[Note from the etext editor: The original page scans used to create this text were illegible in places; the notation [illegible] has been used in the text to indicate these places. Additionally, Chapter XIV was missing from both the table of contents and the book; presumably this is a printing error as opposed to an actual missing chapter.]
HOTEL DIEU NUNNERY OF MONTREAL.
Containing, also, Many Incidents Never Before Published.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
This volume embraces not only my "Awful Disclosures," but a continuation of my Narrative, giving an account of events after my escape from the Nunnery, and of my return to Montreal to procure a legal investigation of my charges. It also [illegible] all the testimony that has been published against me, or every description, as well as that which has been given in confirmation of my story. At the close, will be found a Review of the whole Subject, furnished by a gentleman well qualified for the purpose; and finally, a copious Appendix, giving further particulars interesting to the public.
I present this volume to the reader, with feelings which, I trust, will be in some degree appreciated when it has been read and reflected upon. A hasty perusal, and an imperfect apprehension of its contents, can never produce such impressions as it has been my design to make by the statements I have laid before the world. I know that misapprehensions exist in the minds of some virtuous people. I am not disposed to condemn their motives, for it does not seem wonderful that in a pure state of society, and in the midst of Christian families, there should be persons who regard the crimes I have mentioned as too monstrous to believed. It certainly is creditable to American manners and character, that the people are inclined, at the first sight, to turn from my story with horror.
There is also an excuse for those who, having received only a general impression concerning the nature of my Disclosures, question the propriety of publishing such immorality to the world. They fear that the minds of the young, at least, may be polluted. To such I have to say, that this objection was examined and set aside, long before they had an opportunity to make it. I solemnly believe it is necessary to inform parents, at least, that the ruin from which I have barely escaped, lies in the way of their children, even if delicacy must be in some degree wounded by revealing the fact. I understand the case, alas! from too bitter experience. Many an innocent girl may this year be exposed to the dangers of which I was ignorant. I am resolved, that so far as depends on me, not one more victim shall fall into the hands of those enemies in whose power I so lately have been. I know what it is to be under the dominion of Nuns and Priests; and I maintain, that it is a far greater offence against virtue and decency to conceal than to proclaim their crimes. Ah! had a single warning voice even whispered to me a word of caution—had even a gentle note of alarm been sounded to me, it might have turned back my foot from the Convent when it was upon the threshold! If, therefore, there is any one now bending a step that way, whom I have, not yet alarmed, I will cry beware!
But the virtuous reader need not fear, in the following pages, to meet with vice presented in any dress but her own deformity. No one can accuse me of giving a single attraction to crime. On the contrary, I intend my book shall be a warning to those who may hereafter be tempted by vice; and with the confidence that such it will prove to be, I commend it to the careful examination of virtuous parents, and am willing to abide by their unbiased opinion, with regard both to my truth, my motives, and the interest which the public have in the developments it contains.
I would now appeal to the world, and ask, whether I have not done all that could have been expected of me, and all that lay in my power, to bring to an investigation the charges I have brought against the priests and nuns of Canada. Although it was necessary to the cause of truth, that I should, in some degree, implicate myself, I have not hesitated to appear as a voluntary self-accuser before the world. While there was a hope that the authorities in Canada might be prevailed upon to bring the subject to a legal investigation, I travelled to Montreal in a feeble state of health, and with an infant in my arms only three weeks old. In the face of many threats and dangers, I spent nearly a month in that city, in vain attempts to bring my cause to a trial. When all prospect of success in this undertaking had disappeared, and not till then, I determined to make my accusations through the press; and although misrepresentations and scandals, flattery and threats, have been resorted to, to nullify or to suppress my testimony, I have persevered, although, as many of my friends have thought, at the risk of abduction or death.
