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Heloise Hulse Cruzat.
The Ursulines of Louisiana.



Ladies, Gentlemen:

You have been told in eloquent periods of the founding of New Orleans, of its subsequent development, and I am to be the humble interpreter of another intimate chapter of its history: THE SHARE WOMEN TOOK IN ITS ESTABLISHMENT.

Can we mention the French colonial days without recalling the URSULINES, who by their unfaltering courage and their steady and efficient work, incorporated their history into that of our fair city.

Bienville realized that New Orleans would never attain his dream of greatness without education, and especially such an education of the female youth as would give worthy wives and mothers to the colonists. With this end in view, he intrusted to the Jesuit, Father de Beaubois, the care of choosing these educators. How successfully this mission was accomplished by his selection of the Ursulines of Rouen, the two past centuries have demonstrated.

A contract was signed by the Company of the Indies and the Ursulines, approved by brevet signed by Louis XV, and on February 22nd, 1727, Mother St. Augustin, Tranchepain, with eight professed nuns, a novice and two postulants sailed on the Gironde from L’Orient.


TREATY OF THE COMPANY OF THE INDIES WITH THE URSULINES

“The Company considering that the most solid foundations of the colony of Louisiana are the establishments which tend to the advancement of the glory of God and the edification of the people, such as those made by the Reverend Capuchin Fathers, and the Reverend Jesuit Fathers, whose zeal and charity assure spiritual succor to the inhabitants and give great hope for the conversion of the savages; wishing moreover, by a new establishment as pious, to succor the poor sick, and provide, at the same time, for the education of young girls, it has agreed to and accepted the offers made by the Sisters Marie Tranchepain de St. Augustin and Marie-Anne Boulanger de Ste Angelique, Ursulines of Rouen, to take in charge the hospital of New Orleans on the following conditions:

“Made in Paris, in the Hotel of the Company of the Indies, on the 13th day of September, 1726.

“Signed: I.’Abbe Raguet, J. Morin, D’Artaguette, Diron, Castanier, Deshayer, P. Saintard.

“Sœur Catherine de Bruscoly de St. Amand, premiere Superieure des Ursulines de France,

“Sœur Marie Tranchepain de St. Augustin, Superieure.

“Sœur Marie des Anges Boulanger de Ste Angelique, Depositaire.”

(This treaty is taken from the Register of the Accounts of the Indies, Vol. 2, at the “Depot of the Charts and Archives of the Marines.” A copy of this treaty, in French, was furnished to the Louisiana Historical Society, at its request, by the Ursuline Ladies of New Orleans, and it appears in Vol 11, part 4, of the Louisiana Historical Society publications, following the interesting paper written by Judge Henry Renshaw, for the Society meeting of June 12, 1901. This translation was made from this copy.) — H. H. Cruzat.







“Petition to the King to approve the treaty passed between the Ursulines and the Company of the Indies:

“The Directors of the Company of the Indies respectfully petition His Majesty to approve by brevet the treaty that the Sisters Marie Tranchepain de St. Augustin and Marie-Anne Boulanger de Ste Angelique. Ursuline Nuns of Rouen, passed on the 13th of the present month with the said Company of the Indies, for the establishment of six nuns of their order in New Orleans, where they will take charge of the hospital of that city and will give themselves to the education of the young girls, according to their institution.

“Passed at Paris, September 17, 1726.”


“Brevet of Louis XV, King of France, in favor of the Ursulines of Louisiana:

“On this day, the eighteenth of September. One thousand seven hundred and twenty-six, the King, being at Fontainbleau, it was represented to His Majesty on the part of the Sisters Marie Tranche pain de St. Augustin and Marie-Anne Boulanger de Ste Angelique. Ursuline Nuns of Rouen, that they had passed a treaty with the Directors of the Company of the Indies, on the 13th day of the present month by which the said Sisters of St. Augustin and Ste Angelique, on one side, agree to go to Louisiana with four other Sisters of their order, to take charge of the hospital of New Orleans and to employ themselves in the education of the young girls, conformably to their institution; and the Company of the Indies, on the other side, obligates itself not only to provide for the needs of the said hospital, but also to the maintenance and subsistence of the said nuns, as it is explained by the said treaty; that they hope, through the blessing of God, for the happy success of their undertaking, the pious and charitable principles of which bespeak the King’s protection; humbly petitioning His Majesty, as a proof that the said undertaking is agreeable to him, to approve their establishment in the province of Louisiana, in deference to which and wishing to favor everything that can contribute to the relief of the poor, sick and the education of youth, has approved the conditions of the treaty passed between the Company of the Indies and the Ursuline Nuns on the thirteenth of the present month, the intention of His Majesty being that they should enjoy without trouble all that has been or may hereafter be granted by the said Company, conformably to agreements made or to be made between the Company of the Indies and the said nuns, in consideration of which His Majesty has placed and places them under his protection and safe-keeping, and as assurance of His will. His Majesty has ordered the despatching of the present Brevet, which he has deigned to sign by his own hand and ordered countersigned by me, his Counsellor, Secretary of State, of his commands and finances.

“Signed: LOUIS.

“PHELYPEAUX.”






