Journey to a Mission
Chronology Leading to the Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Washington Territory, 1856
8. Departure: New York City, November 6, 1856
On November 6, 1856, the party bade a tearful farewell to Mother Caron, who would return to Montreal along with Sister Wilson. As a cannon announced departure, they boarded the SS Illinois bound for Kingston, Jamaica. While the other sisters went up on deck,
…Sister Joseph stayed in her cabin, her heart in agony. Oh! How, at this terrible moment of separation, the weight of her charge seemed heavy to her: Our Mother disappeared and it was “forever”. On her rested, then, the future of the Sisters who were entrusted to her!!…But why these anxieties? Fly away, sentiments of “human prudence”, Providence will take care of us. After that moment of inexpressible suffering, a calmness came over her soul and, from the little opening from which she would soon see nothing but the sky and the water, she looked for one last time upon our good Mother, who was waiting on the shore for the steamer to take us away from her maternal solicitude.
| A U.S. mail steam ship similar to the S.S. Illinois that the sisters and companions boarded from New York City. (Lithograph of the U.S.M. steam ship Baltic, published by N. Currier, circa 1852, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.)
The sisters shared their cabin with a Mrs. Kelly, and an Irish orphan in her charge, Mary Keenan, who were also bound for San Francisco. The sisters called their noisy berth the Road of the Black Horse (“La rue du cheval noir”):
On the one side are all the kitchen utensils that start the noise bright and early in the morning and does not finish until around 11 o’clock at night. On the other is the paddle wheel of the vessel that makes a noise by gushing out water, so that we cannot hear ourselves speak. On the same side are two little openings the size of an ordinary round window, which we can only rarely open because of the water that comes through. What tops it all is that from night to morning, coal is transported and dumped with a crash above our heads, without any regard for silence of action. I assure you that the temperature is quite warm, added to the heat of the kitchen, you will understand that we have not suffered from the cold. Our beds smelled musty and were not a bright color. Finally, the few days of rain that there were, two of us were obliged to sleep on the ground to avoid the rain that was falling in torrents on the two upper bunks.
All were plagued with seasickness, though Sister Praxedes seemed least affected, and was able to help the others. Some relief from their troubles was provided by their traveling companion, Moïse Loisel:
Yesterday he entered our room, he looked so much like he did when he arrived from Long Point that Sister Praxedes asked him how the sisters of Long Point were doing, calling them each by name (Moïse provided made-up details for each sister) which gave us a moment of recreation.
Four days later, the islands of the West Indies appeared on the horizon.
Departure: Montreal, Nov. 3, 1856
Arrival: Kingston, Jamaica, Nov. 13, 1856
Journal and Letters of the Five Foundresses,1856. Record Group 13: Mother Joseph Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.
The Institute of Providence: History of the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor Known as the Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Providence of Montreal, vols. II and V (1949).
Six Years on the West Coast of America 1856-1862 by the Rev. Louis Rossi, translated and annotated by W. Victor Wortley, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington, 1983.