Tag Archives: Daughters of Charity

The Life of an Archival Intern

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

My time at this internship has been a very enlightening experience, as it has served to not only give me more information on the history of the Daughters of Charity, but has also been extremely instructive about the processes of archival work. I have had the opportunity to work on many different projects while I have been working at the Daughters of Charity Archives including recording West Provincial Newsletters from the 1970s, transcribing Italian letters, transcribing the oral history of Sister Isidore Allain, and assisting in putting together one of the exhibits that are on display. In this post, I would like to discuss my encounters with each of these projects and highlight some of the skills I have been provided with through my work.

The first project that I was able to focus on during the internship was going through the newsletters from the 1970s of the West Central Province. The newsletters chronicled many important events that happened for the sisters throughout that time including the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and many important meetings that would take place in Rome that the sisters would attend. The newsletters also served to chronicle the monthly lives of the sisters and their many placements throughout the province. These newsletters showed the progression of the province as things around them began to change in the world during the 70s. I recorded all of these newsletters into an excel sheet that will provide information about people and places mentioned within the newsletters so that it is easier to pinpoint the information.

While working in the archives, I also had the opportunity to listen to and transcribe the oral history of Sister Isidore Allain. This allowed me not only to hear Sister Allain’s story through her own words but also to understand all of the work that goes into transcribing an oral history. Its an experience that will certainly stick with me as I was able to hear a firsthand account of history from the direct word of the woman who lived through it. It also helped me to see how an individual story tied into the overarching period of the West Central Province.

The final project that I want to mention working on is the exhibit that recently opened in the archives on April 26th. There are now two new exhibits open in the archives both focusing on the lives and works of the sisters of the province. The exhibit that I was able to assist with highlights all those who live and work at the Emmitsburg campus in the different departments. It was an honor learning about all of the different departments and people who assist throughout the various ministries that occur here.

The experiences that I have had while working at the Daughters of Charity Archives have given me a deeper understanding of everything that is included in archival work and it has been an honor being able to learn so many new things. I have truly enjoyed my time here and look forward to learning even more about the sisters in the future.

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The Briscoes of Emmitsburg

This is the first of our three-part celebration for Black History Month 2022, focusing on elements of African American history within the Daughters of Charity archives collection.

Particularly in the 19th century, there can be a sparsity of details about the lives of many individual people.  Although the Daughters’ collection tries to gather as much information as possible about individual sisters and their works, there are many times where the only information we have about a sister is the barebones about the important dates in her life and the places she was sent on mission.  When it comes to finding details of laypeople and lay associates, this often becomes even more difficult.

It speaks to his influence on the members of the community that the archives contain numerous individual references about James Augustine Briscoe of Emmitsburg, MD.  It is even more notable that Augustine, as he was called, was able to have this influence as an African American in the 19th century United States.

When Augustine died in 1897, the provincial annals – or chronicles of the community – included a lengthy newspaper obituary pasted from the Catoctin Clarion newspaper.  Titled, “Death of an old Employee,” the clipping describes him as “James Augustine Briscoe, colored, who died at St. Joseph’s academy, Wednesday, had been a faithful employee at that institution for many years…” 

Provincial Annals, 1897, page 6

The article is written in the somewhat condescending way of the time period that many white publications used towards African Americans, with lines such as “Like most of his race, of a sanguine temperament, he recognized and enjoyed the bright side of life, being scarcely impressed by gloom or sorrow.”  However, the article does contain important tidbits about his life.  Firstly, that his full name was James Augustine Briscoe, which was helpful in finding information about his life in other sources.  The Daughters collections usually refer to him exclusively as “Augustine” or “Gustin.”  It also reveals that he was a longtime member of the Academy’s teamsters and that he had health problems during the last year of his life, as “the once erect and stalwart frame bowed under the weight of years, had been struggling against growing infirmities.”  And, finally, it shows the esteem in which he was held by the large number of employees who attended his funeral. 