NAMES OF THE FOUNDRESSES---(1727)

  1. Mother St. Augustin, (1st Superior) from Rouen, died Nov. 11, 1733.
  2. Sr. St. John the Evangelist, (Marguerite Judde of Rouen), died August 14, 1731.
  3. Sr. Ste Angelique (Marie-Anne Boulanger from Rouen, sister of the Jesuit missionary of the Illinois, Pere Boulanger), died June 29, 1766, aged 80 years.
  4. Sr. Ste Marie (Rence. Yuiquil, from Vannes, also given as Guiquel), died Oct. 24, 1763, aged 68 years.
  5. Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Madeleine Mahier, from Havre), died July 6, 1728.
  6. Sr. St. Joseph (Cecile Cavelier from Elbœuf), died December 11, 1742.
  7. Sr. Ste Thèresé (Marguerite Salaon from Plœrmel, also Talaon and Salaum), died Sept 5, 1733, aged 32 years.
  8. Sr. St. Michel (Jeanne Marion from Plœrmel), on account of the climate returned to France November 25, 1727.
  9. Sr. Ste Marthe (Marie-Anne Dain, from Hennebont, a lay sister), returned to France with Sr. St. Michel, Nov. 25, 1727.
  10. Sr. St. Stanislas (Marie-Madeleine Hachard from Hcnnebont). died August 9, 1760, aged 56 years.
  11. Sr. Anne de St. Francois, returned to France in 1728.
  12. Claude Massy, in 1729, returned to the outer world.


The contract read that if the missionary Sisters were not satisfied with existing conditions on landing, they were to be returned to France at the expense of the Company, in their ships.

They were under the care of the Jesuit Fathers Doutreleau and Tartarin, whose names have passed into history from their labor among the savages; they were also accompanied by Brother Crucy, (S. J.)

The voyage was fraught with many dangers. The ship struck a rock, they went through several terrific storms, were twice pursued by pirates, and though the vessel had been provisioned for a lengthy voyage they underwent privation. During one of the storms 49 sheep and 500 chickens died, apparently of sea-sickness. In March they stopped at the Isle of Maderia, then in all the glory of Spring, and were invited by the Superior of the Monastery of St. Clare, (a Portuguese princess,) to visit her nunnery, but the Ursulines declined, not fancying the quaint Moorish customs of the Islanders.

At San Domingo, the commandant tried “to induce them to establish a school; the inhabitants sent them many presents, among which a barrel of sugar, weighing 300 pounds. After the Caribbean storms had been weathered the ship was stranded on a sand-bar and the larger part of the cargo had to be sacrificed before it could be set afloat. In July they reached Louisiana with its dreary morasses and canebrakes, and here and there, a tree draped in dismal grey moss. They sought in vain for the riches and beauty described by the Company of the Indies; even their entrance to the river seemed to be forbidden by immense accumulations of driftwood and dead trees with outstretched, denuded branches, which barred the way. They went through Sauvolle Pass, reaching the mouth of the Mississippi on the 23rd of July. At the Balize they were welcomed by the Commandant de Verges, who offered them his residence as a home until they continued on their way. They were not unable to resume their trip up the river before the 31st of July. The Superior, Father Doutreleau, Brother Crucy and five sisters came in a pirogue, the others “followed in a shallop with Mr. Massy.” When darkness came on they left their boats and slept on land, taking such precautions as were possible against creeping and winged enemies, especially against the mosquitœs, which inspired the novice, Madeleine Hachard, with a dread of assassination.

Their last stop on their ascent of the river was at the Massy plantation, owned by a brother of one of the postulants (Claude Massy). Mother St. Augustin Tranchepain and those who came in the pirogue reached New Orleans “early on the 6th of August,” but the others did not arrive until the following day, which is the date generally given as that of the landing of the Ursulines, in the representing of which artists have taken a great deal of artistic license.

Mother St. Augustin Tranchepain has left a short account of their arrival in New Orleans:

“We found few persons awaiting us on account of the early hour and we set out for Father de Baubois’ house. We soon saw the good Father coming towards us, leaning on his cane, on account of his great weakness. He appeared pale and depressed but his counteance brightened with joy at seeing us. He made us rest awhile and had an excellent breakfast served, which was often interrupted by a great number of his friends coming to greet us,

“Towards ten or eleven o’clock the Reverend Father led us to our home. It is a house which the Company of the Indies rents for us until our monastery be built; it is directly at one end of the city and the hospital, is at the other end. Therefore we will not be able to take charge of it until our monastery is finished. * * * * * On August 9, 1727, the holy sacrifice of Mass was offered for the first time in one of the parlors of this house. They waited until October 5th, of the same year, when the small tabernacle was ready; and, on that day, Reverend Father Beaubois, our worthy superior, granted us at our deamand, by Bishop de St. Vallier, was recognized in this charge with the usual ceremonies.”

(It is noticeable that Mother Tranchepain spells the Jesuit’s name “BAUBOIS” whilst Madeleine Hachard writes it BEAUBOIS.)

This house, which Mother Tranchepain says was situated at the extreme end of the city, was in the square bounded by Chartres, Royal, Bienville and Conti. The transient chapel of the Jesuits was a square distant. (It is marked on a map of 1728 in possession of Mr. Gaspard Cusachs.) In 1725 they had bought Bienville’s house, “at the upper limit of New Orleans,” for which Bienville, on the 27th of June, 1730, acknowledged having received “in gold and circulating money, as stipulated in the power of attorney of the Company of Jesus, in France, the sum of 12,000 pounds or francs, rent agreed on by above contract, and acquitted and discharged the said Rev. Father Davangour, the said Company, and all others, etc.” It was in later years that the Jesuits acquired the tract between Canal and Felicity Road. Madeleine Hachard writes that the Company paid 15,000 pounds a year as rent for this house. “It is,” she continues, “directly at one end of the city and the house which they are building for us is at the other end. We intend to take possession of our monastery and of the hospital only in a year, perhaps later, for workmen are not as common here as in France, the more so, as they intend to build permanently and entirely of bricks; in the meanwhile they are actually constructing a small lodging in our residence which will serve to instruct the day pupils and to house the boarders. The proprietor of the house furnishes the wood and we furnish the workmen; there are already more than thirty boarders who are persistent in their demand to be received, as much here as at the Balize and in the environs, etc., etc.,” and further on speaking of conditions in New Orleans and of Governor Périer’s efforts: “He has established a well regulated police, he declares war to vice, he expulses those who lead a scandalous life, corporal punishment is inflicted on girls who lead a bad life, trials are terminated in three or four days, they hang, they break on the wheel for the least theft, the Council is supreme. There is no appeal, they bring cases from Illinois four hundred leagues distant: that does not prevent there being magistrates in those places, but they appeal here.” In 1728 she speaks of their instructing the savage and colored girls and women from 1 p. m. to 2:30 p. m. She also relates that it is Father de Beaubois’ intention that they take care of orphans through charity, and that to encourage them, he said that he and Monsieur Périer would assume the charge of all the orphans. Before leaving France Madeleine Hachard had received the white veil of the novice at the Convent of Hennebon, under the name of Sister St. Stanislas and she was the first to pronounce her vows and receive the black veil in New Orleans, which ceremony took place on the 15th of March, 1729.

