The Daughters of Charity and First Ladies

Throughout the 20th and 21st century, the Daughters of Charity have had the opportunity to work with not only the Presidents of the United States, but with the individuals who have held the title of First Lady of the United States.  These ladies’ friendship, duty of service, and collaboration are well-documented here in the Provincial Archives!

Mamie Eisenhower

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and husband Ike had a cordial and neighborly relationship with St. Joseph College and Provincial House.  The Daughters were located only a short trip away from the Eisenhower’s Gettysburg farm, where the couple would retire to at the end of Ike’s Presidency.  The President and First Lady would often visit the College at Emmitsburg when they drove the trip from Washington to Gettysburg. 

On July 1, 1958, during Mother Lepicard’s visit to the United States, she; Sister Isabel Toohey, the Visitatrix; Sister Eleanor McNabb, president of Providence Hospital; and Sister Margaret Flinton, a French professor at St. Joseph College visited the White House and presented the First Couple with an anniversary gift. 

On March 14, 1959, St. Joseph College awarded Mamie Eisenhower an honorary doctorate.

President Eisenhower shakes hands with “Doctor” Mamie Eisenhower as she receives her honorary doctoral hood from Sister Hilda Gleason

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic First Lady.  Her husband’s last rites were administered by Father Oscar Huber, C.M., the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Dallas, Texas.  The Daughters taught at the parish school and collected the students’ condolences to give to the First Lady.  She responded with a kind note of thanks.

“Lady Bird” Johnson

The Daughters’ relationship with the Johnson family began in the Johnson’s native Central Texas.  When the First Couple’s first grandchild was born, she was delivered at Seton Medical Center in Austin, a hospital run by the Daughters.

“SetonNews,” the official newsletter of Seton Medical Center, Austin, July 1967

As the Daughters rallied around President Johnson’s War on Poverty, they also remained close with the First Family.  After President Lyndon passed away in 1973, only a few years after leaving office, Lady Bird was on hand to unveil a memorial plaque at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama as part of the 75th anniversary of the hospital.  Gracious as always, the former First Lady penned a personal thank-you note after the gala weekend!

Rosalynn Carter

On July 6, 1978, President and First Lady Carter visited the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.  Only three years after Mother Seton’s canonization, this was the first (and, to date, only) time a sitting President visited the Shrine of the first American saint.  Sister Mary Clare Hughes, the Visitatrix at the time, called the First Family a picture of true simplicity, and the experience as “a lesson for me in true simplicity.”

First Lady Rosalynn Carter with Sister Jerome Nossell

Nancy Reagan

With its location on the outskirts of Washington, St. Ann’s Center for Children had long had diplomatic and political relationships with the global officials of the domestic and foreign realms.  First Lady Nancy Reagan seems to have been the most frequent visitor, with three separate visits in 1981, 1985, and 1986.

First Lady Nancy Reagan shakes hands with Sister Margaret Ann Wooden, then a Child Care Supervisor, as Head Administrator Sister Elyse Staab looks on.

Barbara Bush

Prior to becoming First Lady in 1989, Second Lady Barbara Bush and her husband, George Bush, Sr., raised money for Morehouse School of Medicine in support of historically Black colleges and universities.  Several prominent doctors at Providence Hospital, which the Daughters had operated in Washington, D.C. since the Civil War, were advocates and graduates of Morehouse School of Medicine.

Dr. Edward Mazique, Second Lady Barbara Bush, and Dr. Ed Saunders, October 1983

Hillary Clinton

During her time as Senator from New York, former First Lady Hillary Clinton took the time to visit charitable institutions throughout the state, such as Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton in 2001.

Sister Mary Anne Brawley with Senator Hillary Clinton, 2001

When she was First Lady, she, like some of her predecessors, had a relationship with St. Ann’s Center for Children and visited at Christmastime, 1995 (along with Socks the First Cat).

Sisters of St. Ann’s Center for Children with First Lady Hillary Clinton.  Left from Clinton:  Sisters Catherine Fitzgerald, Marie Cecile Nguyen-Thi-Ven, Mary Helen Edelen, Teresa Buckley, Paula McGuire, Mary Clement Hemler, Josephine Murphy

Laura Bush

As a part of a campaign to combat heart disease, and in celebration of the work in the cardiovascular field, First Lady Laura Bush stopped by St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville. 

Dr. Jill Biden

On her pathway to earning a doctorate in education, Jill Jacobs – the future Dr. Jill Biden – spent a year teaching alongside the Daughters of Charity, as well as several other religious communities, as member of the English department at St. Mark’s School in Wilmington, DE for the 1976-77 school year.

English Department at St. Mark’s High School, 1976-77.  Jill Jacobs, standing, 4th from the left

1 Comment

Filed under First Ladies

The Opportunity for a Richer Understanding of Canonization

This is a guest post by our archival intern for the semester, Jenna Brady, Mount St. Mary’s University class of 2023.