The first mention of Briscoe in the collections is found in the provincial annals on March 1, 1839:  “After dinner Sr. Mary Felix [McQuaid] & Sr. Margaret [unknown] went on an errand of charity sent by our Rev. Sup. To the family of the Miller’s (odd people) went also to see a poor black fellow, Augustin Briscoe, very ill but good & piously disposed.”

Provincial Annals, 1836-1841, page 89

Sister Mary Felix McQuaid was later a nurse during the Civil War, and likely went to provide some care for Augustine when he was very ill.  In a portion of the annals written by a community member after his death in 1897, Sr. Mary Felix apparently told the story of how she met Augustine:  “He was so badly crushed by an encounter with the animals, a stampede or something, that he nearly lost his life on the way, and arrived home in a most critical condition.  The Sisters went to see him – Sr. Felix McQuaid amongst the number, who remembers the occasion well.  He slowly recovered, and after that came to live & die at St. Joseph’s.  He was born in 1820.”

Outside of the Daughters collections, Augustine can be found for the first time in the 1820 census as a single tally mark in Frederick County under “Free Colored Persons – Males – Males under 14 years”.  The name he falls under is James Briscoe, because the census at the time only listed the head of the household rather than all names.  James is likely an uncle or a grandfather, although it may be his father (more on that in a bit).  The household contained 13 people, all of them listed as “Free Colored Persons.”

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

On February 15, 1844, the parish ledgers from St. Joseph’s Church in Emmitsburg lists, in Latin, that a son of Briscoe and a daughter of the family Dunstan were married.  Although this does not specify which Briscoe or Dunstan, the 1850 census lists James (29) and Mary Ann Briscoe (31) living together, alongside two other African American individuals, Margaret Coates (34) and Andrew Dorsey (46).  James and Andrew are listed with the occupation “Laborer,” while Margaret is designated with an out-of-date term for living with a disability.  All of them are marked as being unable to read or write. 

The entry immediately preceding theirs is another Briscoe family, which implies nearness of homes, John (age 71) and Jane (age 57).  Per the 1897 written obituary for Augustine:  “All of [Augustine’s] life nearly has been passed on St. Joseph’s Farm.  His mother, black jane, worked here & Augustine came to work here when he was nine years of age.”  These two are his parents, who apparently were caring for a younger Mary Jane Briscoe, age 15.  Unlike John, Jane, and Augustine, Mary Jane could apparently read and write.  (You can even see the “odd people,” the Millers, down the page!)

The elder Briscoe passed away the following year, per the St. Joseph’s Parish registers, at age 73.  The entry provides some more history of the Briscoe family, as he “came to Emmitsburg in the year 1800, & was for 57 years a member of this congregation.”

Courtesy Baltimore Roman Catholic Parish Burials, Maryland State Archives

In 1858, James and Mary Ann had a son, John, who begins to appear on the payroll of St. Joseph’s Academy in the early 1870s.  Some of the later censuses begin to correct errors in the earlier ones, as by 1880, it is indicated that, although Many Ann cannot write, she does know how to read. 

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

In the “Talks of our Ancient Sisters,” taken between 1877 and 1902, some of the memories of the longest living sisters and St. Joseph’s Academy students were written down for the first time.  In these, Sister Helena Elder told how Mother Etienne Hall would help provide the Briscoes with things like linen shirts.  As a symbol of gratitude, Augustine named his daughter Etienne.  However, she does not appear in any censuses, so we are not sure if something happened to her, or if Etienne is, like Augustine, a name that she was referred to rather than what would appear on a formal document.  We simply do not have a document that provides one of these keys, like the newspaper obituary that calls Briscoe “James Augustine.”

In his years at St. Joseph’s, we know that Augustine did a large amount of work with the horses and the carriages.  In 1886, he was tasked with chauffeuring Cardinal James Gibbons when he visited campus.  We also know that he was entrusted with a certain amount of the banking and money-keeping for the community and would be the point person to conduct financial transactions at the bank in Gettysburg where the sisters held their accounts.