I have, I think, afforded every opportunity that could be reasonably expected, to judge of my credibility. I have appealed to the existence of things in the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, as the great criterion of the truth of my story. I have described the apartments, and now, in this volume, have added many further particulars, with such a description of them as my memory has enabled me to make. I have offered, in case I should be proved an impostor, to submit to any punishment which may be proposed— even to a re-delivery into the hands of my bitterest enemies, to suffer what they may please to inflict.
Now, in these circumstances, I would ask the people of the United States, whether my duty has not been discharged? Have I not done what I ought—to inform and to alarm them? I would also solemnly appeal to the Government of Great Britain, under whose guardianship is the province oppressed by the gloomy institution from which I have escaped, and ask whether such atrocities ought to be tolerated, and even protected by an enlightened and Christian power? I trust the hour is near, when the dens of the Hotel Dieu will be laid open—when the tyrants who have polluted it will be brought out, with the wretched victims of their oppression and crimes.
* * * * *
Early Life—Religious Education neglected—First School—Entrance into the School of the Congregational Nunnery—Brief Account of the Nunneries in Montreal—The Congregational Nunnery—The Black Nunnery—The Grey Nunnery—Public Respect for these Institutions—Instruction Received— The Catechism—The Bible
Story told by a fellow Pupil against a Priest—Other Stories—Pretty Mary—Confess to Father Richards—My subsequent Confessions—Left the Congregational Nunnery
Preparations to become a Novice in the Black Nunnery—Entrance— Occupations of the Novices—The Apartments to which they had Access— First Interview with Jane Ray—Reverence for the Superior—Her Reliques —The Holy Good Shepherd, or nameless Nun—Confession of Novices
Displeased with the Convent—Left it—Residence at St. Denis—Reliques— Marriage—Return to the Black Nunnery—Objections made by some Novices— Ideas of the Bible
Received Confirmation—Painful Feelings—Specimen of Instruction received on the Subject
Taking the Veil—Interview afterward with the Superior—Surprise and horror at her Disclosures—Resolution to Submit
Daily Ceremonies—Jane Ray among the Nuns
Description of Apartments in the Black Nunnery, in order.—1st Floor—2d Floor—The Founder—Superior's Management with the Friends of Novices— Religious Lies—Criminality of concealing Sins at Confession
Nuns with similar names—Squaw Nuns—First visit to the Cellar— Description of it—Shocking discovery there—Superior's Instructions— Private Signal of the Priests—Books used in the Nunnery—Opinions expressed of the Bible—Specimens of what I know of the Scriptures
Manufacture of Bread and Wax Candles carried on in the Convent— Superstitions—Scapularies—Virgin Mary's pincushion—Her House—The Bishop's power over fire—My Instructions to Novices—Jane Ray— Vaccillation of feelings
Alarming Order from the Superior—Proceed to execute it—Scene in an upper Room—Sentence of Death, and Murder—My own distress—Reports made to friends of St. Francis
Description of the Room of the Three States, and the pictures in it— Jane Ray ridiculing Priests—Their criminal Treatment of us at Confession—Jane Ray's Tricks with the Nuns' Aprons, Handkerchiefs, and Nightgowns—Apples
Jane Ray's Tricks continued—The Broomstick Ghost—Sleep-walking—Salted Cider—Changing Beds—Objects of some of her Tricks—Feigned Humility— Alarm—Treatment of a new Nun—A nun made by stratagem
Influencing Novices—Difficulty of convincing persons from the United States—Tale of the Bishop in the City—The Bishop in the Convent—The Prisoners in the Cells—Practice in Singing—Narratives—Jane Ray's Hymns—The Superior's best Trick
Frequency of the Priests' Visits to the Nunnery—Their Freedom and Crimes—Difficulty of learning their Names—Their Holy Retreat— Objections in our minds—Means used to counteract Conscience—Ingenious Arguments
Treatment of young Infants in the Convent—Talking in Sleep—Amusements —Ceremonies at the public interment of deceased Nuns—Sudden disappearance of the Old Superior—Introduction of the new one— Superstition—Alarm of a Nun—Difficulty of Communication with other Nuns