The Old Ursuline Convent

Of the Ursulines who entered Bienville’s home in 1727, two nuns and one postulant returned to France, on the Rhinoceros, November 25th, 1727. One of the reasons alleged was climatic conditions. Claude Massy gave up the idea of a religious life in 1729 and must have remained with her brother’s family as there is no mention of her departure in the Ursuline Annals nor in the “Livre de Passages” in possession of the Louisiana Historical Society. She has often been called one of the servants this is a mistake; she was a lady and a Choir Sister. In the picture of “the Landing of the Ursulines” the postulants do not appear.

The Ursulines had hardly begun their task when the Natchez massacre occurred (November 28th, 1729). They took under their care the orphans of the French victims and this was the nucleus of their orphanage, which besides a free school for the poor, was kept up by them until 1912, when they removed to their college on State street. For a time the city was supposed to support twenty-four orphans, but only the actual number was paid for at the rate of $5.00 per head. They were housed, fed, clothed, instructed and cared for in health and sickness for this sum. When Mother Ste Seraphune became Superior she established a free orphanage. Their curriculum, including French and English language lessons, geography, arithmetic, catechism, history, writing, sewing and housework, never varied, and this work lasted until want of accommodations in their new College forced them to give it up. This ordinary education was so thorough that several of these orphans successfully directed educational institutions. This task was carried on during 183 years. Their care of the Hospital, stipulated by the Company of the Indies, continued until 1770.

Ursulines with student.

The Ursulines remained in Bienville’s house until 1734. The Convent built for them by the Company at a cost of 1,000,000 pounds or francs was begun in 1727; in 1730 the corner stone was laid by Dame Catherine Le Chibelier, wife of Governor Périer and on July 17th, 1734, they took possession of their new monastery in great pomp.

Says the Annalist: “During three days previous to the one appointed for our removal to the new convent it rained almost incessantly, making the roads so impracticable that we were on the point of giving up the idea of leaving our old residence for some time longer, when suddenly the sky cleared, and, in spite of muddy roads, we decided on taking possession of our new home ere the setting of another sun.

“Accordingly, towards 5 o’clock p. m., our convent bells rang a merry peal to announce our decision. Immediately the troops ranged themselves on each side of the abode we were about to leave forever. Governor Bienville, Mr. Salmon, intendent, together with the most distinguished citizens and almost the entire population, came to form our escort.

“After the Benediction of the Blessed Sacredment, which was given by the Rev. Father Philip, (Franciscan), assisted by Rev. Fathers Beaubois and Petit, S. J.; all left the Chapel in processional order; the citizens opening the march, followed by the children of our orphanage and day school, and over forty of the most respectable ladies of the city, all bearing lighted tapers and singing pious hymns. Next came about twenty young girls, dressed in white, who were followed by twelve others and some little girls dressed as angels.”

“The young lady who personated St. Ursula wore a costly robe and mantle, and a crown glittering with diamonds and pearls, from which a rich veil hung in graceful folds; and in her hand she bore a heart pierced with an arrow. Her companions were clad in snow-white dresses and veils; and they bore palm branches emblematic of victory.

“Last of all came the nuns and the clergy; the former hearing lighted tapers, and the latter a rich canopy under which the Blessed Sacrement was borne in triumph. The soldiers marched on each side leaving a space of about four feet between them and the procession. The military music which accompanied the singing of pious hymns contributed not a little to the beauty and impressiveness of the ceremony.

“As soon as the procession was in sight of the Convent some kind friend commenced to ring the bells, to hail our arrival; thus we entered our new abode amidst the chiming of bells, fifes and drums and the singing of hymns of praise and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father who had lavished so many favors on us,” etc.

The first to be called away in the home they had left was Sr. St. Francis Mahieu who passed away July 6th, 1728. This death and the departure of those nuns who returned to France had left but seven frail women to meet the growing needs of the colony. In 1731 another pioneer went to her reward, Sister St. John the Evangelist, (Marguerite Judde). In 1733 another of the foundresses, Sr. Ste Thèresé, (Marguerite Salan), departed from this world, and in November of the same year the venerable Superior of the foundresses died, one may say, “in sight of the promised land.” She was succeeded by Sr. St. André, (Jeanne Melotte) from Caen, who was the first Superior in the Convent on Chartres street, where she ruled until 1739; she was re-elected in 1745 and died in 1747.

From the day of the removal of the Ursulines to their monastery, corner of Conde and Rue de l’Arsenal, the latter street became and has remained, “La rue des Ursulines.” Father de Beaubois had obtained from the Company that the monastery and buildings intended for the boarders, orphans and day-pupils be constructed apart from the hospital which was in the rear of the Convent. The first chapel was adjacent to the barracks; the second, donated by Don Andrés Almonester in 1789, extended in length and opened on Ursulines street. The first Ursuline chapel held many memories. Here knelt Bienville and the successive French Governors and high officials of the colony, here resounded the blare of French and Spanish trumpets, the wail of the exiled Acadians, the sound of executionary guns, shouts of victory, the solemn sounds of sacrifice and the daily murmur of the people’s prayer. Here the families of the Louisiana martyrs prayed with the good nuns through the fatal hour which severed their mortal ties.

