Mar. 28, 1892 – To Archbishop Cleary, Archbishop of Kingston ON from General Superior Sr. M. Edward, Holyoke MA

House of Providence, Holyoke
Mar. 28, 1892
The Most Rev. J.V. Cleary, S.T.D.,
Archbishop of Kingston
My Dear Lord Archbishop,

I know it may seem to Your Grace, that I am importunate and inconsiderate to trouble you on the very day of your arrival home, but I feel that you will pardon me when you have heard me.

In my first letter, I refrained from speaking of the action of Rev. P.J. Harkins concerning Sr. M. of Providence for this reason: that I knew if the decision came in our favor, any word of mine about him would only be used against me on all occasions and the less I had to say to him or of him, the easier it would be for Sisters to live under him later; but now after a month, I find him as unreasonable as ever, and on account of the turn affairs have taken, I feel it is necessary to explain all.

I noted in my last letter, that I had a stormy interview with Father Harkins the day after my arrival, and the next day, Shrove Tuesday, he came with Rev. Dr. Beaven, and as soon as the latter had finished his discourse, Fr. H. again attacked me in presence of Sr. M. Gabriel and Sr. M. of Providence, using language that I could not repeat, saying I was not fit to be a religious, that I was unchristian in my conduct in driving out, of a winter’s day to the frost bound regions of Canada, a woman who had in his estimation deserved better. He declared that he would submit to no interference in his school and demanding again Your Grace’s letter and holding to the first impression: that I was acting diametrically opposed to the sentiments contained in that letter.

Rev. Dr. Beaven then told Sr. M. of Providence that he forbade her in the Bishop’s name, to leave the House in which she was, and Father Harkins still further encouraged her by saying that if he were suspended the next day, and for the rest of his life, he would give her the same advice.

All your Grace’s telegrams and letters bore the same directions: “Be prudent, charitable, kind and patient, and do nothing that would irritate in any way” and as Fr. Harkins said, as soon as his Bishop returned, he would consult him about his schools and not till then would he hold any converse with me. That was the first of March and the Bishop was expected the following week. Moreover, as Sister M. of Providence would not go home and I was desirous of doing all I could to keep peace with Fr. Harkins, avoid scandal and at the suggestions of many of the Sisters equally anxious to preserve peace, etc., I allowed her to go to the school, telling her each day, thus giving her to understand that she was no more Principal of the school than she was the Superior.

Two weeks passed and no Bishop. Then he was expected for the 17th of March, but instead of his arrival, news came that he had reached Washington and was seriously ill. Last week I heard that he was ordered not to return until after Easter and he had gone to Fortress Monro, Va.

The Blessed Sacrament was removed on Ash Wednesday and the Sisters were desirous of going to Holy Communion, as it was now more than a week since that privilege had been afforded them. Sr. M. of the S. Heart proposed that we arrange to send a few Sisters to Mt. St. Vincent each morning. I thought it well to allow them this privilege and all except two sick Sisters and Sr. M. of Providence went during the week ending March 18.

The following Tuesday, we did the same and on each occasion had the teaching Sisters home in time for the opening of school.

Wednesday, Fr. Harkins drove out to Mt. St. Vincent to visit Fr. Denis Moran who is ill there, and he told Sr. M. Ignatius that he would give the Sisters Communion in the Church, that it was too far for them to go out there. Sister asked him if he would tell me, and he said “Yes”. Sr. M. Ignatius came in immediately and that evening I sent two Sisters to Fr. Harkins requesting him to appoint a time. He bade them tell me that he would give the Sisters Communion just before his Mass at 7.30. We were delighted and thought, of course, all would avail themselves of the privilege, but only ten received Communion. The following day, Thursday, a Communion of the Constitutions and the Feast of the Annunciation, I thought they would all go, but to my dismay, I found only two others and myself, and the same day received a note from the Rev. Pastor, a true copy of which I here subjoin.

Pastor’s Residence

March 14, 1892.

To Superioress, House of Providence

I do not care for seeing but a select few of the Sisters at Communion in the Church. Unless the Sisters go in a body, I do not wish any of these to go in the Church to Communion. It was noticed and commented on this morning. To avoid scandal, I have come to this conclusion.

Again, I protest against sending the teaching Sisters to Ingleside for Communion.

P.J. Harkins

On Friday, Sr. M. of the Sacred Heart asked Rev. Dr. Beaven in the parlor before he went in to hear confessions, if he would advise the Sisters and suggest the days for receiving Holy Communion, that all might go in a body, as Fr. Harkins seemed annoyed and said he would have nothing to do with the Communions as the Bishop was expected shortly, and he would throw everything into his hands. He knew nothing of the permission Fr. Harkins had given and that prudence and charity forbade the singling out of one Sister. Rome would now decide whether Archbishop Cleary is right or wrong in his action toward a certain person, meaning, of course, Sr. M. of Providence.

Now, my anxiety is greater than ever. I know Fr. Harkins will not communicate the Sisters unless, as he says, “we go in a body” and there are some Sisters who would try to make us believe that they were almost fainting for the Blessed Sacrament and now refuse to go. Without committing the sin of rash judgment, I know it is to shield Sr. M. of Providence.

Monday A.M. – I have just heard that the Bishop of Springfield arrived at his home Saturday and now God help me! If he sustains Sr. M. of Providence in her disobedience and encourages Fr. Harkins to hold out against her being taken from the school, what shall I do? To a refactory subject such as she has proved herself to be, the voice of her religious Superior is no longer effectual and as she has disregarded the authority of her Ecclesiastical Superior, and worse than all, the higher power of Rome, it is easy to see that I am powerless and can do nothing now without advice.

April 8th. The Bishop of Springfield has been very ill since his return. I am told that he has not been allowed to attend to any business at all. This may be the reason why Fr. Harkins has not yet expressed his willingness to arrange with me for the school.

Bishop Brady, Coadjutor to Archbp. Williams, is to officiate on Holy Thursday in Springfield.

I remain with profound respect and lively gratitude, your sincere child in Christ,
Sister Mary Edward, S.G.
Source: 407-409-A, General Secretary Fonds, Annals of the Congregation/Generalate series, Volume 1861-1892, pp. 287-290, Archives, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catherine McKinley’s Letters

This letter is part of a large database of correspondence written by and to Catherine McKinley, who is considered one of the founders of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. As a Sister of Providence she was known by her religious name Mother Mary Edward.

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