Disappearance of Nuns—St. Pierre—Gags—My temporary Confinement in a Cell—The Cholera Season—How to avoid it—Occupations in the Convent during the Pestilence—Manufacture of War Candles—The Election Riots— Alarm among the Nuns—Preparations for defence—Penances
The Priests of the District of Montreal have free access to the Black Nunnery—Crimes committed and required by them—The Pope's command to commit indecent Crimes—Characters of the Old and New Superiors—The timidity of the latter—I began to be employed in the Hospitals—Some account of them—Warning given me by a sick Nun—Penance by Hanging
More visits to the imprisoned Nuns—Their fears—Others temporarily put into the Cells—Reliques—The Agnus Dei—The Priests' private Hospital, or Holy Retreat—Secret Rooms in the Eastern Wing—Reports of Murders in the Convent—The Superior's private Records—Number of Nuns in the Convent—Desire of Escape—Urgent reason for it—Plan—Deliberation— Attempt—Success
At liberty—Doubtful what to do—Found refuge for the night— Disappointment—My first day out of the Convent—Solitude— Recollections, fears, and plans
Start for Quebec—Recognised—Disappointed again—Not permitted to land —Return to Montreal—Landed and passed through the city before day— Lachine Canal—Intended close of my life
Awake among strangers—Dr. Robertson—Imprisoned as a vagrant— Introduction to my mother—Stay in her house—Removal from it to Mrs. McDonald's—Return to my mother's—Desire to get to New York— Arrangements for going
Singular concurrence of circumstances, which enabled me to get to the United States—Intentions in going there—Commence my journey—Fears of my companion—Stop at Whitehall—Injury received in a canal boat— Arrival at New York—A solitary retreat
Reflections and sorrow in solitude—Night—Fears—Exposure to rain— Discovered by strangers—Their unwelcome kindness—Taken to the Bellevue Almshouse.
Reception at the Almshouse—Message from Mr. Conroy, a Roman priest in New York—His invitations to a private interview—His claims, propositions, and threats—Mr. Kelly's message—Effects of reading the Bible
Proposition to go to Montreal and testify against the priests— Commencement of my journey—Stop at Troy, Whitehall, Burlington, St. Alban's, Plattsburgh, and St. John's—Arrival at Montreal—Reflections on passing the Nunnery.
Received into a hospitable family—Fluctuating feelings—Visits from several persons—Father Phelan's declarations against me in his church— Interviews with a Journeyman Carpenter—Arguments with him
A Milkman—An Irishwoman—Difficulty in having my Affidavit taken—Legal objection to it when taken
Interview with the Attorney General of the Province—Attempt to abduct me—More interviews—A mob excited against me—Protected by two soldiers—Convinced that an investigation of my charges could not be obtained—Departure from Montreal—Closing reflections The truth of the work demonstrated
APPENDIX—Reception of the work—Affidavits—Criticisms of the press, &c.
Here is the reprint of one of the most formidable books against Nunneries ever published. It has produced powerful impressions abroad, as well as in the United States, and appears destined to have still greater results. It is the simple narrative of an uneducated and unprotected female, who escaped from the old Black Nunnery of Montreal, or Hotel Dieu, and told her tale of sufferings and horrors, without exaggeration or embellishment. Though assailed by all the powers of the Romish priesthood, whom she accused, and by the united influence of the North American press, which, with very small exceptions, was then unenlightened by the discoveries of the present day, the book remains unimpeached, and still challenges the test of fair and open examination.
Many an American female, no doubt, is now living, who might justly acknowledge that she was saved from exposure to the suffering, or even the ruin, often the consequences of a Convent education, by the disinterested warning given in this book; while its author, disheartened at length by the powerful combination of Protestants and Papists against her, led to distrust even the few who remained her friends, destitute of the means of living, and alternately persecuted and tempted by her ever watchful and insidious enemies, died some years since, under condemnation (whether just or unjust) for one of the slightest of the crimes which she had charged against them—thus falling at last their victim.
