Category Archives: Johnstown Flood

Johnstown Flood – Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (4)

Blakely letter

Letter of Sister Aloysius Blakely, S.C. (1 of 2) (courtesy Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill)

Blakely letter (2)

Letter of Sister Aloysius Blakely, S.C. (2 of 2) (courtesy Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Sister Louise Grundish, archivist, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

There were six Sisters of Charity serving at St. Columba’s parish which was six to eight miles distant from St. John’s Convent. Because of the distance from Johnstown the impact of the water was lessened but there was still very serious devastation in Cambria as well as Johnstown. One of the Sisters was Sister Aloysius Blakely who was eighteen years old at the time. When Mother Aloysia found all the sisters alive and well, she returned to Greensburg with two of the sisters who were ill at the time and also two very young sisters who were too inexperienced to be of service to the flood survivors.

Meanwhile, Sister Aloysius’ mother who was a widow was living in Eire with her father. Her grandfather set out immediately to find the fate of Sister Aloysius. When he arrived at the station where all disembarked, he was told that the only person who could enter Johnstown were those who would carry a coffin for one of the dead. He shouldered the coffin and went on foot. Fortunately his search ended with a wonderful reunion and a happy ending.

Some weeks later, Sister Aloysius wrote a letter to her mother describing “Johnstown’s Black Friday” as she called it. Her letter is preserved in her file in the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill Archives.
The letter reads in part:

“…All Thursday night the rain had fallen in torrents and when we rose on Friday morning the river was very much swollen, and was rushing angrily along… We were not much frightened as floods in Cambria and Johnstown were yearly occurrences……

…..About ten o’clock we received work that the Toll Bridge, although heavily laden with iron, stones, etc., was swept away, and knowing that in its downward course it would take Tenacre Bridge with it…… It happened as expected. The huge iron frame of the bridge, which was also covered with stones, was tossed like a feather, and at last buried from view beneath the waves.”

Sister Aloysius describes her terrifying night spent on her knees and preparing for death as well as the relief she felt as the morning arrived and the rivers began to recede. She ends the letter with this description:

“….At last the night was over and the day dawned…Such a scene of desolation! Houses if not swept away, almost entirely ruined; heaps of debris everywhere; dead bodies scattered around; and dark figures moving quietly to and fro, trying to extricate them, place them on boards, and carried them to the church. All was silent as the grave in that vast cemetery.”

Sister Aloysius describes another false alarm which sends everyone scurrying up the hill. Then the group went out to Morrellville in the country. She comments, “Here it was dear Grandpa found me on Sunday… We remained with Mr. Rush till Monday, when we departed for Seton Hill…”

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Johnstown Flood – Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (3)

Mother Aloysia Lowe

Mother Aloysia Lowe, S.C. (courtesy Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill)

By Sister Louise Grundish, archivist, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

Sister Electa Boyle author of the first history of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill entitled “Mother Seton’s Sisters of Charity in Western Pennsylvania” devotes several pages to the impact of the flood in the lives of the Sisters of Charity. She writes of the adventures of Mother Aloysia Lowe once she learned of the tragedy in Johnstown, PA.

“When Mother Aloysia heard of the terrible disaster in Johnstown she was in Altoona making a visitation. She tried in every way to reach the Sisters but failed; and no trains were going through to Johnstown. Not to be balked in her determination to learn the fate of the Johnstown Sisters, Mother Aloysia took a train to Ebensburg; there she persuaded a farmer to drive her as far in the direction of Johnstown as he could go. Bumping through the deep mud over a country road in a springless wagon she reached Sang Hollow. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company had erected a single-track trestle ninety feet high to carry workmen and supplies into the devastated town. The engineer, Mr. Frank Adams of Altoona, was preparing to try it out with a single locomotive when Mother Aloysia arrived. She begged to make the trial trip with Mr. Adams but he had orders to cross the span and return alone. For the next rip a caboose loaded with tools and other equipment was attached to the engine. In this car Mother Aloysia was permitted to enter Johnstown with the work crew.” (pp. 86-87)

While Mother Aloysia was making her way to Johnstown, Sister Anne Regina was in Greensburg trying to learn the fate of the sisters. Telegraph reports returned, “No reply from Johnstown.” Sister Anne Regina delegated Sister Baptista and a companion to visit Johnstown to check on the sisters. At the Greensburg train station they were met by a man who told them, “I have just come from there. All the sisters are saved.”

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Johnstown Flood – Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (2)

Prayer card, Sr. Mary Grace Ryan

Prayer card of Sister Mary Grace Ryan, S.C. (courtesy Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill)

Guest post by Sister Louise Grundish, archivist, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

This prayer card is in the file of Sister Mary Grace Ryan. She and her sister (Sister Hyacinth Ryan) and a sister Agnes who was studying at Seton Hill were at Seton Hill at the time of the flood. All of the rest of the Ryan family perished in the flood. Sister Mary Grace lived a long life of service to God’s people and died at Seton Hill on December 13, 1954.

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Filed under Johnstown Flood, Sisters of Charity Federation, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, U.S. History