The event is thus recalled in the Convent Annals: “The Sieurs Nicolas Chauvin de Lafreniere, Jean Baptiste de Noyan, Pierre Caresse, Pierre Marquis, and Joseph Milhet, condemned to death by O’Reilly, as leaders of the revolt against Spain, at the time of the cession of Louisiana, were shot October 25, 1769, in the yard of the barracks which formed a boundary of the Convent of the Ursulines. It was a terrible moment of anguish for the nuns. The detonations shook the windows of the chapel where the relatives of the victims had taken refuge and with whom the nuns prayed.” One of the Ursulines, Sœur Thèresé de Mouy, is said to have been a near relative of one of the victims, and to the day of her death, fifty-five years later, could not hear the sounds of horses’ hoofs, nor the roll of a drum without experiencing a nervous trembling which she could not control.

In the second chapel assembled on January 8th, 1815, the women of the city whilst the battle raged at Chalmette. It was on that memorable day that the Superior of the Ursulines, Françoise Victoire Olivier de Vezin, (Sr. Ste Marie), made the promise of a solemn high Mass and a Te Deum to be chanted yearly on this date, if the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor brought speedy victory to the Americans * * * * * her vow is still fulfilled and the shrine which the ladies of New Orleans have adorned with precious jewels still calls to mind a devotion which has spread beyond the Ursuline pupils. There the news of victory was received and Mother Ste Marie threw open the Convent doors to the wounded soldiers. In the Externat “there were more than fifty beds.” This venerable Superior was the daughter of a high official of Spain, in Louisiana, and assumed the task of teaching the colored girls, which she was faithful to acquit herself of during forty years. She died in 1820. Her name was linked to that of Sr. Ste Angele, (Susanna Theresa Johnston) for the devoted care given to the wounded in 1815, the nuns tearing up their personal linen to dress the wounds of the soldiers in their monastery.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor
Creative Commons image from Wikipedia

Among the professed Ursulines may be found some of the most distinguished names in the colony and in France: Broutin, Perez, Dussuan de la Croix, Ramos, Olivier de Vezin, Le Verme, Duplessis, de Beaumont, de Mouy, Constance Trouard who went to found the Ursuline convent of San Antonio, Texas, etc., etc. On the roll of the pupils there are names which have been linked to the highest and best blood of Europe, several marrying Spanish Governors. Two of them went to European courts and Mademoiselle Maxent, widow Destrehan, received homage as vice-queen of Mexico, as the wife of Bernardo de Galvez.

Of the first Ursulines there are few details; theirs were lives of unceasing toil, and they had little time but for a brief mention of passing events. Of those who came in 1727, two lived to see the change from the French to the Spanish domination; one of these, Sr. Ste Angelique, opened her arms to the poor exiled Acadians when the Ursuline Convent on Chartres and Ursulines offered them an asylum. In 1749 the Ursulines received as a lay sister, Marie Turpin, under the name of Sr. Ste Marthe. Her father was a French Canadian, Louis Turpin, keeper of the King’s stores in Illinois and was legitimately married to Dorothea, daughter of an Illinois, chief, who is supposed to be one of those who came to New Orleans to condole with the French after the butchery at Fort Rosalie. (Mamantouensa.)

Father Le Petit, S. J., narrates this visit of the Illinois chiefs:

“At the first news of the war with the Natchez and the Yazoos they came here to weep for the Black Robes (missionaries) and the French, and to offer the services of their nation to Mr. Perrier to revenge the death of the Frenchmen. I was at the government house when they arrived and I was charmed with their speeches. Chicagou, whom you saw in Paris, was at the head of the Mitchigamias and Mamantouensa at the head of the Kaskaskias. Chicagou spoke first. He spread on the floor a carpet of deerskin bordered with porcupine hide and on it he laid two calumets and different savage commodities accompanied by one of the customary presents. ‘There,’ said he, pointing to the calumets, ‘are two words which we bring you; one of religion and the other of peace or war, as you will decide. We hearken with respect to your commands, for they bring us the word of the King our Father, and even more to the Black Robes for they bring us the word of God himself, who is the King of Kings. We came from a great distance to bemoan with you the death of the Frenchmen, and to offer our warriors to strike the hostile nations whom you will name. You have but to speak. When I passed through France the King promised me his protection for the prayer (meaning Christianity) and urged me never to leave it; I shall remember it always. Grant us and our Black Rohes protection.’ He then expressed edifying sentiments on religion which the interpreter Baillarjon endeavored to explain to us in very bad French.”

“Mamantouensa spoke after him. His speech was laconic and his style very different from that of the Savages who repeat the same things a hundred times in the same discourse: ‘Here,’ said he, ‘are two young men slaves, and some peltries and other trifles, it is little a present I offer you. My idea is not to induce you to offer a greater one; all that I ask is your heart and your protection. I crave them more than all the merchandise in the world and when I ask for it it is solely for prayer.

“‘My sentiments on war are the same as those of Chicagou who has just spoken and it would be vain to repeat what you have so recently heard.’” Father Le Petit continues his account of their visit: “They had no house but ours during the three weeks they remained in this city; they charmed us by their piety and their edifying life.” He then relates that they attended religious services daily, singing the hymn for the King after Mass. The nuns sang the first verse and the Illinois sang the following verses in their language and on the same tone. On their first visit to the Ursuline Convent Mamantouensa perceiving a group of little girls near the nuns said: “I see that you are not nuns without an object.” “He meant,” says Father Le Petit, “That they were not simply recluses working solely to their own advantage.” “You are,” continued he, “like the Black Robes, our Fathers, you work for others. Ah! if we had up there two or three of you our wives and daughters would have more sense and would be better Christians.” “Well,” answered the Superior, “make your choice.” “It is not for us to select,” said Mamantouensa, “that is your right; you know them.”

