April - IHM Sisters

IHM Archives Notes
April 2014
Volume 5, issue 1
Separations on the Journey
Charlotte Martha Shaaff
was welcomed by Theresa
Maxis in Monroe for the
founding of the IHM
congregation in November
1845. The two had been
members of the Oblate
Sisters of Providence in
Baltimore, the first religious
community of women of
African descent in the
United States founded for
the “Christian education of
young girls of color.”
Charlotte Shaaff was born in Baltimore on
June 4, 1809, entered the Oblate Sisters of
Providence (OSP) June 9, 1838, and took
the name Sister Ann Constance when she
received the habit. Ann had cooked for the
sisters as well as 10 orphans. In 1845, as
ecclesiastical authorities temporarily abandoned the Oblates, Ann followed Theresa, her
spiritual mentor and former superior, to Michigan to live in a stable religious community.
Both women, light-skinned octoroons, hoped
to find different environs than they had experienced in slave-holding Baltimore. Much of
what we know of Ann relates to her journey of
50 years with Mother Theresa, whom she
called “ma mere.”
Over time, Theresa tired of trying to get those
in Monroe to come to Pennsylvania and of
Bishop Lefevere forbidding them to write to
her. She wanted to reunite with Monroe and
believed that if she were away from the community for a while, the situation would better
itself. She decided to go into voluntary exile
with friends, the Grey Nuns in Ottawa. She
hoped Sister Celestine Renauld and Ann
would accompany her. Celestine agreed; Ann
was content to stay.
Eighteen years passed before Ann saw
Theresa again. She was allowed to write her
When Theresa went to Susquehanna, Pa., in
every Christmas with news of such things as
August 1858 to open a new mission, Ann
changes in assignments, increases in enrollwanted to go with her, but Rev. Edward
ment, improvements in convent and school
Joos, the new director of the congregation, had other plans. He chose Sister
Aloysius Walter.
In October, Theresa returned to Monroe.
Some months later, Detroit Bishop
Lefevere removed her as General Superior and on April 4, 1859, sent her back to
Pennsylvania as local superior along with
Ann and Sister Ignatia Sheeran.
Early photograph of two
Oblate Sisters of Providence
with their students
who remained in Susquehanna until the novitiate there merged with the Reading Motherhouse in 1864.
The countryside there was beautiful. One
writer noted it was different from “effete
Baltimore and miasmic Monroe” and that
Theresa had always worried about the
nearness of Monroe’s settlement to the
River Raisin with its noxious fumes. St. Joseph Academy was growing, and eight postulants had joined the sisters. For Ann, the work
load of doing the sisters’ laundry by hand and
cooking for all grew with the increasing numbers.
All was going well and the sisters were asked
to open a second mission in Reading, Pa.,
that same year. Theresa responded, but
thoughts of travel no longer appealed to Ann,
Villa Maria, West Chester, Pa., 1885
buildings and humorous incidents.
In 1872, when the Philadelphia Motherhouse
(previously at Reading) was formally established in Villa Maria, West Chester, Ann took
up her residence there. Then, one day Mother
Gonzaga Rooney told Ann that Theresa was
coming back. In January 1885, when the
carriage arrived and Ann greeted her good
friend, their friendship had spanned 50 years
and life in communities in Baltimore, Monroe,
and Susquehanna. Ann died five months
later. She is buried in the IHM plot of St. Agnes Cemetery in West Chester. Mother Theresa, who died seven years later, was first
buried at the foot of Ann’s grave. The separations ended, the circle was complete.
Page 22
Jean Morsch and Refectory Readings
Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole Jorearly months in Monroe, being assigned the dan district made their way to him, and as
charge of reading in the refectory was chal- they were baptized by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he
lenging. The postulant mistress and her
saw a number of Fairies [sic]
assistants expected good
and Seducies [sic] coming for
performances. In 1955, howbaptism he said to them,
ever, Jean Morsch seemed
Brood of vipers….
to take it all in stride when
she heard she would be
The reading was interrupted
reading the New Testament
by the bell and Mother Marie
to her 69 classmates,
Elise’s question, “Sister
Mother Marie Elise, Sister
Morsch, who did you say
Catherine Siena Starrs and
came to him to be baptized?”
Sister Clotilda Quinlan. In
fact, the only thing she wor“The Fairies and the
ried about was that a classSeducies, Mother,” Jean
mate would do something to
answered with confidence.
make her laugh, or otherWhether real or feigned, we
wise lose her composure.
never knew.
For most postulants, especially during the
Ruth (Marie Elise) McDonell, IHM
Jean (Jean Celeste) Morsch, IHM “Go to the library and look up
Now, it’s important to rethose words. Then, come
member that a “little sister,”
back and tell us how to pronounce them.”
who was conscientious, always prepared
her readings. Among other things, she
Jean left the refectory to do as she was bid.
looked up words that she didn’t recognize
We were left behind, in silence, to try to
or know how to pronounce. Maybe Jean
squelch laughter and to pretend to be
was especially busy that one particular day. “recollected.”
She was reading Matthew 3:7 in the section
labeled the “Proclamation of John the Baptist.” One thing Jean had learned from previous, unfortunate experiences reading was
to read loudly, clearly, and with some expression. So, with feeling, she read: Then
Sharing the IHM Story
Community Directories
2002-03, 2003-04
2004-05, 2008-09
2009-10, 2010-11
This issue marks the completion of four years, 39 issues of IHM Archives Notes. We
enjoy producing it and trust that you enjoy reading it. The IHM Story can be told when the
Archives has the photos, chronicles and documents that record the life and work of
individuals and groups in the community. Help us preserve, tell, and share the ongoing
story. Sisters, send us your chronicles, Christmas letters, family histories, awards,
honors, and letters of appreciation for your “drop file” in Archives. Pictures from early
days in religious life or of you actively engaged in ministry are especially useful. Identify
photos for your photo file with name(s) and date or estimated date. Any material by or
about you, your work and activities is welcome: books, articles, theses, papers, poems,
presentations, parish bulletin columns, letters to the editor, etc.
We can also use good copies of community publications and reports. At present we are
in need of paper copies of some recent community directories listed in the sidebar. Send
or drop off materials at the Archives or email attachments to the archivist at
[email protected] story is the IHM story.
Sisters, Servants, of the
Immaculate Heart of Mary
610 West Elm Ave.
Monroe, MI 48162
Archives Hours
8:30-11:30 a.m.
12:30-3 p.m.
Phone 734-240-9695
Fax 734-240-8328
Donna Westley, Archivist
[email protected]
Writer: Anne Crane, IHM