Category Archives: Paris

Invasion of the Mother House, 1871 (Part 3)

With this post we conclude our series on the Paris Commune of 1871 as experienced by the Daughters of Charity living at the Mother House in Paris. The text is from Details Regarding the Invasion of the Mother-House, and Our Miraculous Deliverance (1871).

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

Sister Mascureau hastened to take a carriage that she might reach the depot of Lyons, where her presence was necessary, in time for the departure of the Seminary. Other and very bitter trials awaited her there … They were forced to wait until ten o’clock that evening, the hour of the next train, without even the hope of carrying with them their parcels, which the officer did not deign to examine. Sister Mascureau returned to the House full of apprehension for the next day, in regard to the Sisters of the habit who were to leave. The evening was spent in preparing the complicated list which the Adjutant had demanded; but, on account of the searches we were obliged to make, it was not completed until two o’clock in the morning; we dispatched it in haste, that the departure of our most honored Mother might be secured, for we had well-grounded fears, that he would detain her as a hostage; but we were obliged to wait till eight in the morning before we could procure an audience.

Our hearts were broken, and our eyes were filled with tears; still we were obliged to go to the refectory to Breakfast. Scarcely were we seated when we heard these words: “Mother, we are saved!” Sister Mascureau came to inform us that the French army had entered Paris and was advancing towards our quarter. I believe our Lord has pardoned us the emotion of ineffable joy which caused us to break silence at that moment: Every one exclaimed: “Is it possible? Is it indeed true?” Our hopes had been so often frustrated! Our Mother herself could not believe it and pressed us to keep silence However, many among us repaired without further assurance to the Chapel to thank our Lord through MARY Immaculate for what they called “a miracle of protection;” a quarter of an hour later, the report was confirmed, and the Community assembled to recite the Chaplet in thanksgiving for this beginning of our deliverance.
Meanwhile the roaring of the cannon and heavy artillery, destroying upon their way the Houses that seemed disposed to fire upon the troops, did not permit us to doubt that the grand feat was accomplished, but from this moment our lives were in constant danger … As early as nine o’clock a terrible battle was fought at our gates: the barracks of rue du Bac were taken, the cannons advanced towards rue du Bac which was presently strewn with dead bodies.

… A certain number of our deliverers was stationed in the subterranean Church of the Missions; they were blockaded there by the Federals, and during all that fearful night we heard the report of the canons and guns; nor could they drive the enemy from their position but by means of a barricade at the corner of rue Babylone; it was valiantly defended by the national Guards of the quarter and the army was then enabled to make its way to rue du Bac … What a night succeeded this day! The attack on a barricade before the fountain near the wall of the Incurables, lasted until seven in the morning …The cannon and the artillery were in full play: many houses were injured and demolished because they impeded the action of the troops! It was equally difficult to get possession of the Abbey aux Bois which was transformed by the Federals into a kind of fortress.

Towards ten o’clock in the morning, the line was formed along rue du Bac; our Mother had the forethought to send some breakfast to the poor soldiers exhausted from fatigue; their hunger was already somewhat appeased by the soup they had distributed, and they were serving out a portion of meat, when the army called them to immediate action. From that hour we heard the whizzing of shells: the shock of the first in the direction of the House was felt about eleven o’clock, against the wall of the Seminary; it rebounded and fell without bursting, under the window of our most honored Mother, who at this moment was in her room, and would certainly have perished had it exploded. Shortly after, an enormous piece of shell made a hole in the ceiling of the clothes-room, a quarter of an hour after, another penetrated the wall of St. Jerome’s Dormitory, on rue du Bac; the window curtain was very near, and a charitable neighbor perceiving the light of fire came and warned us of the danger …

The evening we spent like the morning in painful alternations: at two o’clock we were all assembled for reading when a bomb exploded with a fearful crash at a short distance from us; another burst over the Chapel about three o’clock, the fragments of which fell into the court of St. Marie. The rest of the day was terrible; pieces of shells fell in every direction: in the garden, on the stairway by Mother’s room, in the yard; then the boxes of shot discharged their contents at almost every moment, against the walls and window blinds.