In 1765, the third Louisiana born nun, Charlotte de Mouy, entered the Convent where she had been educated. She was the pupil of Madeleine Hachard, the loved Sr. St. Stanislas, who had given her youth and talents to the nascent French colony and was spared the grief which the change to the Spanish Domination would have brought her, for, on a calm evening in August, 1760, she retired to her cell, in her usual health, and did not awaken in this world. She was but fifty-six years of age, and tradition is that she was beautiful — but who will linger on physical charm before the perfect beauty of heart and mind of these devoted women!

In memory of this holy Ursuline we quote from “Relation du Voyage des Ursulines de Rouen a la Nouvelle Orleans, avec introduction et notes par Gabriel Gravier:”

“Madeleine Hachard, in religion, Sr. St. Stanislas, was one of those whom the vocation of instructress suits best. She had a kind and affectionate heart, a cultured mind, remarkable instruction for one of her sex and time. She was pious and slightly credulous, but not in the least bigoted; having confided her life to Divine Keeping she went her way smiling, loving and commanding love, joking at the misadventures of the voyage, shaking her ears after each danger, happy to see Louisiana if God did not give her a bed in the bottom of the sea.”

“The present Superior of the Ursulines of New Orleans wrote to Mr. Boismare a few years ago, that, after thirty-five years teaching, Sr. St. Stanislas carried beyond the tomb the regrets of the whole community and that she left a large MS. volume which the Sisters rarely consult.”

“What enhances our sympathy for this amiable girl is that she went to Louisiana as much through patriotism as through devotion.” Charlotte de Mouy had been carefully and lovingly educated by Sister St. Stanislas in the Chartres street Convent. Her parents held prominent rank in de Vaudreuil’s time when the Government House of New Orleans was said to hold a small court which was the cradle of elegance and refinement in this city. Charlotte was born in 1745 and mingled with the beau monde of the colonial city during the years between her 18th and 21st birthday; she was greatly admired for her beauty, her culture and her magnificent voice; but her soul craved but one boon: to lay all these gifts as an offering to the cause for which the Ursulines had crossed the sea and left refined surroundings to labor in the upbuilding of a French colony in which there were souls to save and youth to educate. She took the habit in 1766 and died in the Dauphine street Academy on July 25, 1826, aged 81 years, after sixty years in the monastery as a nun.

The missionary spirit was strong in France, for in the years following the landing of the Ursulines other sisters came continually to the help of the foundresses, affronting the uncertainties of a long sea voyage, and the hardships they knew they would have to undergo here, with the spirit which led our first martyrs to death with a smile on their lips.

In 1732 three Ursulines arrived, one of whom, Sr. St. André (Jeanne Melotte), became the second Superior; in 1734 the two de Ramachard sisters; in 1736 Sr. Ste Radegonde de St. Marc; in 1742 three more, among whom we find Marguerite Bigeaud de Belair (Sr. Ste Madeleine de Jesus) who died in 1792 and Jeanne Perrine Elizabeth Bigeaud de Belair, (Sr. Ste Thèresé de Jesus), who died in 1752. Between 1750 and 1755 ten sisters came to aid the missionary nuns. Here we note Sr. St. Ignace (Marguerite Perrine de Liepure) who was among the sixteen nuns who went to found the Ursuline Convent of Havana in 1803.

The cession of the colony to France caused great consternation in a monastery where most of the inmates belonged to families who had witnessed or suffered by the French revolution. Sixteen sisters decided to leave for Havana, notwithstanding the French Prefect’s personal assurance that they would receive the same consideration and enjoy the same privileges under France as had been granted them by Spain. Among those who departed were the daughters of the Count Dusuau de la Croix. Nine nuns, encouraged by Rev. Thomas Hassett, remained in New Orleans, ready to face danger and continue their mission, trusting their fate to the Power that led them and to the people who loved them. With heroic ardor and selfsacrifice these nine nuns undertook the work which had not proved light for twenty-five. Those who remained were: Mère St. Xavier (Marie Thèresé Farjon), who died in 1810; Mère St. André (Christine Madier) who died in 1835; Mère Ste Marie (Franciose Victoire Olivier de Vezin) 1820; Mère Ste Thèresé (Charlotte de Mouy) who died in 1826; Sr. Ste Scolastique (Rosalie Broutin) who died in 1834; Sr. St. Charles (Marguerite Carriere) who died in 1817; Sr. St. Antoine (Marthe Delatre), lay sister, died in 1820; Sr. Ste Marie Joseph (Gertrude Braud), lay sister, died in 1818; this sister was the first Acadian nun, she was 72 years when she died. These Ursulines continued the boarding school, the orphanage, the instruction of the colored women, the care of the sick in the hospital, without outside help until the arrival of Sr. St. Michel Gensoul and seven postulants on December 31, 1810. Three of these postulants died before taking the veil, and all of them, except Mother St. Xavier, who died in 1810, gave asylum and care to those stricken in the battle of January 8th, 1815.11 Four of them: Mothers Ste Felicite, St. André, Ste Thèresé, and Ste Scholastique went from the Chartres street monastery to the Dauphine street academy.

“On the 26th of March, 1803, the Prefect having dined at Mr. Genty’s was asked: ‘And the Convent, what will become of it?’ He answered: ‘The Convent will remain as it is.’ On the same day the different municipal bodies went to greet the Prefect and asked the same question which had been asked at Mr. Genty’s, to which he answered: ‘The nuns may be without anxiety, they will remain as they are. with all their possessions.’ He afterwards deputed the Governor and the Major of the Place to reassure the Community.