Throughout my internship with the Daughters of Charity Archives, I have had the unique opportunity to go through the past newsletters of sisters from the West Central Province in the 1970s. The West Central Province was established in 1969 by the Daughters of Charity in St. Louis as one of five provinces located in the US. While there are several interesting topics and vast stores of history that I have read and learned about, one of the most exciting events was the Canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This momentous event took place on September 14, 1975 and was an event that many Daughters of Charity petitioned and prayed hard to achieve.

Elizabeth Ann Seton

The newsletters that I have had the opportunity to read and index recount the journey toward canonization and the great anticipation throughout the early ‘70s. The letters make constant reference to the different preparations that were being made by the provinces in anticipation of the canonization of their namesake. The newsletter from October 1975 is completely devoted to the events throughout the province; such as different Masses and talks that were held during the months preceding the canonization.  This description not only shows how important and monumental the canonization was to all involved but as the newsletter states, “brings into focus the oneness of thought and of purpose in the Daughters of WC Province…” (West Central Province Newsletter, October, 1975, 1).  It then goes on to include an excerpt from a sister in each province discussing the steps that were taken in their own province to prepare and celebrate. Many of these sisters are those who had been featured throughout the course of the newsletters regarding different matters of the province.

View of the crowd at the canonization in Vatican City

While the details of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s canonization are easily accessible today, being able to read firsthand accounts of the celebrations and the profound impact this had on her order gives a deeper meaning to the event. Through reading these newsletters, I have been given the opportunity to come to view the canonization not just as a celebration of a new Saint but rather as the canonization of the woman many sisters considered their mentor in faith and mother in life.

Special Edition of the Marillac Provincial Newsletter, October 1975

Leave a comment

Filed under Elizabeth Ann Seton

Desegregation in Portsmouth, Virginia

This is the third of our three-part celebration for Black History Month 2022, focusing on elements of African American history within the Daughters of Charity archives collection.  The first part, on the Briscoe family of Emmitsburg, can be found here.  The second part on the St. Euphemia’s School Collection (Emmitsburg, MD) can be found here.

Public schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia were segregated from their creation in 1870.  The Catholic schools held the same policy.

The Daughters of Charity operated three schools in Portsmouth, Virginia in the Hampton Roads area:  St. Paul’s High School, St. Paul’s Elementary School, and Our Lady of Victory School.  On September 8, 1959, this system of segregation, at least in the Catholic schools, came to an end in Portsmouth.

Chapel at Our Lady of Victory School

Twenty new students sat for the entrance examination to St. Paul’s that year.  The examinations were graded anonymously, and those qualifying were admitted, with no regard to race.  Four African American students became the first students to attend a desegregated school in Portsmouth:  Sabine Gordon, Samson Clark, Edward LeBoeuf, and Richard King.

By almost all accounts, the integration of the schools went more smoothly than many in the Commonwealth, which took place after Brown v. Board and in the wake of “Massive Resistance.”  Virginia Klisiewicz, a former Daughter who taught at the school, attested in 2004: 

Apparently, the white children were, sort of, geared to acceptance, and the black children were geared to acceptance.  There wasn’t animosity on either side.  So, the first day of school, our kids went there – they just went to their classrooms – they would, you know, they were certainly oriented, and the white kids, they were happy with it.  I mean, that’s too idealistic, I suppose, and it seems strange that this would’ve worked out the way it did considering the feeling in the South; but it, was a smooth transition.

The high school at Our Lady of Victory closed in 1960.  The elementary school closed four years later.  In this same year, St. Paul’s was rechristened Portsmouth Catholic High School to reflect the consolidation of schools in the area.  An active alumni association for Our Lady of Victory School still holds reunions, and even kept in touch with their Daughter of Charity teachers through the rest of their lives.

In 1970, the Portsmouth Catholic School board reaffirmed its decisions and stood in the face of the “Massive Resistance” and the push by parents opposed to desegregation to send their children to Catholic schools to avoid integration.  In response, the school board announced that “As Christians, we refuse to allow our schools to become  a refuge for those who would flee integrated public schools.”  Father Thomas Caroluzza, board chair, said to the press “I don’t want to accuse people of using our schools as a refuge, but at this point in history, I think we should make things clear to all those interested in private, integrated education so we don’t play games.”

While many alumni have continued to speak highly of their education at Our Lady of Victory, almost certainly better than the segregated public schools offered by the Commonwealth, there is no ambiguity that the doctrine of “separate but equal” would never be true.  It is only through a charism of “service to all” – without distinction – that we can see everybody achieve. 

1 Comment

Filed under African American History, Our Lady of Victory School, Portsmouth, VA