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Friday, January 9, 2009

Christmas Eve at St. Charles in 1818

This is long overdue, but I did say I would share the first Christmas eve with you and one of my readers reminded me of this promise.
I went to school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri. Here is a description of the foundation in 1818: "when the sisters finally arrived in St. Louis (MO) they were asked to establish themselves in St. Charles, 14 miles from St. Louis on the Mississippi River, which Mother Duchesne described as “the remotest village in the United States.” In a one-room shanty on a two-acre plot without a tree or blade of grass, they established the first Convent west of the Mississippi and the first free school for girls in the United States.

In her famous letter describing that first brutal winter, she reported how water froze in the pails on the way from the creek to the cabin, how food froze to the table, and how the sisters often had no fire for lack of tools to cut wood. By the spring of 1819, the house in St. Charles was considered impracticable, and a new foundation with a convent, novitiate and boarding school was begun at Florissant, north of St. Louis, Mo."

Here is the story of the first Christmas Eve in the first convent of the Sacred Heart founded in America. It is taken from the "Life of Philippine Duchesne"
"A few village girls were invited to spend Christmas Eve at the convent with the boarding pupils. They arrived with their blankets or buffalo robes; each prepared to make her own shakedown for the night in the schoolroom. After supper they gathered around the log fire that lighted the rough, low-ceilinged room with its bright glow, and enjoyed a story hour. The wonders of the Christ Child's first coming to earth held their minds and hearts in rapt attention, then gay Noels were sung, and Mother Duchesne told them of Christmases in France and of the children she had known and loved at Sainte Marie. While the nuns prayed or completed preparations, the children slept for a couple of hours. At the sound of the bell all assembled in the chapel or its adjoining rooms for midnight Mass. The Christ Child was reborn on the altar and in the hearts of the twenty nuns and children who welcomed Him with love and gratitude. Then silence enveloped the little convent, and the children slept until the nuns called them to breakfast. The Christmas dinner was a festive affair, thanks to the kind Prattes, for Emilie was twelve years old that day, and her family had sent bountiful provisions for celebration."

A few days ago I finished translating the notice of Mother Gertrude (Daisy to friends)Flynn who had been the Mistress General at St. Charles from 1924 to 1951 - 27 years in charge of the school. It made me go back and relive my days there. It is a very holy place and the spirit of Mother Duchesne is very present. The school now has over 700 boys and girls in the grade school and they are still noted for their politeness and excel in both sports and academics. When I was there from 1944-48 we were less than 70 in the high school and most of us were weekly boarders.

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