“A Very Painful Scene to Witness”: The Hospitaller Sisters’ Story of Famine Irish Orphans
(Insert into the Annals - Page 1)
December 1847.In December 1947, the Chimney of the Mens’ Ward took fire and our dear Sr. Dupuis who saw it first was so frightened that without thinking she sent Sr. Clemence a Postulant, immediately to the College across the road. The Postulant went without hesitation, which incident made us all, laugh very heartily, because as a general thingthe Postulants never goes out of the Cloister. "Of course it is an established custom, to try their vocation and habituate them to the Cloister". All the Gentlemen of the College came to our help immediately. It was about 7in the evening. Many a time, these poor children nearly broke their neck, in passing through the 3rd story of the Hospital, which was not finished, climbing over boards, beams, benches which were strewn here and there and through the end window went up on the roof of the small house and thus could reach the chimney of the sick wards, and they put out the fire which was very great. As there was no dormer-Windows on this house, we were very uneasy that fire could be there, unseen, closed up in that small garret where no one could get at it. The Rvd. Mr. Chisholm calmed our fears, he had noticed a small hole in the ceiling, he shoved his head through it and with great difficulty he succeeded in getting in far enough to see if there was any sparks, happily there was none. This Ryd. Gentleman had as much trouble in getting out as he had to get in, because there was no ladder to get down, no bench or anything else to get to it, as it was vacant. There was only a few shelves along the wall on which he climbed up and then the linens that were on it, came all down on the floor, finally we were all right, this time safe, a good fright.
December, 1847. The cruel disease Thyphoide (typhus) fever, made some ravages among the Emigrants that in a very short time, the town of Kingston and others were filled with Irish orphans, the greatest number. We were asked to take care of them and that the Government would give onepound a month for each, we accepted the offer and directly Rvd. Mr. Macdonell, V.G. had a staircase made at the bable-end of the New Hospital and bought two large stoves and some provisions such as rice, barley, flour, etc. - a large kitchen stove with all its utensils. And Christmas eve 24th of December 1847,Revd. Mr. Macdonell, V.G. came himself with about a hundred of these poor little Orphans, He made them all go up to the Hospital which then was far from being finished, still we were happy to have these large rooms to save the poor Children from misery and the danger they were in of losing their souls. We placed the girls upstairs and the boys downstairs. The only furniture was a stove, two barrels and two boards on the top of them to serve as tables and one chair for the Sister. The walls were not plastered yet, and rough boards served for protection around the staircase, and the windows were fastened with nails. About 30 little cots were sent us and full of bugs, and at that we had not cots enough for half of the Children, we had to put them two or three per bed, then came the bed clothes, blankets, bed ticks, dirty and full of vermin as well as the rags which covered the children, bundles of clothes full of worms and filth. Our two large wards were filled with all these things to such a state that we were obliged to walk on bundles of bed clothes and bundles of all kinds, so as not to walk on the Children. Misery was depicted on the countenance of these poor little unfortunates, several of whom had been sick and very much neglected or rather abandoned.
At 4 P.M. four Nurses came, carrying the smallest and one of the babies, was only a few weeks old, others were very young and very small, almost the greatest number of them; 15 only could help themselves, we kept only 2 of the Women Nurses to stay with us, one was with the boys and the other with the girls and they were a great help to us. When supper time came, we had no dishes to give them their food, so we had to get that of the patients, which consisted of 18 tin plates and as many mugs, spoons, etc. The children had to sit down on the floor around the stove, they were chilled with cold and we served them by rows, as we had not sufficient dishes to serve them all at once, for the little girls, we got the dishes from the orphan girls ward (whom we had before the Emigrants came) and we took the top of a bed otherwise Tester on trestles for a table. I forgot to say that the trestles were barrels; the poor children ate standing, 10 at a time, so the meals lasted quite a while. When bed time came we were very much embarrased, having no other bedding, but what they brought and we were very sorry to put them in such disgusting beds, still we could not do otherwise for the time being. The next day, the Birthday of our Lord, after the morning devotions were over, the Sisters busied themselves the rest of that day, in improving the fate of our dear little Children, who represented so well, to us, the Divine Infant. It was a constant subject of meditation to us, and of thanksgiving also, forthe beautiful occasion given us of rendering some little services to our Good Savior in the persons of these poor little orphans, naked and for saken in suffering.
