October 21, 1859 — The Arrival of our Foundresses
The SNJM Community keeps journals called The Chronicles and the first ones written in Oregon were all about St. Mary’s Academy. We are celebrating the 164th anniversary of the founding of our school on Friday, October. 20 with a special all school liturgy with our honored guests from the Class of 1973.
Below is the entry from October 21, 1859, the day the Sisters arrived in Portland. They left their motherhouse in Longueuil, Canada on September 16th. (Translated from French to English.)
Note: The *two Sisters of St. Anne stayed but one night in Portland and then headed to their mission in Victoria BC.
October 21, 1859
“We arrived at Fort Vancouver very early this morning, Friday, but remained aboard until 6 o'clock a.m. Two small boats were detached from their fastenings to conduct us to the wharf which is at some distance from the part of the river in which our steamer was anchored. Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and Sister Blandina were awaiting us at the landing. Useless to attempt picturing our joy on beholding these dear Sisters so well known to us in Montreal, and at so great a distance from home. The joy of our dear Sister M. Florentine was unbounded. After the first emotions of such a reunion were over, we repaired to the Church. His Grace celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, during which we sang the Te Deum and canticles in honor of Our Immaculate Mother, who had so visibly protected us during our long voyage. May our hearts never cease to render their homage of grateful love to a Mother so tender, so good. We breakfast with our dear Sisters of Providence, who insisted on our remaining a few days with them to enjoy the much-needed repose; their generous hospitality, however, was not accepted as we were unwilling to trespass on their limited accommodations. Breathing heartfelt, sisterly thanks, we wended our way to the steamer which was preparing to set out. Four hours later the cannon of the "Northerner" announced the return of our venerable Archbishop to the flock, the visit of General Scott, Major Thomas, and other members of his staff, and our arrival. The Salute was returned by the cannon of the city, the bells adding their joyous peals.
- a welcome to the hero of Mexican fame. An eager multitude pressed towards the wharf, all anxious to catch a glimpse of the great American General. A few minutes later, our feet touch, for the first time, our new field of labor. The spectacle of *fourteen Sisters was as strange as it was new to the people of Portland. Still there were many among that throng who silently uttered a prayer of deep thankfulness for the benediction of having obtained a religious Sisterhood to lead their children on the paths of science and virtue. Was it to be expected that the arch-enemy would quietly allow such an encroachment into a stronghold, where through ignorance and prejudice he held so undisturbed a sway? He at once sounded the tocsin - re-echoed by one of the daily papers in the following brief local: "Six priests and fourteen Nuns have just arrived in Portland! What a foothold Romanism is gaining in our State!"
After a short rest at the Western Hotel, we start for our future home. It rains, the streets are almost impassable - the distance is great and we are soon exhausted. We borrow new strength and at length arrive, only to meet with another contradiction. No key is at hand and locked doors greet us on every side. But the most ingenious removes the lock and we are finally at home, if such a scene as meets our eyes, can deserve that sweet name. The lowliest hovel could not have been filthier. Fortunately, His Grace purchased two brooms on our way through the town and we are at work while resting! Alas, shovels would have answered the purpose better for removing the masses of debris from the corners and closets; however, when brooms have become well-worn and sweepers exhausted, we console ourselves that it looks somewhat like a human habitation. The trunks are now called upon. We have not far to search before we discover that a voyage across the Atlantic could not be safely undertaken by Dame crockery. Sisters M. Alphonse and Sister M. Febronia go to the stores to purchase such articles as are indispensable. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, friends of the Archbishop, accompany them. Here is the memorandum of our first bill of merchandise: six pairs of blankets; several yards of cotton; plates; knives and forks; a kitchen stove; and a few other objects, all on credit. The merchants receive us cordially and they would gladly have doubled our account. When our Sisters arrived home, our first day in Portland was declining.
We had been kindly invited to supper at Mrs. Robinson's and Mrs. McCormick's homes. As the latter resided nearer to the convent we decided, after thanking Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, to accept Mrs. McCormick's generous offer. It required the well served table that our host and hostess had prepared to satisfy the hunger of travelers whose only food that day had been a light breakfast. Mr. and Mrs. McCormick would share the honor of waiting on us. Supper over, we formed the acquaintance of the little family of our bright boys and had the pleasure of hearing Mrs. McCormick sing and play. When about to say good-night, they insist on our accepting blankets. Having a limited supply, we decline the use of theirs. We hasten toward home, anxious to replace our good Sisters Mary Julie and Mary Agathe who, with Oliver Blanchet and Lucien Bourgault, had acted as guardians. Our kind host and his brother-in-law escort us home by the light of candles which are with difficulty kept burning. But our dear Sisters are saved an unpleasant walk. Mr. McCormick and Mrs. Robbins hasten away to return in a very short time with a plentiful supply of food for the hungry. His Grace allows Oliver Blanchet and Lucien Bourget to remain in our employ until we are more comfortably settled.
Do our dear Mothers and Sisters in Longueuil ever attempt a fancy picture of our first Oregonian establishment? Ah, however miserable they might imagine it, it would fall short of the reality. Yet, we do not complain of the utter poverty of our surroundings; the protecting hand of Divine Providence has lovingly directed our footsteps and provided for all our necessities - the future we place in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary our anxieties, our griefs - we are the weak instruments chosen to make these Holy Names known and loved. What a privilege to bear some resemblance to the Holy Family! We have at best a stable for our abode, the bare floor for our couch and our satchels for pillows. The middle room, facing the south, was the one chosen for our dormitory. Here, having spread our blankets, we arranged ourselves according to our ranks. The two dear Sisters of St. Ann shared our poverty. We had planned to accommodate all in that spacious bed, but we had to reconsider. It was at length determined that some should be lengthwise, others crosswise. Queen Victoria on her bed of down could not have slept more soundly than we on our hard bed. We left our Motherhouse on Friday - on a Friday too we arrived at Portland. Was it not a day well adapted to inspire us with patience and resignation to the will of God? May Our Divine Lord grant us the grace to imitate His submission to the will of His heavenly Father!"