Sr. Arsenia (novice).

In December of the same year, Sister Norberta and Sr. Eberharda, were added to our number, but both were sick and suffering.  As was already remarked, the convent was far from being finished, and therefore, the months following, were anything but pleasant.  To have to listen daily to the noise and hammering of forty or fifty workmen all around you—carpenters, masons, plasterers, painters, plumbers, roof­ers, etc. Each one needed an infinite amount of patience and self-denial from morning till night to keep head and heart in the right place.

After a lapse of several weeks, the new classrooms were gradually finished and ready for occupancy, and the teachers and pupils of the various classes joyfully took possession of them happy to be relieved of the necessity to go out into the city every day.  On December 12, 1900, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Convent was solemnly dedicated by Reverend Father Cassidy.  A solemn High Mass was celebrated, and Reverend Father Cleary, a renowned speaker from Minnesota, delivered a most eloquent sermon on the occasion.  He outlined the benefits of a Catholic education and reminded the parish­ioners of O'Neill that they were deeply indebted to the Sisters for providing these benefits for them.  The rather large chapel did not furnish sufficient room for all who attended the services  Besides the Catholics, the various sects, Episcopalians, Methodists, believers and unbelievers were represented on the occasion.  The public school gave a free day to permit teachers arid pupils to attend the solemnities. Many people wept through joy and gratitude at seeing their desires finally fulfilled.  On the following Sunday the Sta­tions of the Cross were erected.  The Stations and the “Ave Maria" (the bell in the tower) were the gifts of a kind bene­factress, Mrs. James Gallagher—Ella Dailey Gallagher. The following inscription can be read on the bell:  Ave Maria, Auxilium Christianorum, protect all the inmates, bless the ben­efactors, pray for O’Neill, assist us in death.

On Christmas Eve the Angelus was rung for the first time leaving a solemn, lasting impression on all.  On the day following the blessing of the bell, Brother Stander returned to St. Francis Mission, carrying with him many warm and grateful expressions of thanks from all the in­mates of St. Mary's.

The next important event at St. Mary's was the first visit of Most Reverend Bishop Richard Scannell in April, 1901.  The reception accorded him was very solemn.  A large number of children clad in white led his Excellency to the chapel, where after the solemn singing of the Ecce Sacerdos, he gave all his sacerdotal blessing.  Directly following this, an entertainment was given by the pupils for the Bishop and eight or nine priests, who accompanied him. He expressed his surprise at the splendid achievements in such a short time and a like surprise at finding such a beau­tiful convent in O'Neill with so many bright and active pu­pils.  He and his companions then proceeded to inspect every room of the convent; he was very satisfied and fatherly, and on seeing the poverty of each Sisters cell, remarked that our Holy Father, St. Francis, must be well satisfied.  Then he added, "But where is the Sister's chair?" During the moment of hesitation following, looks of surprise passed from one to another, and the answer was only surmised to the edification of all.  (In those early days the Sisters did not know the luxury of a chair in the cell.)  On leaving, he promised to send a second priest to O'Neill, to say Mass daily in the convent chapel and to take care of all services gratis.  For this great favor, all the Sisters were deeply grateful.

About the middle of June, the first school year closed with a very successful entertainment.  The number of day pupils was 210, boarders, 20.

Our sincerest and most grateful thanks were given to the good God for his wonderful protection and blessing during this first year.  The Sisters' retreat was given by Reverend P. Jordans, S. J., after which a young professed Sister, Sister M. Loretta, came to take charge of the needlework.  Sister Cor­nelia arrived from Europe to help with the housework.  In 1902, Sister Edith came from Buffalo to release Sister Antoinette who returned to the Motherhouse to make her vows.  Sister Martha and Sr. Alexia came from St. Francis Mission for the eighth grades.  In February, 1902, Sr. Hildegarde came from St. Francis Mission to assist Sister Matilda in the music department.

 

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