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Rebecca Theresa Reed.

Six months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles online

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Online LibraryRebecca Theresa ReedSix months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles → online text (page 8 of 12)
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106 SIX MONTHS

if she did not explain to me the caus>5
of her grief I should certainly tell the
Superior; for I could receive no benefit
from her instructions while she was so con-
fused, and the Superior had reprimanded
me for not learning my lessons; and I
promised if she would tell me I would
not inform the Superior. She replied that
she could not answer me then, but would
think of it, and give me an answer in the
afternoon. Accordingly, in the afternoon,
a Religieuse being present, watching us,
she communicated what I desired to
know by writing on a slate, * and desired
to know if I was happy. I answered
that I did not like the Superior so well
as formerly. She then wrote, that while
at prayer and meditation she concluded
it was her duty, particularly as I was
dissatisfied, to give me some advice, and
considered her promise before made as
not binding; and receiving from me a

• We were at &e piano ; she pretended to write notes, &c



IN A CONVENT. 1 07

promise oi* 3ecrecy, she proceeded to say-
that she hoped she should be pardoned if
any thing wrong was said by her, as my
whole happiness depended on the words
she should communicate. " I am," says
she, ' ; kept here by the Superior, through
selfish motives, as a teacher, under a slav-
ish fear and against my will. I have
written several letters to my father, and
have received no satisfactory answer ; and
I have for a long time felt dissatisfied
with my situation. The Superior has fail-
ed in fulfillmgher promise, not complying
with the conditions on which I was re-
ceived ; which were, that as she was in
need of a teacher, particularly in French
?nd music, 1 might take the white veil,
^nd leave whenever I chose : and my
taking the veil, " as it was only a custom,"
should not compel me ; and that my obli-
gations should not be binding. My father
thinks I can leave at any time, for I do
not believe he has received my letters,
and that letter you have heard read as
3*



108 SIX MONTHS

Miss I.'s is a forged one." We were here
interrupted by the entrance of the Superior,
who made a sign for me to follow her into
the Bishop's room. After asking me how I
progressed in my lessons, and hearing me
read in the " Novices' Directory,"* she ob-
served that I looked melancholy, and com-
manded me to tell her the reason. I re-
plied that I did not feel well, that my lungs
were sore since taking the emetic, f &c.
She said that was only a notion, and bade
me tell the true reason without any more
equivocation. My words were, I did not
love her so well then as formerly. She ex-
claimed, " O, my child, I admire you for

• This is a book which is used only in Convents. It directs us to
respect the Bishop as a representative of the person of Christ, and
tin confession as Christ himself; and the Superior as fulfilling the
ofTco of Mother of God.

t My lungs were also very sore in consequence of repeating the
offices ; so much so, that when present at recreation, when I had
permission to speak, it gave me pain rather than pleasure. I
have, since leaving the Convent, consulted several physicians, who
have expressed it as their opinion, that the cause of my bleeding
at the lungs, which frequently occurs, was originally the repeating
the office and other services, in one long, drawling tone, which
any one can know by trying to be very difficult



IN A CONVENT, 109

your simplicity ;" and asked me my rea-
son for not loving her, which I declined
giving. She commanded " obedience"
with seeming mildness, and I told her that
I thought she did not pay that attention
to me she had promised, and that she was
not so kind as formerly. She then said a
Religieuse should have no will of her
own ; that their Superior put many things
upon them, in order to try their vocation.
She then recounted the sufferings of a
certain Saint, and hid me pray to that
Saint for protection; and showed me a
phial, which she said contained some of
Saint Teresa's tears ; and said if I would
save my tears while in devotion, she
could tell by them whether 1 should ever
arrive to the perfection of a Saint. She
then gave me her blessing, and reminded
me of my reception, which was soon to
take place.

At my lesson in the afternoon I again
conversed with Mary Pr&ncis concern-
ing the letter, and requested her to inform



110 SIX MONTHS

me how my happiness was concerned,
She said still that the letter read to the
Community was a forged one ; that Mrs.
]. was her aunt and sincere friend; and
did her father know her sufferings, and
the treatment she received from the Su-
perior, he would prosecute her ; that she
feared the Superior as she did a serpent.
She then advised me not to bind myself,
after my three months' " test or trial,"*
to that order, by complying with the rules
of " reception/' any farther than would
leave me at liberty to go to another if 1
chose; and I must not think, because
they were wicked, that the inmates of all
Convents were so. I assured her that
although I had thought there were none
good but Catholics, I now believed there
were good and bad among all sects. She
then requested me not to betray her, and
told me the Superior intended to keep me

* When persons first enter the Convent, they take an obliga
tion that they will spend the remainder of their days asaRe
eluse, but they are put on a three months' " test" or trial, to see if
they have a "vocation" for that particular order; If not, they est
ge\ ■ ■■•My placed in another.



