History of Bucks County, Pa Volume 3 by William H. Davis
Names and Page # Index


CONVENT OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. Travelers, passing though Bucks county via New York Division of the Pennsylvania railroad, may be curiously attracted by a large institution situated on an eminence at Cornwells, overlooking the Delaware river and displaying the quaint form of architecture peculiar to both the Spanish and Italian styles and resembling somewhat in form the old Spanish Indian Mission buildings of Southern California. This institution, unique in its form of architecture, is unique also in the plan of work mapped out for the members who enter it, whose lives after the customary probation and preparation, are to be consecrated to the Christianization, education, and elevation of the two neglected, abandoned, and oft despised races-the Negro and the Indian. This building is known as the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Elizabeth’s, Cornwells. It is the Mother House of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious body of women, organized in the year 1889 for the purpose above named, the evangelization of the Indian and Negro.

The conception of such an organization originated in the first place, in the noble and exalted mind of Right Reverend James O’CONNOR, Bishop of Omaha, who in his early priestly days had belonged to the archdiocese of Philadelphia, and had been pastor of St. Dominic’s Catholic church, Holmesburg, before his elevation to the episcopate. A man thoroughly devoted to the best interests of the Indians, he had during his apostolic visits witnessed not only the wrongs to which they had been subjected, the encroachments to which they were forced to submit, the injustices for which they obtained no redress, but also with the deepest sadness, he had seen the moral degredation of these people neglected as it were, and in darkness waiting for the bread of life, with none to break it to them. He knew that for these evils there was only one power that could cope effectually-the elevating and ennobling force of the Christian religion which had humanized mankind, exemplified in the live of its followers who were ready to freely renounce all ties of earth to enlighten, ameliorate and emancipate these people from their physical, intellectual, and moral bondage. While seriously pondering these things, the deplorable condition and neglect of another despised race appealed to is great heart, and he planned to form a congregation whose exclusive work should be amongst the people of these two races.

In complete harmony with his designs for the intellectual, moral and physical regeneration of these two benighted races, he found a generous co-operator in Miss Katharine M. DREXEL of Philadelphia who in the wealth which the heavenly Father had placed at her disposal, saw only a treasure confided to her care to be used not for self, nor selfish purposes, but for the uplifting of her fellow men. She knew that “Kindness to the wronged is never without its excellent reward, holy to mankind, and ever acceptable to God,” and “That the light of heaven’s own love hath fallen there

Where deed on earth hath rendered less
The sum of human wretchedness.”

Therefore, though years before she had learned “That the secret of life-is, giving,” she determined now, when this good Bishop appealed to her in behalf of these races, to consecrate that wealth to their service, to minister, to serve and to espouse their cause forever. In 1889, she made the first sacrifice by leaving the home of her childhood to enter the Convent of Mercy, Pittsburg, to prepare herself for the renunciation, which comes with the religious profession.
In May, 1890, Bishop O’CONNER died and the new work was placed under the kindly care of the Most Reverend Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia who generously, and with unwearied patience and with wide embracing charity, found room in his large heart to interest himself and to take under his directing this new work inaugurated to minister to the needs of the Negro and the Indian. Miss DREXEL made her profession of religion, was given the name of Mother Mary Katharine in 1891, and was appointed by the Most Reverend Archbishop Superioress of the new community. Some few young ladies eager to co-operate with her in the work of this undertaking had meanwhile joined her and in 1891 there were some twenty or twenty-five members.
Cornwells, Bucks county, was the spot selected for the erection of the new building which was to be the novitiate where the future Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament would prepare themselves for their missionary labors. In July, 1891, the corner stone of this building was laid with the inscription, very appropriate to the work to which they were consecrated, “And it shall be in the place where it was said to them, Ye are not my people; there they shall be called the children of the living God.”-(Rom. Chap. IX.) In December, 1893, the building was ready for occupancy, and the little community numbering not more than twenty-five, entered the new home where they were to prepare themselves for the great missionary work of their order and where they were to show forth in their lives-“That they who love their fellow-men, are loving God the holiest way they can;” where they were to learn with the poet that

“It was theirs to cheer the hearts that hopeless grieve
To follow in the steps of want, its victims to relieve;”

