These documents were translated into English from the original French by volunteer Heather Trescases, completed July 7, 2005. Generally, this is a literal translation without interpretation, and not written as we might express the thoughts today.
Translator's style sheet
Bold used for titles and headings
Italics used for questionable translation (spelling, meaning, etc.).
[Square brackets] used for translator insert (not necessarily the direct translation of the text, a clearer translation, an explanation, a notation). Brackets were also used to denote the page number of the original document.
The following abbreviations that were used in the original documents were interpreted as noted in the translation:
M. = Mary or Monsieur (usually Mary)
Mr. = Monsieur
Mgr. = Monseigneur
Me. = Marie (in French) or Mary (Anglicized)
Sr./S. = Sister
St. = Saint
Sauvage = Indian
Indian = Indian
*Translator’s note for the following text: I have occasionally created paragraphs (upon a new idea), where they do not exist in the original, so as to make the document more legible.
December 21, 1856
Journal of the Sisters of Oregon
Our very beloved Mother and Dear Sisters
Following the promise that we made to you upon our departure, we are eager to send you this complete detail of our voyage of which we have given you a sample in the two preceding short letters.
Our dear Mother having accompanied us as far as New York, we do not begin our journal until our departure from there. One cannot express what it was like for us, the cruel separation from our Mother, when it was necessary to say our farewells and be torn away forever from her maternal arms. You already understand the intensity and the extent of such a sacrifice, and how much sadness and pain there can be in a similar scene. Our delay in New York was caused by the elections of a new President of the United States, we did not embark until the 6th on the steamer called Illinois, at 2:30 in the afternoon. After having arranged the things in our cabin as well as we could, we went up on deck to breath a bit of air, of which we were in great need. [p.9] Towards eight o’clock, fatigue and other appropriate reasons in the circumstance compelled us to go back down and take some rest. We had a relatively good night, even though it was excessively warm in our cabin as a result of our neighbor, the kitchen. The next day around 6 o’clock, we had barely begun to get dressed when, as if to invite our dear, dear Sister Mary, we had to throw-up with all our heart, one after the other without exception. We continued to be sick the rest of the crossing of the Atlantic. Our dear Sister Praxedes of Providence, although not being well, was able to render us necessary assistance.
We have with us a Mrs. Reily/Kelly? to whom Mr. Quinn, an Irish priest from N.Y. [New York], entrusted a little orphan, also Irish, 7 or 8 years of age. We welcomed her with the greatest happiness and we deemed ourselves fortunate to begin the exercise of our charitable works, so Divine Providence, as you can see, had again arranged everything so that we were seven in our little cabin, despite all the inconveniences and unpleasantness.
After four days we saw several little islands, which seemed to revive the joy on everyone’s face.
[p.10] The first Sunday that we spent at sea, one of the Protestant travelers began an oration that lasted half an hour, approximately.
The 13th we ___ [sic] to the Jamaican Islands to a little city called Kingston. Negroes make up the population of this city. There were about fifty Negro women who carried coal on their heads, in big wooden vases; they were being led by Negroes [men?], and were walking one after the other, some happy and others sad, some singing, others laughing, finally each, though in the same vocation, fulfilled the duties much differently, which provided us ample material to reflect upon. All day the Negroes carried fruit of all kinds that were beautiful and a very good price, this is the food of these poor people. We look everywhere and we can not refrain from admiring the infinite goodness of God. These poor creatures destitute of everything, our Divine Savior makes grow in abundance, without the help of their labor, the most beautiful fruits and all that contributes to their existence. [p.11] We also see trees whose branches quite resemble those of the palm tree, which made us think a lot of the passage of Our Lord through the streets of Jerusalem. There were also the most magnificent flowers, like in the month of July in Canada. We said to ourselves: if we could send some to our dear Sister of the Nativity for her flower garden; and then Our Lady of 7 Sorrows would be so happy if Sister Rose of Lima offered her a pretty bouquet of these magnificent flowers, but these were again little sacrifices that had to be put on the list of others.
There were but a few people who visited the city, the rain was so great that day. His Grace, Monsieur Abbot Rossi, and Monsieur Handy, a young Irish deacon who is making the voyage with us as far as San Francisco, these messieurs were going to visit the five good Jesuit Missionaries who were evangelizing these poor people; it was one of their major Feasts, that of St. Stanislaus of Kotska, we did not celebrate it until the next day which had been set for the diocese of Nesqually. It was for us a great subject of consolation to learn that these good missionaries were spread as far away as this city, which restored our courage and increased our desire to work towards the salvation of our separated brothers.