!K A CONVENT. ill

there for life, and she thought it her duty
to warn me of the snares laid for me. She
disliked that order,* and wished me to in-
form her why, and in what manner I had
come there. I related to her then, and
during the next afternoon, all the particu-
lars. She appeared very much surprised
to learn that my friends had been opposed
to my coming, as the Superior had told
her that they had put me there for life.
She said she had been taken from the pub-
lic apartment, because she had been seen
weeping by the young ladies ; that should
the Superior refuse to let her go, she
should if possible make her escape ; and
named a Religieuse (Miss Mary Angela)
who had made her escape before. She
desired me, if she should be so fortunate
as to make her escape, to ask, in private
confession, permission to see my friends

• Miss Mary Francis was educated, I believe, in the Convent of
Saint Joseph, Emmetsburg ; also known as the order of the " Sisters
of Charity." She possessed an amiable disposition and superior
talents, and was universally admired by the inmates c? the
echool ; and so far as my acquaintance went, she was deserving
tha wteero of ev«ry «n«.



112 SIX MONTHS

and consult them about going to the
" Sisters of Charity ;" and if they were
willing that I should go, she would pro-
cure me a situation, and by letter inform
me of it. She was in great distress on
account of that letter, which plainly un-
i folded the motives of the Superior. She
said she should appear as calm as possi-
ble, as it was the only way to blind the
eyes of the Superior, and enable her to
escape ; and requested me to give her all
the information respecting the Superior's
intentions that I could learn, and to listen
to her and the Mother Assistant's con-
versation at recreation hours.

At recreation the Superior observed that
Miss Mary Francis had no vocation for a
religious life, as she had refused to attend
the offices and prayers. At our next in-
terview, I inquired of Mary Francis if
she had refused to attend prayers; she
replied no ; that the Superior had discover-
ed her intention to escape, and had
orbidden her attending offices, commit-



IN A CONVENT. 113

nion, and confession, for exposing her
feelings before the Religieuse ; and that the
Superior had imposed penance upon her,
forbidding her to walk in the garden during
recreation; and that the presents given her
by the young ladies had been, with the
Superior's permission, taken by some one
from her desk. She remarked that we
were exhorted to love and pray for those
who spitefully use us, but she could not
love the Community generally, they exei-
cised so much cruelty towards her ; that
the treatment she received was for no
other reason than because she had given
way to tears, which were a great relief to
her ; she was happy, she said, to find oris
who sympathized with her, and who
would not treat her with contempt, as the
others did. She said also that the Supe-
rior had done wrong respecting her
apparel.

I have now come to that part of my
narrative in which I must again speak
of the sufferings of Sist?r Magdalene.



114 SIX MONTHS

One day she came from the refectory,
and being so much exhausted as to be
hardly able to ascend the stairs, I offered
to assist her, and the Superior reprimand-
ed me for it, saying her weakness was
feigned, and that my pity was false pity.
She then said to Sister Magdalene, (after
we were seated,) in a tone of displeasure,
if she did not make herself of use to the
" Community," she would send her back
to Ireland ; on which Sister Mary Magda-
lene rose and said, " Mamere, I would
like — ."* The Superior cut short what
she was going to say by stamping upon the
floor, and demanding who gave her per-
mission to speak, imposed on her the pen-
ance of kissing the floor. The Superior af-
ter this imposed hardships which she was
hardly able to sustain, frequently reminding
her that she had but a short time to work
out her salvation, and that she must do bet-
ter if she did not wish to suffer in purgatory.



• This, and other like half-uttered expressions, convinced me
hat sh« wished to return to her friends.