Where they were to prepare themselves for the vast field of labor which awaited them, for they were not to be confined by any limitations of time or place, their rule pointing out to them the following: “They may employ any means most opportune to secure living temples for the Divinity amongst the Indian and Negro races in whatever country they are located:” so that wherever a Negro or Indian child is to be found it will not be contrary to the rule of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to find some of their representatives there also.
The work of the Institute embraces the charge of schools, orphanages, nursing, visitation of sick, and the instruction of adults in the principles of Christian doctrine. It may not be out of place to mention here that their rule admirably points out to them the following: “The sisters admitted to this Religious Congregation, besides attending particularly to their own perfection, which is the principal aim of all religious orders, shall by an apostolate of prayer and work, zealously endeavor to procure living temples for the Divinity amongst the Indian and Colored races, according to the words of the great apostle:
Know ye not that your are the temple of God and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?”-I Cor., Chap. III, Verse 13.
If this truth be but effectually realized their morals are elevated, their minds are raised to that higher plane, their hearts are more in harmony with the Unseen Power working within them in “Whom they live and move and have their being.” Acts, Chap. XVII, 28 v. It is not wrong to say that if this truth had reached the power of conviction in the great multitude of mankind, the annals of history would record nothing but what was glorious in all creatures. Education then, in both human and divine knowledge is necessary for these people-education which will exercise a formative influence-education, not only of the body but of the soul-education which teaches not only of the present, but brings before them their eternal destiny- education which teaches them the knowledge of their duty towards God and the consequent result of their first and primal duty-their duty towards their neighbor in order to fulfill the command of God. Much then, depends upon the education of these people, many considered the outcast of society, who born under the said heritage of indifference, poverty, and miserable surroundings need the help of superior minds to teach tme (sic) to face the problem which confront their races. Tennyson said:

“Love took up the harp of life
And Smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of self
That trembling passed in music out of sight.”

So, in the work of the education of these two races, the highest and holiest love has inspired the hearts of over one hundred young women who are at present engaged in the work, or are preparing for it. The love of God smote upon the chords with might, smote the chords of self to transform, divinize it and make that music “passing out of sight pass over into the souls of those who know not the Divine Omnipotence, who know not that they are in truth the temples of the Holy Ghost; children not of wrath, but of truth, and that the ‘truth shall make them free.’ “ These young women wish to make these poor people catch a glimpse of that glory which they do not always see.
Attached to the convent by a cloistered walk, covered with a picturesque tiled roof is the institution known as Holy Providence House. It is a combination of an industrial and intellectual training school. Here the Sisters teach the children the principles of domestic science, the importance of habits of thrift, industry, and economy so necessary for their future success in life. There are 170 children in the Institute, 110 girls ranging in ages from five to twenty-one years; and fifty-two boys ranging from five to thirteen years of age. When the boys reach the age of thirteen, they are transferred to industrial or trade schools to complete their education. The girls remain with the Sisters until they are twenty-one, and the Sisters endeavor to impress upon their minds the necessity and dignity of labor, striving to hold before them the most exalted motives to enable them to fulfill faithfully their work on earth. All are obliged to attend school daily during the school session which lasts from September 1, to June 30. The girls have the opportunity to complete the Grammar school course. If proficient in the branches which this course includes they receive a certificate or diploma testifying to their ability. In order to receive this certificate they must also have satisfactorily passed the Domestic Science course which includes cooking and dress-making, taught according to scientific principles, and laundry work.
From the Mother House at Cornwells three branches have sprung: One, St. Catharine’s Indian Boarding School at Santa Fe, New Mexico, where 160 children are taught by the Sisters, the plan followed there being something similar to that at Cornwells; another, St. Frances de Sales, Rock Castle, Virginia, where southern girls are received from fourteen to twenty-one years of age. Here they prepare themselves for teaching and aim to become proficient in other spheres of industry in order to become self sustaining in the future, and of benefit to their people; also, another Indian Mission in a lonely wilderness in the wild and wastes of Arizona called St. Michael’s, where about one hundred Navajo Indian children belonging to the vast pagan tribe of twenty thousand souls are received and cared for, taught the principles of religion and human knowledge according to their capabilities.
Let us hope that the little seed planted in Cornwells, Bucks county, may grow and produce fruit for a rich harvest in the hearts of the poor Negroes and Indians, both for time and eternity, spreading its branches far and wide for their benefit, and enlisting the sympathies of the many noble-minded men and women who are connected with the history of the county. This is the ardent wish of those whose lives are to be spent I furthering the cause of their elevation.

Text taken from page 526 to 528 of:

Davis, William W. H., A.M., History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania [New York-Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1905] Volume III
Transcribed August2005 by Joan Lollis as part of the Bucks Co., Pa., Early Family Project, www.rootsweb.com/~pabucks/bucksindex.html
Published August 2005 on the Bucks County, Pa., USGenWeb pages at www.rootsweb.com/~pabucks/



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