[p.12] We were going to forget to tell you one of the most interesting things: Monsieur Handy brought us, from the Jesuits’ garden, one of the branches of the forbidden tree (that is to say of the same kind) from which were suspended six beautiful fruits. They are like our biggest oranges in Canada, of the same color and the same taste, only a little less savory. We had good reason, you see, to be interested, because it was necessary, in presenting this branch, to remember (with malice) the story of our poor mother Eve… and make a statement on women, which did not flatter us very well, also did we desire our poor Sr. Perrault to plead our cause, but we will try our best to withdraw and [do so] with honor….
We left there on the 14th around 7:30 in the morning, which was for us the solemnity of the feast of St. Stanislaus, also we did not fail on this great day to go [in spirit?] to mass at Providence, we arrived at the last minute for the mass of the Community. [p.13] We arrived at Aspinwall on the 18th around three o’clock in the afternoon, where they led us to the hotel of the same name where the majority of the passengers retired. We had a room on the upper floor in which there were three ?? and a big bed on which there was a little mattress, about an inch thick, all dirty and disgusting. Most of the houses only have venetian blinds all around them, the partitions only go to a certain height, so as not to block the circulation of air. The cost of our room and board, judging by what we gave, is about nothing… for the room, the dinner and the breakfast, which we did not have, but for which we certainly paid that evening, we only gave nine louis. His Grace, the two other messieurs as well as Moise, were obliged to go to another hotel, the rooms were all taken in ours. [p.14]
After having waited impatiently for an hour for our breakfast, believing that it was what we call ?? which was in fact the case since the breakfast signal rang at the same time as that of the [des cars? Lars? lauds? – difficult to read and almost impossible to understand. Perhaps referring to the canonical hours of the day??]. We embarked around seven o’clock to cross the Isthmus. This place resembles a lot what we call Savannah in our Canadian countryside, with the difference that it is much more advantageous and the trees are bigger and more mixed, there are really low places and full of muddy water. A few acres before arriving at port we saw mules that reminded us in an even more striking manner the difficult crossing of our poor Sisters [who came before us], who marked out a route and removed difficulties for us on a path on which so many times they almost lost their lives, we were ashamed to look back and to lose courage in a single instant in seeing what our dear sisters endured. [p.15] Oh! They must be Saints, those who had overcome these obstacles and their virtue must be great and purified in the crucible of crosses and of suffering: our Sisters of Chile have good reason to be edified and surprised all at the same time of the great virtue of their mothers. This Isthume is inhabited by blacks, dispersed by tribe from place to place, it is about the same as in Kingston, as much by the morals as by the customs.
Having arrived at the port around 11:30, it was necessary to wait part of the afternoon in a big depot, for a little steamer that did not arrive until around five o’clock. The heat was excessive. Unaware of the hour of our departure, we were required to pass the rest of the day under this shelter, so that we could not visit a single place in Panama. At five o’clock we embarked in the little vessel to go to the one called Golden Age, on which we crossed the Pacific Ocean. [p.16] The crowd was so great in the little steamer that it was necessary to remain standing, the heat was so intense that several people fainted, it was late, the children were crying, the men were impatient, yelling and cursing for light. We stayed in this state for three-quarters of an hour or more. The scene was no more edifying than it was agreeable. At nine o’clock officers of the surrounding islands came to play a few tunes of music. Around 10 o’clock our departure was announced by cannon fire.
Our cabin, number 25, was as comfortable as possible. We had three little beds and a comfortable two-person bunk. The Lady [Mrs. Kelly] had another cabin, and as for the little one, she slept with us. The servants, on both the Pacific and the Atlantic, showed us all the respect and attention possible. [p.17] Among other things, on the Pacific there was a young Irish Catholic girl (the Captain’s servant) who sent us, via our poor Moise, all the best, cans of sardines, pineapples, warm pies, nuts, figs, etc., etc., etc. Our breakfast was at five thirty, lunch at noon, dinner at five o’clock, and at six there was as much tea as we wanted.