In 1896, Augustine finally retired.  His account page shows that he received $15 per month in wages at this point.  On February 20, there is a note that Augustine’s due wages be “transferred to John Briscoe’s acct.”  On December 14, instead of his monthly wage, Augustine received “Pocket money” of $2 per month.  On November 14, 1895, it is written “Augustine’s Wages stopped but he has a home for life.  Augustine Died Jan. 20, 1897.”

Ledger 124, page 329

As a brief digression about Augustine’s son John, he received $12 per month in 1895.  For comparison, the next page of the ledger for John Topper, whom the 1900 census also identifies as a laborer and as White.  The two Johns, White and Black, received equal wages.

Perhaps the most impressive information in the collections regarding Augustine is that the “Talks of the Ancient Sisters” include Augustine’s words themselves, which allows him to speak for himself:  his own memories, interests, and abilities and knowledge.  For an African American, who lived in the 19th century and was unable to read or write, this is a rare feature prior to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects of the 1930s.  Included here, in his own words, is a sample of Augustine’s knowledge and love for horses and horseracing.

September 4, 1886 – “Dolly is May’s mother, isn’t she Augustine?” And Dolly it was that ran away with Father Mandine.”

“Yes, Sister,” and Augustine laughed.

“That was a great race, Gustin; you saw it?”

He laughed again. “Yes, Sister, I saw it. I was in that race. I’ll tell you how it was. The wind was so bad Fitz couldn’t go by himself, so I went in with him on the mule, and Fitz was on Dolly, leading Jenny Grant. Father Lavezeir was to come out but when Father Mandine heard that two horses were there, he said he would come too. So Father Mandine got on Dolly and he was riding up and down, up and down there before the Sisters’ house saying, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” And Father Lavezeir got on Jennie and then Fitz got behind me on the mule; and Father was calling out “are you ready? are you ready?” Then we started; Father ahead and Father Lavezeir next, and I after, with Fitz behind me on the mule. It was a sight, but when we got there by the haystacks, Father Lavezeir lost his scarf and Fitz got down to get it; meantime Father went off ahead. It was a sight! If it had been daylight and anybody had seen us, they’d died a laughing. Well when I got up to the sacristy door, there was Dolly a standing, and Father in the sacristy. The next thing I heard was he was sick. And Gustin used to horses and their capers all his life, took a good laugh. (It was a serious affair, however.)

“Wait, Sister he continued, until we get down here a bit, and I’ll tell you a joke on Father Maller [the Vincentian priest-Director of the Sisters, 1850-1853].”  So after a little when we had reached a smooth part of the road and the mules were trotting along finely, he resumed “you know Father Maller was superior here and lived in town. We had some sheep down there in the graveyard woods, and a cross ram among them ran at him to butt him. He saw it and stepped aside; it ran at him again and he stepped aside; and he stayed there a little while teasing it; every time it would run at him, he’d step aside; so presently the ram go’, tired and went away, and Father began saying his office again, walking along. Presently the ram came up behind him and gave him a butt that threw him down. He got up, his cassock all muddy and dusty and came to the house. The Sisters wanted to know what happened to his cassock, but he only said he’d got mud on it and wouldn’t tell them how. but he told me, and said, sometime you can tell the Sisters how it was I got muddy!”

Other members of the Briscoe family are scattered around the census and church records and would require further research to properly create a family tree (unless of course, somebody reading this has already done so and would like to reach out to us).

The St. Joseph’s Provincial House collection contains voluminous financial records from the 19th and early 20th centuries, which could assist those in the area researching their genealogies.  Some laypeople even get further mention in other documents in the archives that provide a fuller story to their ancestors.  It is a notable event that one for whom the most can be discovered is a member of the historic community of free African Americans in the north of Frederick County.

