This article, originally published in 2014, has been updated in July 2020 to reflect more recent scholarship on the life of Catherine Mary “Kate” Hewitt.
One of the enduring human interest stories of the Battle of Gettysburg is the story of General John Reynolds, whom Meade entrusted with the entire left wing of the Union army at the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Kate Hewitt, the young woman to whom Reynolds had been secretly engaged. They had planned to marry after the war; Hewitt had promised Reynolds that she would join a convent if Reynolds did not survive the war. Reynolds lost his life on July 1, 1863, and within a year, Kate Hewitt joined the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Little is known about Kate Hewitt’s life, and much mis-information has appeared about her time with the Daughters of Charity. Here is what we know about her from the entrance register of the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg.
Name: Catharine [sic] Mary Hewitt
Birth date: April 1, 1836. We do not have a copy of her birth certificate; this is the date written in the entrance register.
Birth place: Owego, New York.
Baptism date: March 18, 1861. We do not have a copy of her baptismal certificate. However, she would have had to produce evidence of being baptized before being accepted as a postulant, so the date is probably accurate.
She lived in Huntingdon, New York at the time she applied to join the Daughters of Charity.
She was a postulant at Mount Hope Retreat, a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore. This was the normal course for all Daughter of Charity postulants at that time. We do not know the exact dates for Kate Hewitt’s postulancy, but she probably completed her postulancy in or around March of 1864.
She entered the Seminary on March 17, 1864. In other religious communities, this stage of formation is called the novitiate and sisters in this stage are called novices. In the Daughters of Charity, this stage of formation is called the Seminary and sisters at this stage are called Seminary Sisters. Daughters of Charity did not make (and still do not make) temporary and final vows. The date that a Sister enters the Seminary is known as her vocation date, and on that date she becomes a full member of the Company of the Daughters of Charity. Approximately 5 years after her vocation date, a Daughters of Charity pronounces vows for the first time and renews them every year after that.
She finished her Seminary on October 2, 1864 and received the habit at that time. Also at that time she would have been given a community name. Kate Hewitt’s community name was Sister Hildegardis. Some accounts claim that girls in the Reynolds family helped Kate Hewitt select her community name. This is not true. Community names were assigned by community superiors, and the Sister had no say in what her community name would be.
After receiving the habit, Kate Hewitt, now known as Sr. Hildegardis, was sent on mission to St. Joseph’s School in Albany, NY. Some accounts (most notably, Gabor and Jake Borritt’s The Gettysburg Story audio tour of the Gettysburg battlefield) claim that Kate Hewitt spent the rest of her life as a Daughter of Charity. She did not. The last entry in the register notes, “Left from St. Vincent’s Home, Philadelphia, September 3, 1868”.
Our collection contains no photos or correspondence of Kate Hewitt. We have no records which shed light on her activities or whereabouts after leaving the Daughters of Charity.
More details on Kate Hewitt’s life can be found in Marian Latimer, “Is She Kate?”: The Woman Major General John Fulton Reynolds Left Behind and “Finding Kate: Diligent Research Reveals the True identity of General John Reynolds’ Mysterious Fiancee” (Civil War Times Illustrated, August 2020) by Jeff Harding and Mary Stanford Pitkin.
Further information on the Reynolds family is located in the Special Collections Department at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.