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!