IN A CONVENT. 115

The Superior questioned me about my
feelings ; wished to know why I looked
so solemn. I told he,r I was ill from want
of exercise, that I was not accustomed to
their mode of living, &c. She said I
must mention it to my Confessor, which
I did. The next time the Bishop visited
us, he was in unusually high spirits, and
very sociable ; and he related several sto-
ries, which are not worthy of notice in this
place. He again asked Sister Magdalene
when she thought of going to that happy
place, to receive her crown of glory. She
replied, " Before the celebration of our di-
vine Redeemer's birth, my Lord." He
said she ought to be very thankful that
she was called so soon.

I will here relate a conversation of the
Bishop with the Superior at recreation
hour, respecting the Pope, &c. After
talking a while in French, he said he
had received a long letter from the Pope, in
which his Holiness congratulated him for
his success in establishing the true religion



116 SIXMO N T H Si

in the United States, and made him offers
of money to advance the interest of the
Catholic Church, and more firmly establish
it in America, &c. The Bishop then
spoke of the Orthodox in Boston, and said
Dr. B. had got himself in a " hornets'
nest," from which he could not extricate
himself. The Superior named a sermon
delivered in the North Church by an
Episcopalian, and said they must look
out or they would get themselves into a
" hornets nest." The Bishop mentioned
a visit of Dr. O'F. at Dr. B.'s, and said
Dr. O'F. had scarcely an opportunity to
say a word, on account of the noise and
crying of the children which were in the
room, and with which Dr. B. was play-
ing ; said he appeared more engaged with
the children than with the subjects of re-
ligion, &c. &c. Miss Mary John, the
Mother Assistant, exclaimed, " Is it possi-
ble, my Lord, that a man of God is treated
in such a way by heretics ?" :i Yes," said
the Bishop, "none but he that is unmarried



IN A CONVENT. 117

careth for the things that belong to the
Lord, how he may please the Lord : but
he that is married careth for the things
that are of the world, how he may
please his wife." The Superior said
Dr. B. possessed very little sense, and
had a weak mind. The Bishop said that
the doctor by the course he had taken, had
made many converts to Catholicism;
" And perhaps," said the Superior, " he is
a wicked instrument in the hands of God
to bring about good."

At another time, while walking on the
Convent grounds, a cannon ball was
picked up by one of the Religieuse, and
the Bishop taking it, observed, as he gave
it to the Superior, " Here is a British ball
that has killed many a Yankee;" and he
also made several other similar observa-
tions. At another time the Superior told
the Bishop that two ladies met near the
Convent ; the words she used were, " One
Yankee met another, and said, ' I gtiessy ou
are a going to independence.' ' I guess
I be,' said the other.' They then laughed



118 SIX MONTHS

heartily about it, and gave us permission
to hold our recreation upon it. The
Bishop remarked, the Yankees celebrated
independence day in honor of mew, and
appointed days of thanksgiving, instead
of celebrating the birthday of the Re-
deemer, in honor of God, &c. #

When I was again summoned to the
Superior, she inquired as usual into the
state of my feelings ; and when I said I
desired to see my friends, she replied,
" Why, my dear Agnes, do you wish to see
worldly friends'? Who do you call your
friends 1 Am not I your friend 1 Is not
the Bishop your friend ? If your worldly
friends wished to see you, would they not



• We all had permission at one time to walk with the Superior
in the meditation garden. The Superior heard a noise behind the
fence, and sent her servants to learn the cause ; they returned, in-
forming her that two men were looking through the fence. The
Superior remarked, the Bishop had said there was great danger to
be apprehended from such persons ; that if Protestants were to
offer any violence to them, the judgments of heaven would fall
upon the wicked ; and God had founded them upon a rock so
firm that it oould not fall. The Superior gave orders to the porters
not to allow strangers to walk over tb« grounds without her or
»ho Bishop's permissi< n.



IN A CONVENT. 119

come and see you V ' I replied, ' ' Yes. * ' A
few days after this, I was taken very ill,
and went to the infirmary. Miss Mary
Francis, hearing of my illness, made an
errand to come to the infirmary for some
thread to mend her apparel, and pretend-
ing not to find it, asked me where the Re-
ligieuse put it ; and desired to know if I
had any good news for her. I told her I
had not, hut as we had permission to as-
semble for recreation in the afternoon, I
would, if I heard any, then inform her.
At that instant a Novice opened the door,
and Miss Mary Francis excused heiself,
by pretending that she was looking for the
basket of thread. We were not so strictly
watched for a few days as we had been,
but when Miss Mary Francis exposed her
feelings one day before Miss Mary Mag-
dalene and myself, we were again closely
watched. 1 then asked the Superior's
permission to write to my friends, and
desire them to come and see me, which
she granted ; and also told me to write



120 SIX MONTHS

whatever I pleased. I prepared a letter
accordingly to my sisters, stating that I
did not wish to return to the world, but
was anxious for a visit from them, &c.

