Invasion of the Mother House, 1871 (Part 1)

(Text used with permission of the Provincial Archives and the Province of St. Louise)

The Mother House of the Daughters of Charity, located in Paris, has been a witness to many important historical events. Recently, we found in our collection a first-hand account of the events of the Paris Commune of 1871, in a document titled Details Regarding the Invasion of the Mother-House and Our Miraculous Deliverance. . Our next few posts will consist of text from this unique account. In the account, “St. Lazare” refers to the Mother House of the Congregation of the Mission.

For more information about the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune see this page from the British Library.

We had witnessed the departure of almost all of our Sisters from the Houses of Charity in Paris; and notwithstanding our confidence in the Most Holy Virgin we were not without fears respecting our dear Mother House, when on Monday May 15, our Most Honored Mother was officially informed that the seal was to be placed on the papers and archives of the community. Accordingly we were obliged to take the most essential and hasty precautions possible; for some time previous no packages had been allowed to go out of Paris without the closest examination.

From this day our worthy Father Director, who for so long a time had resided among us … fearing to compromise the community, resolved to return to St. Lazare today spend the night and the greater portion of the day. However a week passed in the painful suspense. We learned successively the dismissal of various communities and every morning we offered our acts of thanksgiving to God, through the hands of Immaculate Mary for the special protection he had vouchsafed us … On Saturday May 20th about ten o’clock at night, there was a loud ring at the door. The Sister opened the window and perceived a number of armed men who presented themselves n the name of the Commune demanding admission. According to the order she had received, the Sister inquired if it would be possible for them to wait till next morning: “Our family is very numerous”, said she, “and we would be much obliged to you could you wait a few hours”. One of them replied that he would repair to headquarters to ascertain, many followed him.

Our Most Honored Mother and Sister Assistant being immediately informed, repaired to the dormitory fronting the street to await their return. During this interval a dense crowd pressed around the door, doubtless with the expectation of sharing in the riches which they hoped to find in the House. The Sisters in charge, having risen in the meantime, went to their respective offices …

Presently a delegate of the commune presented himself and gave orders to open the door; he entered, accompanied by twelve national guards, a Captain, and a Sergeant. Their first address was: “Do not fear my Sister, we have not come to do you any harm, but only to protect you. Then the delegate announcing his intention to take up his quarters there, asked to see the place they were willing to assign him for that purpose; our mother led him to the parlor which he found very convenient; he gave orders to his men to enter, after which he expressed a desire to visit the basement of the Seminary. Our Mother surmising his intention, which the next day clearly revealed, said to him, “Sir, if you intend to send us away, I wish to know it some time in advance, for you understand very well that a House of three hundred persons cannot be vacuated in a moment; we have in this number one hundred and twenty young persons and many infirm Sisters. It was easy to discover by the smile of the delegate, that he was perfectly acquainted with the projects of the Commune, but he contented himself with answering, “That does not concern me.” It was evident that they wished to convert our House into a kind of Citadel from whence they could fire upon our army. Our Mother immediately saw the necessity of abandoning the House.

(to be continued in our next post)

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