We arrived at Acapulco on the 23rd around nine o’clock in the morning in time to hear the 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 poor [Sisters] from Chile. [p.18] 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 ornaments and the church linens, although of rather beautiful fabric, were all spoiled and dirty. The floor was of brick, there were no seats, everyone stays on their feet (like at Providence). The dress of the women at church is decent, on their heads they wear a big gray scarf, about a ?? wide by three long, which falls on their bare arms and which they hold there. They also have long skirts on their dresses that cover their feet. In exiting the church a woman gave one of the Sisters, who was close to the door, a little manuscript of devotion to the Sacred Heart in Spanish, inviting her to take it as a souvenir. [p.19]
After mass we went to the rectory, the good Monsieur the 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 took breakfast with appetite [so we each hungrily ate our breakfast]. We could not help ourselves from feeling a bit emotional while taking a tour of the house [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, but He who leaves no sacrifice without a reward, allowed these little sacrifices that one must at every instance renew.
We re-embarked around noon to continue our trip, the weather was always very favorable, but the heat was excessive and at thirty miles from San Francisco one of the wheels broke. For a quarter of an hour we had heard a noise that was out of the ordinary, but we did not make anything of it. [p.20] When all of a sudden a bigger noise could be heard, so everyone hastily ran up on deck to see the danger. We were not the least aware of the affair, here is how, for us, it all happened. All night we were really seasick so that in the morning, you can believe we were not in the mood to have such a fright. It was about 11 o’clock when the noise that we previously mentioned could be heard by all, the wheel fell on the side of our cabin, thankfully it was protected by something very strong which prevented it from breaking, the bulkhead was significantly strained to make the rod that was up above fall. Our Mother as well as Sister Vincent de Paul was fully dressed. Sister Praxedes was wearing her neckerchief over her robe and her little cap without the garniture, her cloak [domino], but it is poor Sister Blandine who had nothing to disguise herself with except her night kerchief, so that thank God, she could suitably appear before the fashionable Americans. As such we all hurried into the salon where everyone was agitated, this only lasted a few minutes, we went up on deck to see what it was, with the exception of Sister Mary of the Precious Blood who realizing what she was wearing enclosed herself in the room of a woman who lent her a shawl to return to our cabin. [p.21] We enjoyed a pretty recreation at our own expense, we had had a good scare and a delay of one day. We were about to forget a very interesting moment, when we went on deck our dear Sister Praxedes in her great excitement, never having seen the ducks of the sea [seagulls?] that surrounded the ship since we have been coasting around the Islands, said to us with great seriousness: “Look, they have certainly opened up their pigeon house!” You can understand that since then the story of the pigeon house comes up again and again.
Having arrived on the 30th at San Francisco at 2:30 in the middle of the night, we could not leave again until the morning. We were going to the Sisters of Charity, where our Sisters had received hospitality four years ago, when Monsieur King, the Irishman, decided with His Grace that we should go instead to the Sisters of Mercy. At the Sisters of Charity one of their Sisters was stricken with an epidemic sore throat, this was one of the reasons why they insisted that we did not go there. We already told you a few things about the cordial reception of the good Sisters of Mercy, who arrived from Ireland 2 years ago. We arrived [at the convent] around 3 or 8? o’clock, in time to hear mass and to receive communion. They gave us two rooms. The first day we had great recreation at mealtime and everywhere, even in the corridors. The next day it was close to 9 o’clock and no one was talking of recreation. [p.22] I asked the Mother Superior for it, just until our departure. Every evening, big concert, dances in the round, etc., etc. A few minutes before prayer, together with the Novices, we asked for a quarter of an hour and then like the Novices of Providence we did not waste a minute. These good Sisters were for us what our missionary Sisters are for the Sisters of the communities that they visit, the same cordiality, the same sympathy, they are not embarrassed and are completely sociable. Our Mother and Sister Praxedes could not help themselves from saying that they regarded this good reception of foreign communities like a reward for that [the hospitality] which we have on occasion had the happiness of giving at our dear communities.
The third day of our arrival at San Francisco, the good Monsieur King took us to visit an old church, previously belonging to the Franciscans, built in 1760, about 180 feet in length by 40 to 50 in width, in the middle of the main altar is the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, as well as a great number of others representing the Sisters of this order. In the sacristy we see a crucifix that has an expression of sorrow capable of softening the hardest of hearts, of a bluish color, like bruised flesh, holes in the knees where blood runs all the way to the floor, it is a perfect piece of workmanship. [p. 23] The antiquity of the painting? sculpture? made this visit all that more interesting. We also went to the cemetery that really resembles the one in the Mountain, the tombs are adorned with flowers in a tasteful and symmetrical manner. Families have plots as large as they want either in wood or enclosed with an iron chain and even in marble. We said Oh! If Sister Thomas were here she would have lots of models for her flowerbed as well as for the decoration of the grounds, but here we must content ourselves with the desire. This little walk, 3 miles from the city, reminded us a lot of the tour of the mountain.