26th. The following day, we began to provide for their clothing. A lady of the town sent us a piece of cotton and some other persons sent us some old clothes, in good quantity, but very much worn. All this was to be washed and undone or ript and resewed and made over, so that all this took some time. Our Mother wished that we began by the little girls clothes, because they were quicker made. She worked herself till eleven at night and sometimes all night, and she does this very often when we are pressed with work. During a few months, some Ladies and young girls of the town, came to help us to sew every Tuesday.
Miss Burnel, a Protestant Minister's daughter and several others came and Mrs. Burnel herself, sent us by her Daughter, linen for the sick. She also came herself to see us with other friends of hers and almost always gave us some money at each visit. No matter how active we were, we could not changed them children's clothes before the 7th of January following.Afterwards we rendered the same services to the good little boys but with greater labor and trouble, because some of them were all over covered with scabs, they were in such a state, that they were hardly recognizable after they were better and cleaned up. Our Mother made an ointment and they were rubbed with it and in a very short time they were better. In the meantime they were all changed, dressed neatly and looked very happy and contented to be with us. Rvd. Mr. McKey came twice a week to teach Cathecism and the Sisters taught the little girls. Rvd. Mr. Chisholm and O'Neil heard their confessions. We were happy to procure to them this doublefold good. As our Chapel was too small to contain them all, we used to send them to High Mass and Vespers to the Parish Church on Sundays and Holy days with the Governess. On Ash Wednesday, we assembled them all in their Wards, and after the Priest had given the Ashes, in the Chapel, he
went up to their wards and gave it to them. One would think that the dear innocent little beings understood all about the Ceremony, they looked so pious and devout. Several of the little ones were sick but we lost only two, one two months old and the other four years old. Our dear Sisters of Montreal did not forget us, they unceasingly sent us clothes, furniture, linen and money by 10, 15, 20 and 25 pounds, or 40, 60, 80, and 100 dollars.
January 22nd, 1848. The 22nd of January 1848 our respected Father, Rvd. Mr. A. Macdonell, V.G. came for our Holy Renovation. He made the meditation the three days previous to it, that is during the Recollection and gave 1 sermon before Communion of the Renovation day, without any ceremony, as usual, we had simply singing and benediction of the M.H. Sacrament at 4 P.M. Again, in the month of January 1848, 30 emigrant orphans, boys and girls were sent to us, with the previous number we had already, the whole formed a large family to sustain. In August following, Bishop Phelan told us to place them out as the Government decided not to pay any more for them and we were too poor to keep such a number without some special help. And as we were strangers, we placed none without a ticket or note from the Bishop or His V.G. When anyone came to ask for a child, we used to place them in rows and people took their choice. I assure you it was very painful to witness such a scene, when any of them heard their name mentioned, they knew they were going, they began to cry and could not be consoled at seeing themselves separated from their companions in misfortune and from their Mistresses, who also done their share of weeping. Our dear Sr. Dupuis was charged with the boys and Sr. St. Joseph with the girls. At the end of April the greatest number were placed and there remained only 5 or 6 boys, we place them in the Kitchen under the care of Sr. Emelie. About 15 little girls remained under the care of Sr. Latour, in a room close by the Wards. Afterwards the sick took the orphan's place in the large Hospital. And the Rvd. John Farrel made a collection, to finish the wards which were not yet plastered. He got 80 pounds, $320.00, which sufficed to complete the 2 wards. The third storey was not touched, so we had to wait for another aid from Divine Providence. The Rvd. Mr. John Farrel did not gather that money without trouble, but his great Charity and indefatigable zeal, made him forget the trouble or toil.