“The whole city rejoiced on hearing this happy news. On the levee and on the streets was heard: ‘Our Sisters remain with us,’ and a great number of the principal citizens came to congratulate the Community. On the 13th of April, 1803, the Prefect Laussat visited the Community; after the usual greetings he addressed to our Mothers these consoling words: ‘ Ladies: The French Government having been informed of the need the colony has of you, of the good work done in it by you, of the public esteem which you enjoy and which is so justly due to you, has decreed that you will be maintained in the possession of all your property, and in the enjoyment of all your rights and privileges; you may be certain. Ladies, that I will protect you in all that depends on me. You will be the coadjutors of the Government for the conservation of good morals and the Government will uphold you.” Notwithstanding these assurances of good will which bore the stamp of the greatest sincerity, the Superior and the Assistant declared to the Prefect their intention of going to Havana. This gentleman made all possible solicitations to induce them to remain, assured them that General Victor would bring the decree of the preservation of the convent and that he would announce in the public papers what he had stated. But it was all in vain for on the 29th of May, at ten o‘clock at night, the Superior, the Assistant, eleven choir sisters and three lay sisters went out of the monastery by the church door to embark on the boat. They were accompanied by Rev. F. Hassett, Vicar General, for the the church, by Mr. O’Farrell, Marquis de Casacalvo, and Mr. Salcedo, Governor of Louisiana, representing the King of Spain, by the military corps and a great number of the most distinguished citizens.”

The following letters tend to persuade us that the Spanish nuns did not carry away the sacred vases nor ornaments:

“Nouvelle Orleans, 11 Germinal, an 11.

“The Colonial Prefect of Louisiana to Monsieur de Salcedo, Brigadier of the Spanish Armies,

Governor of Louisiana, for His Catholic Majesty.

“Mr. Governor:

“It has reached me from different sources that corporations of sisters had the idea that they would be allowed to take away some of the ornaments and vases destined to the cult and belonging to these establishments. I do not need to explain what you know as well as myself, that all public property, royal or communal, is comprized in the remittal of possession of the colony into our hands, according to conventions between our respective governments; we will deviate, one and the other, from our duty if we tolerate that anything be abstracted therefrom. I am certain that it is sufficient to have called your attention to this matter to prevent it in all that depends on your authority.

“I have the honor to salute you with high consideration.

“Signed: LAUSSAT.”

Here is what Mother Monique wrote from the boat:

“My dear Mothers:

“Notwithstanding the difficulty of expressing myself in French. I wish however to do justice to your honorable proceedings towards the sisters who wished to accompany me. by giving you the inclosed receipt, begging you to accept it as a tribute from our grateful hearts.

“Allow us also to assure you, my good and dear Mothers, that, barring the event which Divine Providence sent us. we would never have consented to separate from you, and that notwithstanding the bodily distress we will ever remain united in heart and spirit.

“Signed: Sr. Ste MONIQUE, Ramos.

“We, the undersigned, certify that the Mothers Ste Felicite Alza, St. Xavier Farjon, and Ste Marie Olivier, kindly wished to give us all the clothes in our use, and a part of that of the community, such as sheets, table-cloths, towels, etc. Moreover they had the generosity to send us on board a barrel of hog’s lard, another of oil, four sacks of rice and coffee, cases of white wine and soap, baskets of sponge cakes and other delicacies. Those good Mothers also sent us a few bolts of linen with the sum of $400 which we would not accept before our departure, knowing that they are not in condition to make such gifts.

“Signed: Sr. Ste MONIQUE, Superieure.
Sr. St. IGNACE, Assistante.”

(Translated and transcribed from the Annals of the Ursulines of New Orleans.) — H. H Cruzat.

Sr. St. Michel, whose arrival in 1810 brought relief to those who remained after the exodus of the Spanish nuns, was born Françoise Agathe Gensoul; she came from the Ursuline Convent to Pont St. Esprit, which house gave two martyrs among the twenty-five which the French Revolution claimed from the Ursulines. Sr. St. Michel, though she escaped the guillotine, was forced to leave her religious habit and passed through many trials and anxieties before she obtained permission, from Pope Pius VII, to come to the aid of her Louisiana Sisters.

She became their Superior and lived until 1822. She received in 1818 Madame Duchesne and four other ladies of the Sacred Heart order who came from France to found a house in Missouri. A letter from Madame Duchesne to Mère Barrat contains many interesting details concerning the Ursulines of the Cond´┐Ż street monastery. A year before Mother Michel Gensoul’s death, on account of the opening through the Convent enclosure of new streets which it was feared would interfere with the strict observance of cloister rules, it was decided to establish another Convent on the plantation purchased by Thomas Kennedy in 1817, and sold to the nuns in 1818. They sacrificed much valuable property for this purpose. They had already incurred losses in 1811 at which time New Orleans was visited by a severe hurricane; among other disasters the roof of their chapel was blown off. Governor Claiborne, though of a different creed, was appreciative of their work, and friendly in his relations with them. He exerted himself in their behalf, recommending them to Congressman Dawson, who obtained from the United States Government an exchange of lands in 1812.

It was also during Mother Gensoul’s life that, the Cathedral being closed by Abbe Du Bourg (1812), the Ursulines Chapel was opened to all the Catholics of New Orleans. The venerable Abbe J. B. Olivier, their chaplain, zealously performed the ecclesiastical functions for their monastery and extended succor to the city, for a time deprived of religious rites. Owing to his advanced age and physical weakness the nuns feared to lose him and remain without spiritual aid. Mother Ste Marie Olivier and Mother St. Michel Gensoul wrote to Pope Pius VII, begging permission in case of such an event to return to France. The Pope, knowing how necessary they were in New Orleans, refused this request and the Ursulines, always submissive, remained to continue their labor in the cause of religion and education. The letter written from Castel-Gondolfo, October 16th, 1815, did not reach New Orleans until April 22nd, 1816. In the meanwhile, the Cathedral portals had opened to the victorious General, for Mgr. Du Bourg had returned from Rome with the papal bulls, after having there been consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of New Orleans, and the anxieties of the Ursulines were appeased. General Jackson paid a visit to the Chartres street Convent in 1815 and in 1828 he visited the third Convent on Dauphine street. (I say, third convent for minute researches have failed to reveal in the Ursuline annals any mention of another residence between Bienville’s house and the monastery on “la rue Conde.”) Of the nuns who greeted Jackson in 1828 two lived until 1890: Sr. Ste Gertrude Young and Sr. St. Michel Jourdan; both had been pupils in the second convent and were interesting narrators of their vivid reminiscences of the previous century.