I began now to be much dissatisfied
with this Convent. My views of retire-
ment, however, were the same as ever,
and I thought I would go to the order of
the Sisters of Charity, where Miss Msry
Francis was educated, as she had promised
to introduce me there. She told me, that
should I be called to the public apartments,
(as an assistant in ornamental work.) if
possible, to slip a billet into Miss I.'s hand,
(a scholar from New York,) who would
convey it to her ; and I must not open my
mind to my confessor until I was sure
she had left the Community. I asked her
if she would take a letter for me into the
world ; she replied, she dare not, as the
Superior would examine her, and not per-
mit any thing to be carried from the
Convent into the world. We then laid
the following plan, to mislead the Superi-



IN A C ON VEN T. 121

or in regard to our intentions. Miss Mary
Francis was to complain to the Superior
that I would not give proper attention
when at my lessons, and I was to tell her
that I could not receive any benefit from
Miss Mary Francis, on account of her
grief and absence of mind. This we
fulfilled to the letter. We also agreed on
a signal, by which I should know whether
she was going with or without permission.
If she went without permission, she was
to tie a string around an old book, as if to
Keep the leaves together, and lay it upon
the writing desk ; if with permission, she
was to make the sign of the cross three
times upon her lips. I had intimated my
desire to go with her, but she said it would
be more prudent for me to endeavor to
obtain the Superior's permission to see
some of my friends, and I could then
consult with them, and arrange matters
to suit me. After our conversation, she
knelt at the altar of the Blessed Virgin,
and begged God to forgive us if we acted
6



122 SIX MONTHS

wrong in this matter; and said to me,
' May we not hope for pardon in this mat-
ter, if the Superior can be so wicked as to
approach the holy of holies, and yet re-
ceive absolution?" She then selected from
a book the letters forming her real name
that I might write to her, should I not get
an opportunity to give a letter to Miss I.
A Religieuse entered and whispered her to
come away, and I never saw her after-
wards.

When the Bishop next visited the
"Community," he said he understood that
they were rid of that person who had
caused them so much trouble. They all
then rejoiced, because Miss Mary Francis
had gone. The Bishop asked whither
they had sent her. They answered, " To
her friends." Nothing more at that time
was said about it.

Not long after this, at private confession,
I was questioned very particularly in re-
gard to my views of remaining there foi
life. I told my confessor that I was con-



IN A CONVENT. 123

vinced that order was too austere for me,
and immediately burst into tears. He
endeavored to comfort me by saying I
was not bound to that order for life ; I
could go to another order. I asked him
if I might see my friends. He answered,
" Yes." After receiving a promise from
him that I should go to any other order I
chose, I consented to take the vows. He
gave me to understand, that I need take no
other vows there than I should at the Con-
vent of the Sisters of Charity. My recep-
tion took place the next day. I refused the
white veil, because the Sisters of Charity
did not wear it, and it was omitted. The
choir was first darkened, and then lighted
with wax tapers. The ceremony com-
menced with chants, prayers, responses,
&c. A book was placed in my hands,
which contained the vows I was to take.
A.s near as I can recollect, the following
is the substance of them : —

" O, almighty and everlasting God, per-



124 SIX MONTHS

mit me j a worm of the dust, to consecrate
myself more strictly to thee this day, in
presence of thy most Holy Mother, and
Saint Ursula, and all of thy Saints and
Martyrs, by living two years a Recluse,
and by instructing young ladies after the
manner of Saint Ursula, and by taking
upon myself her most holy vows of pov-
erty, chastity, and obedience, which, with
thy grace and assistance, I will fulfil."