American parents have here a book written for the salvation of their daughters; American patriots, one designed to secure society against one of the most destructive but insidious institutions of popery; American females, an appeal to them of the most solemn kind, to beware of Convents, and all who attempt to inveigle our unsuspecting daughters into them, by the secret apparatus of Jesuit schools. The author of this book was a small, slender, uneducated, and persecuted young woman, who sought refuge in our country without a protector; but she showed the resolution and boldness of a heroine, in confronting her powerful enemies in their strong hold, and proved, by the simple force of truth, victorious in the violent conflicts which were waged against her by the Romish hierarchy of America and the popular press of the United States.
The publishers have thought the present an opportune period to place this work again in the hands of American readers, with such information, in a preface, as is necessary to acquaint readers of the present day with the leading circumstances attending and succeeding its original publication. They have examined most of the evidence supporting the truth of the narrative, of which the public can judge as well as themselves. The details would be voluminous, even of those portions which have been collected since the heat of the controversy which the book long ago excited. Suffice it to say, that undesigned and collateral evidence in corroboration of it has been increasing to the present day; and that the following brief review of some of the early events will afford a fair specimen of the whole.
In the year 1835, Maria Monk was found alone, and in a wretched and feeble condition, on the outskirts of New York city, by a humane man, who got her admitted into the hospital at Bellevue. She then first told the story in outline, which she afterwards and uniformly repeated in detail, and which was carefully written down and published in the following form:—she said she was a fugitive nun from the Hotel Dieu of Montreal, whence she had effected her escape, in consequence of cruelty which she had suffered, and crimes which were there committed by the Romish priests, who had the control of the institution, and to which they had access, by private as well as public entrances. Having expressed a willingness to go to that city, make public accusations, and point out evidences of their truth in the convent itself, she was taken thither by a resolute man, who afterwards suffered for an act of great merit; but she was unable to obtain a fair hearing, apparently through the secret opposition of the priests. She returned to New York, where her story was thought worthy of publication; and it was proposed to have it carefully written down from her lips, and published in a small pamphlet. Everything she communicated was, therefore, accurately written down, and, when copied out, read to her for correction. But the amount of important material in her possession, proved to be far greater than had been supposed, and many pages of notes were accumulated on numerous topics brought up to her attention in the course of conversation and inquiry. All those were submitted to persons fully competent to decide as to the reliability of the evidence, and the strictest and most conscientious care was taken to ascertain the truth.
There were but very few Protestants in the United States acquainted with the condition or history of convents in different countries, the characters of those who control and direct them, the motives they have for keeping them secret, the occupations often pursued within their walls, in short, the shameful practices and atrocious crimes of which they have been proved to be the theatres, in modern and ancient times, by Romish ecclesiastics and even popes themselves. The public were, therefore, quite unprepared to believe such accusations against men professing sanctity of life, and a divine commission to the world, although Miss Harrison and Miss Reed of Boston had published startling reports respecting the character of the priests and nuns in that vicinity.
The following were some of the considerations which were kept in view by those who proposed the publication of the narrative:—
"If the story is false, it must have been forged by the narrator or some other party. There must have been a motive in either case; and that may be either to obtain notoriety or money, to injure the reputation of the priests accused, or ultimately to remove the unfavorable impressions thrown upon them by their former accusers, by first making charges of atrocious crimes, and then disproving them. On the other hand, the story may perhaps be true; and if so, the world ought to know it. In the meantime, here is an unprotected, and evidently unfortunate young woman, of an interesting appearance, who asks to be allowed to make her complaint, voluntarily consenting to submit to punishment if she does not speak the truth. She must be allowed a hearing."
