A Monastery Grows in Brooklyn, 1890

CLOISTER LIFE.
To Begin for the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
Their New Convent Will Formally be Opened By Bishop Loughlin To-morrow.
A Very Strict Religious Order Now First Established in the United States.
The Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1890, 6.

Another religious institution will be added tomorrow to the many Brooklyn already possesses. The new convent of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, on Sumpter street, near Rockaway avenue, will be formally opened by Bishop Loughlin. He will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at 8 A.M. From that hour until 6 P.M. the house will be open to visitors. After benediction, which will take place at 6 o’clock, the house will be closed to the outside world and only members of the order will ever penetrate the cloister.

The Order of the Precious Blood was founded in Canada in 1860. Right Rev. Joseph La Rocque, bishop of the Diocese of St. Hyacinthe, conceived the idea of establishing a contemplative order of holy women whose lives should be devoted to prayer, fasting and good works, “in reparation of the coldness and ingratitude of those for whom the Precious Blood had been shed, as well as in expiation of the crimes daily committed upon the earth.” In his congregation was an ardent young woman whose piety and religious spirit soon attracted his attention. At quite an early age she desired to become a tertiary of St. Dominic, but the permission was denied her. She then appealed to the famous Dominican, Pere Lacordaire, of France, whose jurisdiction extended over the French convents of the Dominican order in Canada, and he finally allowed her to enter the Third Order. Bishop LaRocque, when he desired to establish the Order of the Precious Blood, selected her as superior of the monastery. At first she refused, giving her youth and inexperience as excuses, but she yielded to his solicitation, and under her ministration the new order has increased to an extent that is indeed wonderful, with the great austerities practiced by the community.

In 1887 the order counted forty-eight professed sisters, now it has seventy, with branches in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and other centers.
Mother Catherine Aurelie, the first superioress of the order, and four of her sisters arrived in Brooklyn, December 4, 1889. In the Fall of 1888, John McGarry, the wealthy contractor of 538 Monroe street, and his wife were traveling in Canada, and among other places of interest, they visited the Monastery of the Precious Blood at St. Hyacinthe. Mrs. McGarry was suddenly taken very ill in the chapel and lost consciousness. Under the nun’s careful ministrations she soon recovered, and Mr. McGarry was so grateful for their kindness to his wife that he offered to provide a house for a foundation in the United States. The nuns decided that the first monastery in the United States should be built in Brooklyn. On their arrival here they took possession of a small house, provided by Mr. McGarry, until the new convent was finished. Their first meal was sent in by a Protestant lady, who said, “Though not of your religion I feel it an honor to serve you.”

The new convent adjoins their present quarters. It has been erected especially for them, and is called the Monastery of Bethlehem of the Precious Blood. The building is of wood, and contains three stories and a basement. The refectory, kitchen and laundry are on the basement floor. The first floor is divided into the chapel, two parlors and a room for retreats. The community room, novitiate, & room for the Mother Superioress and two infirmaries are on the second floor; the cells where the nuns will sleep are situated on the third floor. The cells are sixteen in number and each one is about 5×10 feet in dimension.

The regular community will be composed of Sister Mary St. Gertrude, Superioress; Sister Mary of Mt. Carmel, Sister Mary Berchmans, Sister Catherine de Ricci and Sister Margaret Mary, who are the choir sisters; Sister Guardian Angel, lay sister, and Sister St. John the Baptist and Sister Mary Jesus, out sisters. Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Catherine de Ricci are mother and daughter and respectively the sister and niece of the Rev. David Merrick, S.J., president of St. Francis Xavier’s College in West Sixteenth street. They will be better known in Brooklyn, perhaps, as the widow and daughter of the late Thomas Collins, nephew of Bishop Loughlin. Sister Margaret Mary was known in the world as Miss Waddington, and her brother is married to a member of the Van Rensselaer family. Mrs. Collins and her daughter were received into the order about three years ago, and Bishop Loughlin and Vicar General Keegan went up to Montreal to be present at the ceremony. Rev. Mother Catherine will return to Canada as soon as the nuns are comfortably settled in their new home.

The adoration of the Precious Blood is the principal object of the community. Catholic ladies of the world, who desire to withdraw from its distractions and spend a few days in prayer and meditation, are received at the convent. Rooms for this purpose are fitted up at the new monastery. The nuns have not been able to keep to the strict rule of their order while in the small house, but in the new convent the rules of strict enclosure will be resumed, and they will see visitors only through a grille or lattice work grating.

The monastery is partly supported by the sale of images of devotion— such as bleeding crucifixes, bleeding hands, wax figures of the child Jesus—which are made by the members of the community. The world habit or dress of the sisters is very striking. Over the whole habit of the Dominican is worn a bright red scapular and cincture. A deep white guimpe and coife with long black vail completes the costume. Just where the vail meets the center of the coif is a small red cross.

About Pat McNamara

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