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The Chicago Fire Account

Account of Angeline Carrigan, the first 11 pages of her 28 page account of the Chicago Fire, recorded sometime in the 10 years after the event.  Posted this day on the 150th anniversary of one of the greatest natural disasters in American history.

How shall I correspond with your wishes and send an account of that dreadful fire which desolated our city! No descriptions can give a true idea of the rapidity with which it passed from block to block; the whirling about of the blazing wood by an irresistible wind; the crowd hurrying along, they hardly knew whither, only to be out of the reach of the hungry flames, in some reason being dethroned by the appalling catastrophe; all this and much more would have to be seen, to be realized!

The fire had raged about twenty four hours, and though kept somewhat under control, yet refusing to be extinguished when the water works took fire and the defenseless city was at the mercy of the element. You have heard of that early Communion, which to some of us, at least, seemed almost like a viaticum, so little hope was there that anything could survive; then how our dear Sister Mary [McCarty], having sent all but one companion as far as possible from the danger, refused to leave the house until it was actually on fire; and how she finally followed, bearing the precious ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament confided to her by our worthy pastor, he fearing to take it into danger to which he was obliged to expose himself; and lastly, the anxiety caused by some not being assured of the safety of the others, until at last, all were reunited at St. Patrick’s School.

There we were found by our dear Mother Euphemia [Blenkinsop] who saw something of the necessity for the relief so generously extended by other cities, and saw too how those who knew the Sisters flocked to them to pour into the deeply sympathetic heart of our dear Sister Mary their tale of suffering, those who, a few days before, had been independent and those always poor, alike in need of shelter, food and raiment. Truly, it is rare to meet one “who wept with those that weep,” as she did! How it gratified her when she could relieve the distressed! And on the other hand, how she suffered when powerless to give the needed succor!

Though out of the district in which the fire prevailed, the Sisters at the [Providence] Hospital, alarmed by the reports that the fire was tending that way, removed to the woods such of their sick as could bear removal, Sister Walburga [Gehring] herself remaining with the others, resolving to die with them, if she could not save them. Late in the evening of the second day, rain commenced and the fire ceased, after laying waste over three square miles of the city, and making nearly 100,000 people homeless.

Sister Walburga Gehring

The number of lives lost has never been truly estimated; some have missed friends ever since that fearful night; many, it is supposed, were smothered in their beds, having had no warning of their peril, and many others striving to avoid it, ran into danger and perished. Some rushed to the Shipping in the Lake, but even the vessels took fire; others board the outgoing trains, and left their families in agonizing grief, before tidings could be brought of them.

How then did we all escape? God only knows. May we ever prove worthy children of that Blessed Father who so strongly inculcated both by his words and example a steady trust in Divine Providence; and by our unbounded confidence in the Same, may we everywhere [sic] rejoice in His protection

“The Chicago Fire” commenced on the evening of Saturday, October 7, in a barn belonging to a woman named Mrs. O’Leary. It has been said that the cow while being milked upset a kerosene lamp; hence Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was considered the originator of the “Chicago Fire.” Those however who witnessed it could regard it only as a punishment sent in mercy to a guilty city.

No human agency could produce such a fire. Saturday night and Sunday, through the exertions of the firemen, it was kept under control pretty well. Sunday night, a terrific wind blew up, and then the fire baffled all efforts to extinguish it. During Sunday, the Sister in charge of our dormitory broke a pane of glass in the window near by [sic] bed; the wind blowing upon this made such an unearthly noise, that it woke me up, then the dormitory was all lit up from the reflection of the fire still miles away. I got up and woke the other Sisters in the dormitory; it must then have been about 10 o’clock. We went up in the belfry to watch the fire; the flames seemed to jump from house to house with the rapidity almost of lightning, the sparks were as thick as snowflakes in a storm. While the wind carried them eastward to Lake Michigan, we felt safe, but as we stood watching, the wind changed and blew towards us, and so strong was it that the burning shingles and large pieces of burning wood carried the fire in every direction.