When the Ursulines moved to Dauphine street the Community numbered twenty nuns and two unmarried ladies devoted to the service of the house. There were seventy boarding pupils, for the former monastery could not hold more. They were taught how to read and write English and French correctly, history, geography, arithmetic, all kinds of needle work, the principles of morals and religion, etiquette, instrumental and vocal music and drawing. The Annalist, whose work I have kindly been allowed to consult, writes of those first Ursulines: “The object of their ambition was not so much the instruction of the rich as that of the poor and lowly.” This is proven throughout their annals.

The Ursulines came in Périer’s day; he gave way to Bienville, again in favor or necessary to quell disturbance; Vaudreuil, the great Marquis, passed like a flashing meteor, Kerlerec bore back to France his burden of care and discontent, Aubry descended to a watery grave, and Louisiana had passed to Spain.

The Spanish Governors, like ghosts of pride and glory, in a living panorama defiled before them, but the unseen hand had written on the walls of time the doom of Spanish rule, and France came in again. The new domination faded like mist before the rising sun, and Louisiana was turned over to the infant Republic which she has helped to swell to the giant Republic of this day. The Ursulines through all these changes quietly carried on their work. They established on a solid basis the education of those confided to their acre, fitted them to their respective ranks, and transplanted the civilization of old France in Colonial Louisiana. They instructed the savages, they alleviated the misery of the wretched slaves by imparting hope, and taught them all to keep human weakness in leash by obedience to superior laws. They nursed the sick and dying soldiers and when care could not hold life, they taught them how to die bravely and well. This was the life of the Ursulines from the day they entered Bienville’s house to that of their removal to that old landmark, the convent of Chartres and Ursulines streets, and then to the Plantation on Dauphine, which they purchased in 1818 and removed to in 1824. This place, inadequate to their needs, was gradually enlarged, but the primitive buildings defied time and when they removed to the College of State street these buildings with their additions were still existing. The old plantation house which first served as the “Pensionnat” and afterwards became the orphanage; the orphanage of 1824 which became the “Parloir” of the boarders, and later on St. Angela’s free school; the first community refectory and infirmary which, with additional buildings, became the monastery; the old plantation Chapel, where the priest from the city occasionally said Mass, and which, not being consecrated, in time served for other purposes; the primitive dove-cotes, kept in condition, all outlived the century.

In this house and the others where they have passed the Ursulines never had to call a halt to question their past nor to determine their present curriculum; they met every need of the period as it presented itself, for it is one of the inspired clauses of their rule that it is to be mitigated or changed to suit the requirements of time and progress.

Bound in their Convent walls, deaf to worldly noise and strife, all to their holy mission, there is one sound which never fails to reach them; it is the wail of pain and distress. Long after time and the grim reaper will have wrapped in the shroud of oblivion the populations of this day, the work of the Ursulines shall still live, for it will thrive in the generations that succeed each other.

HELOISE HULSE CRUZAT.

Notes

  1. In their ships. “The Company agreed to maintain six nuns including the Superior; to pay their passage and that of four servants to serve them during their voyage; and moreover to pay the passage of those who, from whatever motive, would wish to return to France. It was agreed that one of the nuns would be overseer of the hospital, that she would supervise all temporal needs, and would render account once a month to Messrs. the Officers; that two others would be continually in the service of the sick; that there would be one for the school for the poor, and another to serve as aid and replace the others in case of sickness and to relieve them when overworked. When the nuns can do so conveniently, if they judge proper, they may take girl boarders, but none of those charged with the care of the sick will be turned away from this, or applied to the education of the boarders. . . . . . etc.”

    Taken from “Relation des premieres Ursulines a la Nouvelle Orleans et de leur etablissement en cette ville par la reverende Mère de Tranchepain, Superieure.” — Author’s note.
  2. French victims. Excerpt of letter from Rev. Pere Le Petit. S. J.: “The little girls whom now of the colonists wished to adopt have increased the interesting group of orphans whom the nuns arc bringing up. The great number of these children serves but to augment their charity and their attentions. They have been formed into a separate class of which two teachers have charge. There is not one of this saintly community who is not elated at having crossed the ocean, were she to do no other good here than to keep these children in innccense and give a polite. Christian education to the young French girls who wished to be no better raised than the slaves. They lead these holy women to hope that they will occupy the new home destined for them, (and for which they have long sighed), before the end of the year. When they are installed there, to the instruction of the boarders, of the orphans, of the day pupils and negresses they will add the care of the sick in the hospital and of a house of refuge for women of questionable character; perhaps even, that in the course of time, they will be able to aid in giving each year a retreat for a great number of ladies according to the taste with which we have inspired them.

    “So many chartitable works would in France suffice to occupy several communities and different institutions. But of what is not a great zeal capable! These various labors do not astonish seven Ursulines and they hope with God’s grace to sustain them without infringing on their religious observances. As for me greatly fear that if they do not secure assistance they will succumb under the weight of so much fatigue. Those who said, before being acquainted with them, that they came too soon and in too great numbers, have changed their tone and feelings. Witnessing their edifying conduct and the great services they render the colony, they find that they came too late and that there could never be too many of the same virtue and merit.” — Author’s note.
  3. Governor Périer. Périer is often written Perrier, but documents signed by him read “Périer.” — Author’s note.
  4. Precious jewels. ‘Description of the crown, made by the W. J. Feely Co., Providence, R. I.:
    The Virgin’s Crown. The bracelet forming the front of the band consists of seven alternate rows of solid pure gold beads and turquoises of equal size, enchased in gold, with a rosette shaped ornament in the middle, made also of gold ornamented with large amethysts and opals.

