(Click on pictures to enlarge)
Sister Ruth Devlin, O.P., arrives from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin
Before the Teresians received Rome's negative reply to their first petition to open a canonical novitiate, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa had already agreed to send Sr. Ruth Devlin to assist in their spiritual formation. Mary Joseph wrote to assure her that despite the disappointing refusal by Rome, the Teresians' invitation held firm. Sr. Ruth responded by coming to Maryknoll from April to August 1917, to teach Dominican prayers, customs and the fundamentals of Dominican spirituality.
Mollie and Sr. Ruth discussed and worked over the proposed constitutions together. In August, Sr. Ruth was gone again to take up her new duties as Vicaress in her own community. She and Mollie had much in common, and during their brief association formed a lasting friendship.
Preparing for the Second Petition
During her stay with the Teresians, Sr. Ruth also helped Mollie work toward the preparation of the Teresians' second petition to Rome to be women religious. After Sr. Mary Ruth's departure in August 1917, Mollie was once again in the position of the Director of the Teresians.
Mollie wrote to Fr. McNicholas, O.P., about what had been accomplished during Sr. Ruth's time with them:
She (Sr. Ruth), Father Walsh and I translated and adapted the St. Catherine Rule you so kindly sent. The Constitutions are now ready in English and French, and Father Walsh has written to His Eminence requesting him to examine them personally, or by deputy, and if they are approved, to prepare a second petition which is, if possible, to be sent directly to you. The work is growing, our numbers are increasing—we shall be twenty-five by September 1st—our Apostolic School (Venard) needs such help as we can give, and yet we cannot do much until permission comes to open our canonical novitiate and some have completed the term. You may imagine how hard we are praying.
The Second Petition
The second petition was formally prepared by Father McNicholas, O.P., signed by Cardinal Farley, recommended by Father Theissling, the Dominican Master General, and dated October 22, 1917. Then the Teresians' period of waiting began for the second time. After many months, on July 18, 1918, Monsignor Ferrante of the Sacred Congregation of Religious com-municated the second refusal on the grounds that the scope of the work and means of support were not clearly defined. The Roman statement, dated February 7, 1918, stated that careful consideration upheld the same decision as that of November 25, 1916. Rome had not moved.
Prelude to the Third Petition
The refusal of Rome for the second time to the petition for the Teresians to organize as religious caused great concern particularly to Father Walsh, Mary Joseph and the Teresians themselves. Father Walsh wrote letters to people who might be able to influence the process.
With a sense of urgency, he wrote to Monsignor Laurenti at the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome:
The good women of whom I speak, now twenty-five in number, are not impatient, but in their present condition they cannot encourage additions to their ranks, although vocations are numerous. They are hoping from day to day to begin a Canonical Novitiate, at the end of which they can send members to other parts of the country.
A few months later Father Walsh wrote a request to Father McNicholas, O.P., now the Bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, to draft a new petition, the third one. He stated, "The Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic claim my first thought now," and listed the sequence of official correspondence with Rome from the fact of the first petition in March 1916, to his own letter to Monsignor Laurenti in May of 1918. He located the work of the Teresians in its relation to the Catholic Foreign Mission Society:
I can say with all truth that their zealous and intelligent labor is practically indispensable in our work… His letter closed with a fact of great import—our missioners have already found an opening for women-workers at Yeungkong. The mission field awaited the Teresians, but they were held fast by Rome and were unable to move.
Vows and Preparation of Third Petition
Mollie and the Teresians who had been engaged in the work from the early days made private vows on July 16, 1918, to Fr. Charles J. Callan, OP, a scripture scholar at the Seminary. Then Mollie worked on the preparation of the third petition. She informed Bishop McNicholas, OP, in regard to the tentative draft of the Constitutions which she was sending him.
She also emphasized the movement in following the Constitutions "as well as we can. We separated the novices from the senior Sisters and appointed a novice mistress… we are still saying the Office in English." The work of the third petition was in process for a full year. It was completed by June 7, 1919, and hand-carried to Rome by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Bonzano.