Then we went to the Sisters of Charity who took us to visit the house as well as the little room that our first Sisters of Chile occupied, which again gave us some very bitter memories. The little orphans sang the psalm Dixet Dominus while one of the older ones among them accompanied on the harmonium.
Next we went to the Sisters of the Presentation recently arrived from Ireland. When these good Sisters arrived in San Francisco, they were rebuffed by everyone, even by strange messieurs who told them that there were enough religious in the city. They had but a miserable lodging where they made their home, so much so that they spent a longtime deliberating on their return, but finally Divine Providence, who never abandons those who trust in her, made it so that a few people took interest in them and three months later they had a house worth 25,000 piasters, that did not cost them a cent. [p.24] These good Sisters provided free education, they taught music, drawing, painting, needlework, and all sorts of classical subjects.
We arrived back at the Sisters of Mercy in enough time to have the salvation of the Blessed Sacrament, which in its chant quite resembles that of our dear community. Around 4 o’clock that same day, an assassin requested permission to enter the hospital. Having his ticket of admission he entered and two hours later he stabbed himself in the heart, he made a wound 3 inches deep. The Sisters, noticing this, called the doctor who asking him why he had reacted in such a way, replied that believing he was going to prison, he could not think of a better remedy than suicide. Seeing that he was becoming more and more weak, the Sisters asked him if he wanted to see his minister. “No minister,” said he, “I do not have a religion and besides, there is no time to do anything.” The Sister who was talking to him told him how he should hope for the mercy of God, grace touched him, he asked for a priest. Monsieur King, finding himself there, baptized him, for which our mother was present, he showed sincere repentance. [p.25] When we left he was not yet dead.
The day of our departure we had a few little things to buy so it was necessary to spend the morning in the streets of the city. We saw people of all nations, including Chinese who wore the dress of a savage [“d’un sauvage”], what distinguished them was a braid of hair that they had at the back of their head and that fell to their heels. It is a very mountainous area, the houses are built on the top of the hills, earthquakes are frequent. The Sisters of Mercy gave us a gift of an accordion, costing ten or 12 piasters.
We resumed our voyage on the 4th around 9 o’clock to take the last steamer, called Columbia that was going to Portland, a city ten leagues from Vancouver, where our residence is. We had two very comfortable cabins. It had been a few hours since we left when we realized that Moise was still in San Francisco shopping. The steamer had left. We were almost lonesome?. That poor boy, whenever he saw the hour of lecture time approaching he would come in and say, “our mother would you like me to stay?” Our mother, from pity, replied “since you came, stay.” [p.26] The night of the 6th and 7th a violent storm arose. Mountains of water came crashing against the ship, which at each instant seemed to be swallowed to the bottom of the raging sea. The roaring of the sea in these big storms quite resembled the howling of dogs in the calm of the night. Finally, we cannot describe how frightening it is. We were obliged to stay in bed all night so as not to fall. The ??[garment bags?trunks?suitcases?] and the ??[packs?], everything was overturned by the rocking of the vessel. All night Sister Praxedes said to me, “Sister Blandine, are you scared?” I pretended to be brave and replied “no, I am afraid of nothing, I am sleeping peacefully. Actually, if we perish we will arrive all that much cleaner [because of the water] in Heaven, to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.” The entire time I was praying with all my soul and in vain I said to Our Lord, “do what you did to Saint Peter, stop the storm, Lord.” He did not hear me so I appealed to the Blessed Virgin, the angels and all the Saints in Heaven and on earth. It had been a long time since I was that fervent. Around 5 o’clock Sister Praxedes said to me again, “I have exhausted all my prayers poor Sister.” I said to her that it was about time to start over. I did everything in my power to reassure her. She was dying of fright. [p.27] That poor girl was all frozen and disfigured from shock that increased with each new clap of thunder. Weakness forced her 3 or 4 times to lie down because she was fainting. His Grace, seeing the danger, promised a mass in honor of the Immaculate Conception, our mother seeing the state of Sister Praxedes promised to burn a lamp to the Sacred Heart and to do an hour of adoration.