    “Over this band are two sections of exquisite design and workmanship, each having a star in front and tapering towards the back. The star of the lower section is about two and one-fourth inches in diameter, and in each of its six points are three diamonds. The centre is composed of a rosette shaped ornament, consisting of a large diamond surrounded by eight smaller ones. Between each point of the star is a ruby set in a heart-shaped gold mounting. The remainder of this section is richly ornamented with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, amethysts and opals. Between the star of this section and that of the upper one is another rosette shaped ornament having a centre piece a large emerald surrounded by twelve fine pearls. On each side is an emerald of smaller size.

    “The star surmounting the upper section is about two and a half inches in diameter, and it has twelve points, each ornamented with alternate rows of diamonds and rubies, to the number of thirty-six. The centre contains nine diamonds. The rest of the upper section is ornamented with still larger diamonds, amethysts, topazes, rubies and emeralds, the last mentioned being arranged in shamrock form and surmounting all, the star excepted.” — Author’s note.
  5. Sr. St. Ignace (Marguerite Perrine de Liepure). Names of the nuns of the New Orleans Monastery who left on the 29th of May, 1803, to found a Convent of the Ursuline order in Havana:
    “Mère Ste Monique (Antonia Maria Perez Ramos), died in 1823, (Superior); Mère St. Ignace, assistant (Marguerite Perrine du Liepure), died in 1811; Sr. Ste Rita (Antonia Maria del Santissimo del Castillo); Sr. Ste Solange (Adelaide Dussuau de la Croix); Sr. Ste Avoye (Françoise Dussuau de la Croix); Sr. St. Augustin (Perrine Collaze); Sr. St. Michel (Maria Josofa Mirabel); Sr. Ste Angele (Margaret Felicite Caldcr); Sr. Ste Claire (Maria Ignacio de Ycra); Sr. St. Raphael (Maria Mirabel); Sr. St. Louis de Gonzague (Elizabeth Basquez); Sr. Ste Ursule (Maria Regie Lopez); Sr. Ste Rose (Maria Jesus Sanchez); Sr. Ste Marthe (Genevieve Chemite), lay sister; Sr. Ste Rosalie (Maria Bourque), lay sister; Sr. St. Stanislas (Angele Langeline), lay sister.”

    From the annals of the Ursulines of New Orleans:

    “Such were the conditions when the news came that the Prefect was at the Balize . . . . . . The anxiety of the Community was increased by the reports of two persons coming from Paris, who assured the Mother that on the arrival of Monsieur Laussat, French Prefect, all the property of the Ursulines would be seized and the nuns would be expulsed.” — Author’s note.
  6. The orphanage. “Though it belongs to the second part of the history of the Ursulines of New Orleans, in speaking of 1815, I cannot refrain from a mention of a distinguished Ursuline of our own century who became a professed Ursuline on Christmas day, 1815: Mother St. Seraphine Ray. She entered the Convent of St. Charles at Pradines, near Lyons, and the Ursuline habit was given her by Cardinal Fesch, uncle of the Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. His mother, Madame Lactitia, stood as godmother to the novice “whom she arrayed in regal fashion for the occasion” and the ceremonies were witnessed by many distinguished court personages. Two years later she made her profession and at the urgent demand of Bishop Du Bourg she came to join the Ursulines in New Orleans, which she reached on the 3rd of January, 1817, and where she labored for nearly sixty-live years. Who does not remember her universal charity, the anonymous but very substantial help extended during the civil war to the needy who silently suffered, their pride of birth and position precluding their appealing for help. Mother St. Seraphine seemed to be gifted with intuition and their distress was relieved without a sting to their pride. She had just been elected Superior in 1834 when the Charlestown convent of the Ursulines was burnt by the fanatics and ruthless mob, and she immediately forwarded the sum of $300 as an expression “of sympathy” at the same time offering the New Orleans Convent as a refuge to the homeless nuns. Two of these nuns have left in New Orleans the imprint of their talent, and these Sisters, Mother St. Augustine O’Keefe and Sister Marie Claire de Costa. Mother St. Augustine O’Keefe lived until 1888 and was able to give a true account of this outrage against civilization, perpetrated within the limits of the cultured capital of Massachusetts in the nineteenth century. Mother St. Seraphine in 1837 decided to take the entire expense of “the orphanage which had from 1729 to 1824 been partially supported by the successive governments of Louisiana.” — Author’s note.
  7. Governor Claiborne. “Letter from Gov. Claiborne to Mother St. Marie Olivier:

    “May 12, 1812.

    “Holy Sister:

    “I have the honor to enclose an act of Congress, authorizing the Secretary of War to make an exchange of land with the Ursulines of New Orleans. The clauses of this act will, I hope, respond to the desires of the Community and become advantageous to the useful institution which you direct.

    “I also avail myself, Madame, of this occasion to forward a letter addressed to the Ursuline Ladies by Mr. Dawson, member of congress.

    “Be pleased. Madame, to kindly present my thanks to Mother Gensoul for the portrait of the Holy Father, Pope Pius VII. His sacred character, his misfortunes, his courage and his resignation command the respect and excite the commiseration of the Christian world.

    “My dear little child will he charmed with the presents of Mother Gensoul and I thank her in his name.

    “1 renew, Holy Sister, the homage of my respect and the assurance of my friendship.

    “Signed: W. C. CLAIBORNE,

    “Governor of Louisiana.”
    Author’s note.


Text prepared by:



Source

Cruzat, Heloise Hulse. “The Ursulines of Louisiana.” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 2.1 (1919): 5-23. Google Books. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <https:// books.google. com/ books?id= dFoTAAAAYAAJ>.

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