About three o’clock a.m. on Monday, we went to bed to get a little rest before four o’clock bell rang. We were scarcely in bed, before one of the girls in the house came in terror, to say that the water works near us were on fire; then, and only then, we felt our danger. We had so much confidence in our Lord and our Blessed Mother that we did not think the fire would reach us. One of the Sisters took a bottle of holy water up to sprinkle the roof, and hung up a new picture of our Lady of Perpetual Succor in the chapel for protection. Sister had scarcely come off the roof when part of the belfry was blown in. The doorbell rang and our Sister Servant, dear Sister Mary McCarthy answered it. Father Flanigan, one of the assistant priests, at the Cathedral, came to take the Blessed Sacrament and to tell us that we must leave the house, at once. Sister asked him if it was as bad as that; he said yes, that there was very great danger. It was the feast of St. Dionysius. Sister asked him to give us Holy Communion and consume the Blessed Sacrament, which he did. During the time we were at the altar railing, the house shook and the stations [of the cross] on the wall rattled so that it was really terrifying. We made a few minutes thanksgiving and Father purified the Ciborium, as carefully, as ever he did, and then we prepared to take leave of our happy mission. Father often expressed regret that he did not take the little tabernacle key. Each one went to get ready. One Sister put on three habit skirts and two cloth aprons; she tried two chemisettes, but was not so successful. With the conferences in her arms and a heavy shawl worn for the first time, over her cornette and held on by her teeth, she was ready to depart.

Daughters of Charity Home shown on right

We found Dr. [John] McMullen [Sister Angeline notes “Subsequently Bishop of Davenport], our pastor, at the front door, with a buggy and two men to take two Sisters, both in delicate health at the time. It was the only vehicle he could procure, the two men volunteered to be the horses. After being dragged a little way in this novel way of travel, the Sisters began to think it was too much to expect of the poor men and begged them to let them get out and walk. Seeing a man coming with a dray, the men asked him to take the Sisters to one of our houses in another part of the city but out of the direction of the fire. He refused saying that he had to get a load of furniture in the burning district. After going a little distance, he repented and coming back took the Sisters to St. Columba’s School, where they were gladly welcomed by the Sisters. A second band accompanied Father Flanigan, to St. Joseph’s Hospital, a distance of about two miles. Father and a Sister walked first, he having the Blessed Sacrament from the Cathedral. The Sisters walked two and two after them saying the beads. After we had left, Sister Mary asked Dr. McMullen if he had been to the House of Providence, for the Blessed Sacrament. He had forgotten all about it, but ran right away then leaving with Sister Mary the Blessed Sacrament from the Orphan Asylum from which he had just seen the Sisters and orphans safely out. Dear Sister Mary, thinking he would return for the ciborium, waited until the belfry came tumbling down the stairs. Then, she and another Sister started for St. Joseph’s Hospital and had the happiness of depositing our dear Lord in a place of safety.

Sister Angeline [Carrigan], Sister Servant of the [St. Vincent’s] House of Providence, had packed any articles that could be so carried in trunks. A neighbor took them with his own on his wagon, to a place then supposed to be out of the reach of the fire, but all were burned. Sister Angeline herself had been carried by the wind and flames towards the Lake, when an unknown man drew her out of the flames. She received a slight burn on the face and one hand. The procession of Sisters to the Hospital passed the Sisters of St. Joseph with their orphans.

Providence Hospital, later renamed St. Joseph’s Hospital, circa 1870, Lake Hill, IL

All along the streets were those who had left their houses early in the evening and were too fatigued or too discouraged to go further. The people came out of their houses as we passed crying, “Oh! There are the poor Sisters! So the College burned? O God help us! Ah Sisters, is the Church burned? O Glory be to God! The world is coming to an end.” One of our children seeing Father Flanigan cried out “O Father Flanigan, is it the day of judgment?” He told her he thought it was a night of judgment for Chicago. Some of the Sisters were obliged to sit down on the road side, not being able to keep up with the procession (not the one with the three habit skirts).

