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Journey to a Mission 

Chronology Leading to the Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Washington Territory, 1856 


 

11. Arrival: Acapulco, November 23, 1856

On November 23, 1856, the Providence sisters and companions, aboard the SS Golden Age, completed the first leg of the journey from Panama City to San Francisco with a port call for food and supplies in Acapulco, Mexico. The Pacific Ocean lived up to its name, which means quiet and tranquility, allowing the travelers “seven days of beautiful calm.”

 
 The one-day sojourn in Acapulco became a profound and spiritually invigorating experience for the religious travelers. 

Acapulco, located on a deep, semi-circular bay, had a long history as a port of call for travelers on the Pacific Ocean. It was built on a narrow strip of low ground, scarcely half a mile wide, between the shore line and the lofty mountains that encircle the bay. For more than 256 years, annual trading ships, known as the Manila galleons, set sail from Acapulco for Manila and the Orient. Their return started a merchant fair in Acapulco where traders bargained for the galleons’ cargo. Acapulco’s yearly trading event also attracted marauders and invasion that disrupted the local, and at times world, financial market. The Mexican War for Independence (1820-1821) ended the galleons’ voyages. Acapulco became a quiet port town for ships running between Panama and San Francisco. It was here that the sisters and their companions disembarked around 9:00 a.m. on November 23.

Since it was Sunday, the sisters attended Mass celebrated by their escorts, Bishop Blanchet and Father Rossi, at a local Spanish-style church. After ship life, they cherished the sacred space of a church for their spiritual time with the Lord. Spanish influence in religious art and decoration spiritually united the travelers with the Providence sisters now in Chile.

We arrived at Acapulco on the 23rd around nine o’clock in the morning in time to hear Holy Mass and to receive Holy Communion, a happiness for which we were so spiritedly longing since our departure from New York. Oh! We needed to be strengthened by the holy bread of angels and how we tried to thank our Divine Savior for such a great favor. The church is approximately 100 feet long by 30 to 40 feet wide, the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament faces the side door; at the end is the main altar, above which there is an alcove that holds a statue of the Blessed Virgin, approximately four feet high, whose dress quite resembles the description given by our sisters from Chile. We also see on either side, close to the railing, two side tables on which there are statues of the Blessed Virgin and of St. Joseph, also the same dress as the previous one….

…The congregation hears the Mass on the pavement made of brick, kneeling or sitting on the ground, without any pews, nor was there a railing, even though it was a large church…. How happy we were to be present at the Blessed Sacrifice and especially to receive the bread of the traveler.

Upon leaving the church, the sisters were greeted by a local woman who gave Sister Joseph a little manuscript in Spanish of devotion to the Sacred Heart. In this, they saw  “a sign of the protection of the Divine Heart for the rest of the crossing.”

After Mass, the parish priest invited the travelers to the rectory for refreshments. The principle records of the sisters’ journey - their journal and the chronicles, as well as notes kept by Father Rossi - have conflicting information whether the priest served coffee or hot chocolate. In either case, this was a welcome repast to break the communion fast. The sisters were as much a curiosity to the local people as Acapulco and its inhabitants were to the sisters.

After Mass we went to the rectory, the good Monsieur Curate, also Spanish, received us with charity worthy of such a venerated pastor. The servants covered the table with a beautiful white table cloth, on which they placed two plates of the best cakes as well to each a cup of very thick coffee, according to the custom of the country. It was 11 o’clock so we each hungrily ate our breakfast….

…The table was set with an exquisite cleanliness, on the bare ground there was neither flooring nor carpet. The apartment was vast, illuminated only by the open door; the roofing was made of little interlaced twigs and layers of clay made the ceiling; the walls were of clay baked in the sun; two Negro women poured the chocolate and passed each of us an excellent cookie, made in rolls. Then they hastily withdrew themselves, standing at the kitchen door, from where they stepped back, like children playing hide and seek, when they encountered our gaze.

Afterward, the parish priest gave the sisters a brief tour of the rectory. Again, they connected in spirit with the sisters of Chile.

[We] could not help ourselves from feeling a bit emotional...[since], according to the description that our sisters of Chile gave us of their home, we believed we were sometimes at their place. The floor is also in brick and earthquakes are very frequent, which means that the houses are extremely low. The good Monsieur says that there are many resemblances to Chile, as much in the climate as in everything else, you understand what these souvenirs of our Sisters were able to evoke….

All too soon, it was time for the passengers to reboard the ship for the journey to San Francisco and at noon they were at sea. “Farewell little charitable village, thank you for feeding us the bread of Angels, the deprivation of which excited our weariness.”

The sisters’ anticipation must have been increasing at this point. One more stop in San Francisco and then the final leg to Fort Vancouver. They were almost to their new field of ministry.

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Arrival: Aspinwall, Nov. 18-19, 1856

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Arrival: San Francisco, Nov. 30, 1856 


Sources:

Journal and Letters of the Five Foundresses,1856. Record Group 13: Mother Joseph Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.

Chronicles of Providence Academy, Vancouver, 1856-1875. Record Group 22: Providence Academy. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.

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.