Around 8 o’clock we passed the Bar, it is also called the area where one enters the Columbia River. It is a very dangerous passage because of the sandbars that one encounters there. The first day that we spent on the steamer I learned for my first attempt on the accordion, the accompaniment of the Stabat Mater, which I did not fail to play while entering the little river. Around 9 o’clock we noticed 5 little springs that were coming out of the rocks and returned to the river in the form of blades, similar to those beautiful fireworks that we see sometimes in Canada. It made us think of the 5 wounds of Our Lord from which torrents of blessings never cease to flow. This little river resembles a lot the one in Chambly. Despite all the pains and fatigues of travelling one always encounters something that shows us the infinite wisdom of our Creator and His love for us in creating so many beautiful works to attract our hearts. [p.28]
We disembarked at the Fort of Vancouver the day of the Immaculate Conception of our good mother at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We did not have the happiness of hearing mass or to receive Holy Communion that day, but upon arriving at the Bishopric, about 10 acres from where we landed, we greeted Monsieur the Vicar General Brouillet who was waiting for us on the shore. His Grace gave us his blessing, then we retired to our room to recite the Te Deum, the Stabat and to make invocations to the Patron Saints in gratitude for such a successful crossing. We spent 8 days in that room which was situated on top of the bishopric. Now we are in another room outside the kitchen, that a woman whose salary was 23 piasters per month occupied. The establishment is more notable than we thought, the bishopric encompasses six apartments, not including the kitchen and our room that is 16 feet by 10. I assure you that after having placed 5 beds and a table, there is very little space left. Our beds are of straw and we have more covers than we need. We have an abundance of food. We could even flatter our sensuality if we did not have our rule. The Church is under repair, the mass is said in the refectory of the bishopric, we are deprived of doing our hours of adoration. [p.29] We hope to begin classes soon, a little house of 20 by 12 feet is a building for that purpose. His Grace intends to begin erecting our establishment this spring.
We have had the happiness of starting the work of our Sisters of Charity caring for a woman sick with consumption. This illness is very common here. Our mother met with the doctor who, although Protestant, seemed very happy to see the Sisters of Charity in the country. He added that he thought that we will be very useful in this uncivilized country. He had been a doctor at the Hotel [Dieu?] of Quebec for 4 years. We are [happy] to tell you that we found things to be more advanced than we had hoped for. You can reassure all the good people who are so keenly interested in us, we hope to do some good, if we do not paralyze it by our lack of zeal and devotion.
We are very weary and we vividly feel the separation from our community. We are anxious to have news [of you] and of everything that interests us in Canada. Our health is perfectly good. Monsieur the Vicar General is well, which the goodness itself told us, he is full of attention for us. [p.30] Monsieur Rossi is very happy although he is very weary and he is studying English.
Finally we close, our good mother, in offering our sincere thanks for all the prayers that were made for us, to our Lords the Bishops to the good Messieurs of the bishopric and of the seminary, to Reverend Oblate Fathers, to the good Messieurs of Long Point as well as all the religious communities and to the people who had the goodness to think of us. We beg them all to continue and we beseech them to receive our respectful homage and the most sincere affection in Our Lord. We especially thank the good Monsieur Ronpeau, since we know that he said many masses and prayed for us. Our salutations to our good boarders, our ladies of charity especially to the lady retreatants who took such a part in our sacrifice, nor do we forget them before God. May the good Monsieur Lacroix and Monsieur Coffin/Caffin, we like to speak to them both together, we hope that they are well, tell Monsieur Lacroix, Monsieur Charles, his wife and his little children that they remember often the poor Sisters of Oregon. Remind the Chauveau family of us. Please tell that good lady that the sight of her beautiful crucifix often consoled us in our weariness and deprivation. [p. 31] Please thank her and may she be assured that we often bring her name in thankfulness to God. A thousand kisses to our dear elderly and little orphans. Finally to all the people who are interested in us, our most sincere salutations and love, do not forget our good Lady Lagnon and her demoiselles.
We will not write to our families today, please assure them of our sincere affection and give them some news of this letter.
Farewell then, good mother and well loved sisters, we are painfully obliged to end this letter, if we follow the inclination of our hearts we would not finish. We finish on paper to continue in the heart of Our Lady of 7 sorrows, our beloved mother.
A thousand affectionate kisses to all our Sisters of the Community and of the Novitiate.
We sign with the most profound happiness.
Sister Joseph of the Sacred Heart
Sister Praxedes of Providence
Sister Blandine of the Holy Angels
Sister Vincent de Paul
Sister Mary of the Precious Blood