It is but justice to say that the investigation was undertaken with strong suspicions of imposture somewhere, and with a fixed resolution to expose it if discovered. As the investigation proceeded, opinions at first fluctuated, sometimes from day to day; but it became evident, ere long, that if the story had been fabricated, it was not the work of the narrator, as she had not the capacity to invent one so complex and consistent with itself and with many historical facts entirely beyond the limited scope of her knowledge. It was also soon perceived that she could never have been taught it by others, as no part of it was systematically arranged in her mind, and she communicated it in the incidental manner common to uneducated persons, who recount past scenes in successive conversations.
As she declared from the first that she had been trained to habits of deception in the Convent, and accustomed to witness deceit and criminality, no confidence could be claimed for her mere unsupported declarations; and therefore a course of thorough cross-questioning was pursued, every effort being made to lead her to contradict herself, but without success. She told the same things over and over again in a natural and consistent manner, when brought back to the same point after intervals of weeks or months. In several instances it was thought that contradictions had been traced, but when called on to reconcile her statements, she cleared up all doubt by easy and satisfactory explanations. The course pursued by the priests of Canada and their advocates, was such as greatly to confirm the opinion that she spoke the truth, and that they were exceedingly afraid of it. The following were some of the contradictory grounds which they at different times assumed in their bitter attacks upon her, her friends, and her books:
That she had never been in the nunnery.
That she had been expelled from it.
That she had fabricated everything that she published.
That several pages from her book, published in the New York "Sun," were copied verbatim et literatim from a work published in Portugal above a hundred years before, entitled "The Gates of Hell Opened."
That there never was a subterranean passage from the seminary to the nunnery.
That there was such a passage in that direction, but that it led to the River St. Lawrence.
That the drawings and descriptions of the nunnery, and especially of the veiled department, were wholly unlike the reality, but applied to the Magdalen Asylum of Montreal.
That several objects described by her were in the nunnery, but not in those parts of it where she had placed them. (This was said by a person who admitted that he had been lost amidst the numerous and extensive apartments when he made his observations.)
That the book was fabricated by certain persons in New York who were named, they being gentlemen of the highest character.
That the book was her own production, but written under the instigation of the devil.
That the author was a layman, and ought to be hung on the first lamp- post.
That the nunnery was a sacred place, and ought not to be profaned by the admission of enemies of the church.
After a committee had been appointed to examine the nunnery and report, and their demand for admission had been published a year or more, the editor of L'Ami du Peuple, a Montreal newspaper, devoted to the priests' cause, offered to admit persons informally, and did admit several Americans, who had been strong partisans against the "Disclosures." Their letters on the subject, though very indefinite, contained several important, though undesigned admissions, strongly corroborating the book.
One of the most common charges against the book was, that it had been written merely for the purpose of obtaining money. Of the falseness of this there is decisive evidence. It was intended to secure to the poor and persecuted young female, any profits which might arise from the publication; but most of the labor and time devoted to the work were gratuitously bestowed. Besides this they devoted much time to efforts necessary to guard against the numerous and insidious attempts made by friends of the priests, who by various arts endeavored to produce dissention and delay, as well as to pervert public opinion.
The book was published, and had an almost unprecedented sale, impressing deep convictions, wherever it went, by its simple and consistent statements. In Canada, especially, it was extensively received as true; but as the American newspapers were soon enlisted against it, the country was filled with misrepresentations, which it was impossible through those channels to follow with refutations. Her noble sacrifices for the good of others were misunderstood, she withdrew from her few remaining friends, and at length died in poverty and prison, a victim of the priests of Rome. Various evidences in favor of its truth afterwards appeared, with which the public have never been generally made acquainted. Some of these were afforded during an interview held in New York, August 17th, 1836, with Messrs. Jones and Le Clerc, who had came from Montreal with a work in reply to "Awful Disclosures," which was afterwards published. They had offered to confront Maria Monk, and prove her an impostor, and make her confess it in the presence of her friends. She promptly appeared; and the first exclamation of Mr. Jones proved that she was not the person he had supposed her to be: "This is not Fawny Johnson!" said he; and he afterwards said, "There must be two Maria Monks!" Indeed, several persons were at different times represented to bear that name; and much confusion was caused in the testimony by that artifice. The interview continued about two hours, during which the Canadians made a very sorry figure, entirely failing to gain any advantage, and exposing their own weakness. At the close, an Episcopal clergyman from Canada, one of the company, said: "Miss Monk, if I had had any doubts of your truth before this interview, they would now have been entirely removed."