Sr. Fidelia Delaney, O.P.
On July 15, 1919, Sr. Fidelia, nearly sixty years old, arrived from Sinsinawa, in anticipation of a favorable answer to the Teresians' third petition. She was balanced in judgment, and distinguished easily and precisely between what belonged to the essence of religious life and what pertained to individual community custom. The Teresians found that they had acquired a great treasure in Sr. Fidelia!
Again, Mary Joseph was a novice. Thirty-six years old now and used to overseeing the Teresians with Fr. Walsh's direction, she accepted her role gratefully and completely, as novice and director. The Teresians gratefully remembered the lovely relationship between Mary Joseph and Sr. Fidelia.
Letter of Father Walsh to Cardinal Van Rossum in Rome
Early in the year 1920, Father Walsh again wrote to Cardinal Van Rossum in Rome for approval for the Teresians:
…In a former letter, Your Eminence showed interest in the Sodality of women to whom we owe much in the progress of our own Institute. I recall to Your Eminence that these women, who now number 42, and have been living under the spiritual direction of experienced Dominican Nuns, following the rule of Dominican Tertiaries, have been recognized by Rome as a "Piam Societatem Mulierum" without vows. They desire vows, and a petition to this effect, carefully prepared by Bishop McNicholas, O.P., former secretary to Father Theissling, the Dominican General, and signed by the Archbishop of New York, was carried to Rome last June by Archbishop Bonzano, our beloved Apostolic Delegate, who personally presented it to the Congregation of Religious.
These faithful helpers, who are known as the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, now hope for an early reply. In the meantime, however, several fields are opening to them in work for the Chinese and Japanese of this country. Our own missioners, under advice of Bishop DeGuebriant, also look forward to their going to China within the next two years.
It would be most desirable if their final status could be settled before they take up several branches of work, but I do not know what we can do to further their cause. If the fuller approval does not come soon, may we encourage them to prepare for work in China, without waiting for the more formal novitiate with fuller vows?
Mary Joseph Receives the News
On February 14, 1920, Mary Joseph returned from a short stay at Trinity College, Washington, D.C., where she had gone to give a mission talk. She found St. Teresa's Lodge bubbling over with high spirits with the good news from Rome!
Mary Francis Davis had answered the telephone and received the message on February 12. She explained to Mary Joseph that Monsignor Dunn phoned saying he could not get the Seminary, and he needed to speak with Fr. Walsh about a very important message the Archbishop had received from Rome. He asked her to bring this good news to him and not to tell anyone else first.
Mary Francis said to Mary Joseph: "How could I go rushing over to the Seminary without saying a word to anyone? So I told Sister Fidelia and then Mary Teresa, and then we did get word to the Seminary. We got everyone together here and told them. They put me on top of the table and had me announce the whole thing."
Then Mary Teresa said: "Did you tell Mary Joseph that you did a dance right on top of the table?" Mary Frances replied: "I was carried away. Isn't it wonderful!"
Recognition by Rome
It was wonderful and uplifting for everyone! In a letter dated January 10, 1920, the Sacred Congregation gave Archbishop Hayes the full faculties to establish the Teresians into a diocesan religious institute, which he did in a document dated February 14, 1920, the official Canonical Foundation Day of the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic.
On February 17, 1920, Monsignor Dunn handed the official document from Rome to Father Walsh, who in turn passed it on to Mary Joseph, who loved every syllable of its staid legal language.
Thus, another outstanding event in the
life of Mary Joseph had come to pass.
She was thirty-eight when the Community was recognized by Rome,
and she was profoundly grateful for God's great gift of Maryknoll!
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Question for Reflection
Through the Teresians' patience and perseverance, the Maryknoll Sisters became a reality. At this moment in our history, what is being drawn forth from us, as recipients of this great gift?
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The above Reflections were adapted from Maryknoll's First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM; To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, MM; Hearts on Fire by Penny Lernoux, and the Picture is from the Maryknoll Archives.
Maryknoll Contemplative Community and the SistersCentennial Retreats-Reflection Committee
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