They all responded, " Amen," and re-
peated a long office in Latin. I still con-
tinued to wear the black garb,^ which the
Bishop blessed ; also a long habit, and a
string of rosary beads, which were also
blessed by the Bishop. He wished to know,
one day, how Miss Mary Agnes did, after
taking the white vows ; to which the Supe-
rior replied, " Very well." He then con-
versed about the establishment in Boston,
and said that some Sisters of Charity were
coming to constitute a Convent either

• The apparel of a Religieuse is always kissed by the wearer,
•very time of putting on and taking nff



IN A CONVENT. 125

there or at Mount Benedict lower esta-
blishment. *

Meanwhile Sister Mary Magdalene
was employed in the refectory. Accord-
ing to the Bishop she was a Saint, and he
said there was a Saint's body in the tomb,
one of the late Sisters', which remained
undecayed. I heard the Superior, about
this time, tell Miss Mary Magdalene to
burn all her treasures,! or she would suf-
fer in purgatory for her self-love ; and she
was afraid she did not suffer patiently,
for she appeared romantic. Mary Mag-
dalene fell prostrate at the Superior's feet,
and said she would fulfil any command
that should be laid upon her. The Supe-
rior gave her a penance to kiss the feet of
all the Religieuse, and asked them to say
an Ave and a Pater for her ; after which

• The Bishop in confession told me 1 could, if I preferred it, be-
tome one of these Sisters.

t The treasures consisted of written prayers, books, papers, a
ock of her mother's hair, &c, which she brought from Ireland,
ind kept In her desk.



126 SIX MONTHS

she lay prostrate in the refectory until
the Angelus rung. One communion
morning, as I rose and was dressing, I
took some water, as usual, to rinse my
mouth, and all at once Mary Magdalene
appeared greatly agitated, and even in
agony ; made signs and crosses to signify
that I should commit a sacrilege were 1
then to approach the communion ; and I
then recollected that nothing must be
taken into the mouth on the morning be-
fore this sacrament. I relate this to show
the state of her mind. The Superior one
day requested the Mother Assistant to get
the keys of the tomb, and to have a good
place prepared for Mary Magdalene, who
forced a smile, saying she should prefer
hers near the undecayed Saint's bed.

As time passed on, the Superior became
more severe in her treatment, because I
objected to pursue my music. My mind
had been in such an unhappy state, that
I, for a long time, found it impossible to
study : and, further, I did not wish to re-



IN A CONTENT. 127

ceive instruction, for I had determined not
to stay there. I therefore succeeded in
obtaining the Superior's permission to oc-
cupy my time chiefly with the needle,
and assured her that I would again study
when I felt better.

On one of the holy days the Bishop
came in, and after -playing upon his flute,
addressed the Superior, styling her Made-
moiselle, and wished to know if Mary
Magdalene wanted to go to her long home.
The Superior beckoned to her to come to
them, and she approached on her knees.
The Bishop asked her if she felt prepared
to die. She replied, " Yes, my Lord ; but,
with the permission of our Mother, I have
one request to make. ' ' They told her to say
on. She said she wished to be anointed
before death, if his Lordship thought her
worthy of so great a favor. He said,
" Before I grant your request, I have one
to make; that is, that you will implore
the Almighty to send down from heaven
a bushel of gold, for the purpose of



128 SIX MONTHS

establishing a college for young men on
Bunker Hill. He said he had bought the
land for that use, and that all the Sisters
who had died had promised to present
his request, but had not fulfilled their obli-
gations ; "and," says he, "you must shake
hands in heaven with all the Sisters who
have gone, and be sure 'and ask them why
they have not fulfilled their promise, for
I have waited long enough ; and continue
to chant your office with us, while here
on earth, which is the sweet communion
of Saints." After she had given her pledge
and kissed his feet, he told the several
members of the Community, to think of
what they should like best. I was first
called to make my request. I had never
seen any thing of this kind before, and
my feelings were such as I cannot de-
scribe, and continuing silent, the Superior
bade me name it. I then said, I lacked
humility, and should wish for that virtue.
The Religieuse then made their requests :
one asked for grace to fulfil the vow of



IN A CONVENT. 129

poverty ; another, for obedience ; a third,
more fervent love for the Mother of God ;
a fourth, more devotion to her patron
Saint ; a fifth, more devotion in approach-
ing the altar and host ; and so on. The
Superior ended it, by making the same re-
quest as the Bishop, adding, the purpose
intended was, that the gospel of our Lord
and Savior might be more extensively
propagated, and that all dissenters might
be made to turn to the true Church and
believe. The conversation then turned
upon the Pope, and the Bishop said the
Pope would, perhaps, before long, visit
this country ; and when things were more


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Online LibraryRebecca Theresa ReedSix months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles → online text (page 8 of 12)