After reaching the Hospital and putting the Blessed Sacrament away, we asked Sister Walburga, Sister Servant, to give us her carriage and we would go back for Sister Mary and companions and perhaps save something. As soon as it was ready and Father had a cup of coffee, Sister Anastasia and myself, accompanied by Father started for the Holy Name School, when within two blocks of it we could only see the place where it stood, the Cathedral too was gone. The Orphan Asylum, on the opposite side of the street, was a massive stone building; the flames were going through it, as if it were so much paper. Not meeting the Sisters we thought they must have been burned, for it was reported that two Sisters were seen in the house when it was on fire. We started to St. Columba’s School, hoping they had gone there, but we were disappointed, then not finding them there, we were inconsolable. Back to the Hospital we steered our course where our dear Sisters had arrived safely by another road just after we had left.

School of the Holy Name, circa 1870

Then Sister Mary’s anxiety for us was terrible, she imagined a hundred things that might happen to us. About noon, we returned in safety to the Hospital every one pronounced me sick and I had to go to bed. The Hospital, and every spot belonging to it, was filled with furniture and people coming there out of the reach of the fire, and every arrival told a nearer approach of the fire. The last comer said there was only one bridge left and those who wanted to go to the west side ought to start, so we prepared to go to St. Columba’s School.

This time our route was across the prairies. None of us knew the way, so we followed the crowd. “The one bridge left” was so crowded that we were obliged to walk under the horses’ heads. When we had gone about half the distance, worn out by fatigue, dust, heat and smoke, a poor Irishman named Pat O’Brien came towards us with an express wagon. He hailed us with “Oh! Sisters, where are you going? Aren’t ye from the College!” Having told him where we wanted to go, he begged us to get into his wagon, which we did most willingly and rode in state. I sat on the driver’s seat between Pat and a half grown boy. Every minute, the poor man would jump down to look at his wheel, which he thought would come off, and I was in mortal terror that I would be thrown from my exalted position. The poor man lost that day all that he had earned in eighteen years; but, “sure he had the best load now that ever he carried! (Eight sisters and six girls all carrying bundles.)”

As we went along, we passed several Sisters of other Communities sitting on the road side. We reached St. Columba’s about half past five, p.m. there we found the Sisters of St. Joseph and their orphans, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and their children. About six o’clock, the Jesuit Fathers came and took the Sisters and children to their Schools.

St. Columba’s School, circa 1870

The fire was still making progress north, and our Sisters of the Hospital had to move their sick to the woods; the fire came so near, that even there they were obliged to move again. They had at the time, several patients that could not be moved, and who would certainly have been burned, had the fire gone so far. Sister Walburga Gehring, Sister Servant, sent the Sisters away further, to a place of safety, but she could not be prevailed upon to leave her poor sick, saying that if they died she would die with them. Our Lord did not require that sacrifice, for towards midnight rain began and checked the progress of the fire; then all returned to the Hospital. The new Hospital in course of erection was also spared. All through the night, good Father [Thomas] Burke, pastor of St. Columba’s[,] kept us informed of the progress of the fire. At one time the wind changed and they thought it would come west. We did not feel safe until Father came in and told us that we might sleep now and not be afraid, as it was raining and the fire would go out, which it did after burning three and a half square miles of the city and rendering 95,000 persons homeless. Tuesday morning, the Sisters of the Holy Name School went to St. Patrick’s School which had been opened a few weeks before. The people of the burned district on the north side of the city flocked to us for help.

Sister Mary McCarty through Mr. [Reverend] Kinsella applied to the Relief Fund and obtained abundant supplies of provisions and clothing for hundreds, every day. The School house was turned into a sort of hotel and for about two weeks several hundred were fed and obtained relief.

Aftermath of the Chicago Fire viewed from Michigan Avenue. Courtesy Library of Congress

There is a second account of Sister Walburga Gehring written as she departed St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago that details the fire.  Both are available to the public at the Provincial Archives.

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