Wednesday the 24th [was the], Feast of our Lady of Succor: we saw with joy the candles lighted for the holy Sacrifice, at which we had not assisted for four days, and we also had the happiness of receiving holy Communion. We were making our thanksgiving when a crowd of persons, whose houses had been destroyed during the night came to ask for shelter: the women and children were immediately installed in the parlor, and the men were directed to St. Lazare’s; two Sisters were named to attend to these people, and prepare the necessary nourishment, which was done that day and the next, after which they left. The morning was a little more quiet: we learned from experience that the barricade of the Red Cross was destroyed, for we received no more shells, but our imagination had sketched a fearful picture: thick clouds of smoke all around us, warned us of fire: it was impossible to know the exact truth, for no one could venture out without danger: “The Tuillieres, are burning,” they cried: then a little after: “It is the Hotel de Ville,” “the Legion of Honor,” “the Court of the banks,” “the Palace of Justice” etc. The half burnt papers which fell in abundance in our yard and garden, were a certain indication of the almost universal destruction of the monuments of our unfortunate capital.

Towards one o’clock, a general called and asked if it would be possible to organize immediately an ambulance of a hundred beds; he was received by Sister Assistant who placed fifty at his disposal to begin with. We learned shortly after the cause of this hasty proceeding, for the explosion of the magazine of Luxemburg, prepared to surprise the troops on their passage, gave us a violent shock: happily the good GOD who was with our Army, permitted this to take place a little too soon, and they received no damage; consequently our ambulance so hastily organized in the parlor remained empty; for only two wounded soldiers being brought there, it was judged better to place them with those already at St. Lazare’s

The visit of the General was soon followed by the arrival of everything necessary for outdoor ambulances, the yard of St. Marie was crowded with horses, baggage and wagons, it was their intention to establish here their head-quarters; and an officer called for our Mother to consult her on the subject, we soon perceived the sad effects of this proceeding. A pistol was shot from the very point from which so many had been fired the evening before; then this news having been promptly communicated to the Federals charged with the defense of the barricade of the Marche

St. Germain, we became speedily their object of aim, that the Community was obliged to take refuge in the subterranean apartment of St. Joseph, in order to escape the shells. It is impossible to tell the number that exploded in our basements and in the adjoining garden; two fell in the dormitory of St. Vincent, in the Seminary, and made an enormous breach; a Sister of the office was there, in fact she was quite near it, and was very much alarmed; another shell fell in the dormitory of St. Elizabeth, and made great havoc with the roof. Mr. Mailly who undertook to watch the house in case of fire, saw it burst so close to him that he could not understand how he escaped; three exploded in the bake-house; another made a deep hole in the garden: Mr. Mailly and Mr. Hurault fearing for our safety, wished not to return to St. Lazare’s without seeking to find out whether these projectiles did not contain petroleum, which they were able to ascertain about five o’clock that evening. Meanwhile our troops had taken possession of the place of St. Sulpice; the General judged the basement of the Seminary more central than our house and preferred to establish his quarters there. The departure of the soldiers so promptly effected, delivered us from the shells; moreover, we heard about eight o’clock in the evening, that the barricade from which they fired no longer existed.

We knew that we should have a terrible night, for the attack was to take place at the same time at every point; nevertheless, we went to the dormitory, as on the evening previous, not without failing to offer to GOD the sacrifice of our lives, and to place our souls in his hands. The frightful roar of the cannon continued all night, and the next day we heard that the Hotel-de ville had been taken, and that the army had gained every point. This day the fort of Montrouge and that of Chaumont, in which the Federals were entrenched, were attacked.

The cannon and heavy artillery were in vigorous action several hours, and although distant from us, the report was so loud that we experienced extreme anxiety. During the evening meditation, we also felt the shock caused by the explosion of the Magazine des-Eux-de-vie, of Bercy but distance diminished its terrors in a great measure. Rigorous searches continued to be made in our neighborhood, they were followed by numberless arrests, everything indicated that danger still surrounded us; but should we not trust even to the end in MARY Immaculate, who had shown herself our visible Protectress?

And now that the danger has passed, and our dear Seminary has returned to find shelter in our privileged Sanctuary, what shall we render to the Lord, for all His benefits? yes, we proclaim with all the ardor of our soul: May our tongue cleave to the roof of our mouth if we cease to publish His infinite mercies!

