Guest post by Sister Louise Grundish, archivist, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill
In the file of Sister Elizabeth McGurgan, SC this copy of her vow card is incased in plastic. Sister Elizabeth was one of the nine sisters in residence at St. John Gaulbert Convent in Johnstown in May 31, 1889 when the Johnstown Flood took the lives of over 2,000 people and destroyed the town. The sisters gathered in the Chapel praying that the South Fork Dam would hold. After completing May devotions with the recitation of the Litany of the Blessed Mother and the hymn “Star of the Sea,” most of the sisters stayed in the chapel. Sister Elizabeth went down stairs to view the flood from Stony Creek River. She wrote: “Turning to look in the opposite direction I was horrified to see a two-story house floating rapidly down the middle of our street not more than twenty feet from where I was standing. And immediately behind it was a huge black wall of water.”
St John Gaulbert Convent, Johnstown, PA This picture is all that was left of the convent after the flood waters receded. The Sisters had gathered in the chapel with all the people who were in the house at the time. There were nine Sisters of Charity, a sister of one of the sisters who was preparing to take her teacher exam, two school girls who were boarding temporarily and a maid. As the last sister took her place in chapel the flood struck the house and the water rose to the chapel windows. The sisters could see people, houses, trees, even horses and wagons sweeping by the window. They decided to take the Blessed Sacrament and go to the third floor dormitory in the ell part of the house. They did so in procession. They had barely arrived at the third floor when the water hit the main house squarely in the side and carried away the building including the stairway they had just used.