It was 101 years ago this month that the wheels – literally the train wheels – were put in motion to begin the process of creating the independent community known as the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
Following the death of the community’s dear friend, Bishop George William McCloskey in September 1909, the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville began an effort in 1910 to close the novitiate for its community in Maple Mount, and have all sisters enter in Louisville. That led the sisters in Maple Mount to pursue starting an independent community.
The archival notes of Mother Agnes O’Flynn, the community’s second mother superior (1920-28), detail what happened in August 1911. On Aug. 3, Mother Aloysius Willett, the local superior, and Mother Agnes met with the Rt. Rev. Denis O’Donaghue, bishop of Louisville, asking his permission to allow the community at Mount Saint Joseph to present its case for independence to the apostolic delegate in Washington, D.C. He agreed, and Mother Agnes and Sister Ursula Jenkins left for Washington at 4 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows. The Rev. Edward Fitzgerald, ecclesiastical superior of the community, spent the night writing the history of the community to present to the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Diomede Falconio.
“Father met us at the station in Owensboro and gave us the document with the words, ‘This is the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows; I have promised our Blessed Mother that if the journey is successful, this feast will be annually observed in the community as a day of thanksgiving and a procession to the cemetery will take place in commemoration of the departed sisters of the community,’” Mother Agnes wrote.
“We knelt in the twilight in the rear of the station for the blessing of our saintly Father, and we felt that our Heavenly Mother added her blessing to his,” Mother Agnes wrote. “Wire me after your visit to Falconio” were Father Fitzgerald’s parting words as the sisters boarded the train to Louisville and then onto Washington. “How shall we word the message?” the sisters asked. “Yes or No,” was his reply.
The sisters took enough clothing to stay for two weeks, as they were advised not to leave Washington until they had seen the apostolic delegate.
In November 2011, Falconio was appointed Cardinal, and was replaced as apostolic delegate in May 1912 by Archbishop John Bonzano. On Oct. 12, 1912, Bonzano issued his decision to create the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, which was acceptable to both communities. The 100th anniversary of that decision will be celebrated this year.
Each year on the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, the sisters who are able at the Motherhouse process to the cemetery following Mass to honor the dead, saying the rosary as they go.