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Invasion of the Mother House, 1871 (Part 2)

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

Passage taken from Details Regarding the Invasion of the Mother-House and Our Miraculous Deliverance. This letter is in the collections of the Provincial Archives.

… Although for the first time the bell was silent at four o’clock in the morning, it was no difficult matter to assemble us for prayers; a sweet surprise awaited the greater number of the Sisters in the habit; it was deemed expedient to consume the Hosts in reserve, and on leaving the dormitory, we were notified to repair to the Sacristy for Holy Communion. Doubtless, our divine Master accepted, as a preparation, the acts of resignation to his Holy will which we had occasion of offering to him during that painful night. Each one went immediately to the Chapel to make her thanksgiving.

… Our worthy Father Director, who was ignorant of our situation, came to say Mass for us, but we warned him not to attempt it, nevertheless, he remained fasting until seven o’clock, hoping that he would be able to realize his project. But our most honored Mother, aware of the danger to which this might expose him, obtained permission to leave the House, and went to St. Lazare’s to consult with him regarding the measures necessary to be taken. It was decided that she should endeavor to obtain from the Commune a permit for all our Sisters to leave. The presence of our Father Director having become dangerous to himself as well as useless for us, since he could not come into our House, it was deemed best for him to go to Montdidier and about eleven o’clock he commenced his sorrowful journey towards the North. Meanwhile, Citizen Lefevre who, was one of the number at the House, obtained from Citizen Sicard the permission solicited by our most honored Mother; he presented the petition himself, it was promptly returned with the desired signature. The Sisters of the Seminary were to go first; they hastened to make up their parcels … Our Sisters were to take the cars at four o’clock in the afternoon for Montolien …
During this time, our Sisters of the Seminary had gone to our Mother to receive her advice, she informed them that our most honored Father having himself appointed Montolien as a place of refuge, should we be obliged to leave Paris, it was consequently there, she was to send them. “You will not be so comfortable there,” said our most honored Mother to them, … still our Sister Treasurer there, will see that you are provided with what is absolutely necessary; then, when I am able to have an interview with our most honored Father at Brussels, you will according to all appearances, have the consolation of seeing us at Montolien, where we will give the holy habit to the eldest among you.”

Meanwhile, they awaited in vain the arrival of the Adjutant: two Sisters set out to request his attendance … They were still looking for the Adjutant. Sister Mascureau justly troubled fearing that our Sisters would miss the train, requested the sergeant to go in search of him; but in the meantime he arrived and seeing the sergeant return, he prepared to give him a severe reprimand. Sister Mascureau wishing to excuse him said: “Sir, I requested him to go and see if you were coming.” The Adjutant replied with harshness: “Sergeant, remember that you are master here, you are not to obey, but to command:” … Seeing all the difficulties they would meet with in dealing with this man, they went for our most honored Mother. On seeing her enter, he assumed a more agreeable manner, and made a sign for her to take a seat. He then repeated the questions he had already asked, and inquired the number of those who were to go, as Sister Mascureau answered, he said: “My Sister, when the General speaks, the lieutenant Colonel is silent;” but our Mother meekly replied: “Sir, my Sister is constantly engaged with all travelling affairs; and she is better informed than I am on this point; this is the reason she replied.” He then demanded the list of those who were to leave, the presented it but he refused to sign it until they had given him a duplicate, consequently they were obliged to make a copy immediately. As our Mother divined, this was only an excuse that he might have time to take cognizance of the place; he asked to see the carriages and horses; he found them in a good condition and said to our Mother; “These will serve to transport the wounded.” But she had no doubt of the real use he wished to make of them.

When passing the basement of the Seminary, she heard him say to the Sergeant: “It will suit admirably for a battery.” His desire to know if he had a favorable position at the Seine, confirmed our Mother in her first impressions. They were then obliged to show him the garden; following the path of the linden trees, he passed the bake-house, but MARY Immaculate showed herself our Protectress, for it did not strike him to enter; our whole provision of flour was there and it was thus hidden from his gaze … He then returned to the parlor, the list was written, he signed it, and our young Sisters were permitted to start; but he required another list of all who were to leave the house the next day, with an express condition to add the family and baptismal names, ages, offices and residence of their parents; he then, departed, leaving a certificate of arrest which constituted us prisoners: it absolutely forbade any one to leave the house, or suffer any to enter it …

(to be continued in our next post)

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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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