The Hotel Dieu, Montreal at once threw open its doors to her welcoming her as they would an Angel from Heaven. A neat pretty suite of rooms was daintily prepared for her, but those, she refused to occupy, saying, "I have given all I possessed for my dear poor, old and infirm, shall I now spoil my little sacrifice by living like a Royal Princess? A princess indeed I shall be, but it shall be a Princess of Poverty." Nor could the good sisters prevail on her to accept anything except a little corner in one of the public wards, where from her humble abode she could see her dear sick and minister to their every need. It is related of this saintly Lady in the early Annals, Hotel Dieu Montreal, often at night or in the early morning was she found at the bedside of some poor patient who had rang her bell, thus forestalling the busy Sister Hospitaller in this sublime work of charity. Thus she lived and thus she died; a loving martyr of devotion to God's suffering members; her countless acts of devotion and love no doubt recorded in letters of Gold in the great Book of Life. How true it is - there are many saints whose lives are so hidden, only God and His Angels know them as such.
The first postulant to enter the new Institution was Angela Brouillette who entered the Novitiate March 14th, 1846 in quality of Domestic Sister. As she was a good industrious pious sister, devoted to her work and most respectful to the Sisters and had entered the month of dear St. Joseph, all agreed this was a sure proof of his approval and benignity. She died Christmas Day 1864 having faithfully served the Community eighteen years.
On June 1st, same year, Lucy McDougall, a Kingstonian by birth, entered the Novitiate in quality of Choir Sister. This good sister was a very good Hospitaller kind and patient, the sick loved her and confided all their difficulties to her as she understood their language perfectly. She died January 19th, 1898, thus giving 52 years devoted service to our Lord. She was but 23 years old when she entered and 75 when she died. May she rest in peace.
Another postulant came to aid the sisters June 28th, 1846. Others had entered but persevered only for a short time, having as our Divine Lord puts it, "thought more of their Father and Mother then of Him", being too lonesome they had returned to the comforts and indulgences of Family Life. The name of this dear child was Mary McGorian. She entered the Novitiate fully determined to persevere if God so willed. God was pleased with her good will and earnestness; she served the sick and orphans faithfully and well.
When the tide of Emigration had set in in Ireland, the ship that conveyed the poor Irish Refugees became infected with the dreadful germ of Typhus Fever. Pent up in the great floating Morgue or Death Trap, nearly all the poor exiles fell a victim to Typhus fever. When the Boat reached our City, the terrified inhabitants were afraid to allow it to land, fearing the spread of the living plague. The General hospital was rapidly vacated, as was also its many sheds adjoining, the infected patients placed therein and notices placed here and there requesting nurses or sisters to attend their needs. Two of our good sisters at once offered themselves, Srs. McDougall, Professed Sister and Sister McGorian, a novice in white veil. With maternal tenderness they nursed the poor sick Emigrants, watched at night by their dying bedside and closed the weary eyes when death came as it often did to claim its victims.
The sufferings and hardships our poor sisters had to endure were incredible, owing to poor accommodations and unsanitary surroundings. Finally they too fell a
victim to Typhus and had to be removed to an isolated room in our hospital. Poor Sr. McGorian died wildly delirious, and asking to be taken to the sheds where the sick were calling her. Dear Sr. McDougall in an adjoining room, heard the subdued tramp of many feet that evening and with that curiosity attributable to all the daughters of Mother Eve, left her bed feebly to peep through a tiny chink in the doorway, just in time to see her faithful companion of her toils and privations, carried secretly away to be interred privately. Later on she recovered and often told the story herself saying in her quaint old fashioned way, "I made a doleful Meditation on Death and Grave yards that evening for I was sure I would be the next". However in the wise designs of Providence she was spared to give over half a century good work to our Lord, dying only in 1898.