The book of Mr. Jones was published, and consisted of affidavits, &c., obtained in Canada, including those which had previously been published, and which are contained in the Appendix to this volume. Many of them were signed by names unknown, or those of low persons of no credit, or devoted to the service of the priests. Evidence was afterwards obtained that Mr. Jones was paid by the Canadian ecclesiastics, of which there had been strong indications. What rendered his defeat highly important was, that he was the editor of L'Ami du Peuple, the priests' newspaper, in Montreal, and he was "the author of everything which had been written there against Maria Monk," and had collected all "the affidavits and testimony." These were his own declarations. An accurate report of the interview was published, and had its proper effect, especially his exclamation—"This is not Fanny Johnson!"
The exciting controversy has long passed, but the authentic records of it are imperishable, and will ever be regarded as an instructive study. The corruptions and crimes of nunneries, and the hypocrisy and chicanery of those who control them, with the varied and powerful means at their command, are there displayed to an attentive reader, in colors as dark and appalling as other features of the popish system are among us, by the recent exposures of the impudent arrogance of the murderer Bedini, and the ambitious and miserly spirit of his particular friend, the Romish Archbishop of New York.
Among the recent corroborates of the "Awful Disclosures," may be particularly mentioned the two narratives entitled "Coralla," and "Confessions of a Sister of Charity," contained in the work issued this season by the publishers of the present volume, viz.: "The Escaped Nun; or, Disclosures of Convent Life," &c. Of the authenticity of those two narratives we can give the public the strongest assurance.
After the city of Rome had been taken by siege by the French army, in 1849, the priests claimed possession of a female orphan-asylum, which had something of the nature of a nunnery. The republican government had given liberty to all recluses, and opened all secret institutions. (When will Americans do the same?)
Subsequently, when the papists attempted to reinstate the old system, the females remonstrated, barred the doors, and armed themselves with knives and spits from the kitchen, but the French soldiers succeeded in reducing them by force. During the contest the cry of the women was, "We will not be the wives of the priests!"
In one of the convents in that city, opened by the republicans, were found evidences of some of the worst crimes mentioned by Maria Monk; and in another were multitudes of bones, including those of children.
A strong effort will probably be made again, by the parties exposed by this book, to avoid the condemnation which it throws upon convents—the strongholds of superstition, corruption, and foreign influence, in the United States. The Romish publications, although greatly reduced in number within a few years, will probably pour out much of their unexhausted virulence, as it is their vocation to misrepresent, deny, and vilify. They will be ready to pronounce a general anathema on all who dare to reprint, or even to read or believe, such strong accusations against the "holy retreats" of those whom they pretend are "devoted to lives of piety." But we will challenge them to do it again, by placing some of their iron bishops and even popes in the forefront.
In the year 1489, in the reign of Henry VII, Pope Innocent VIII published a bull for the Reformation of Monasteries, entitled, in Latin, "De Reformatione Monasceriorum," in which he says that, "members of monasteries and other religious places, both Clemian, Cistercian, and Praemonstratensian, and various other orders in the Kingdom of England" —"lead a lascivious and truly dissolute life." And that the papist reader may receive this declaration with due reverence, we copy the preceding words in Latin, as written by an infallible pope, the man whose worshippers address him as "Vicegerent of God on earth." Of course his words must convince them, if ours do not: "Vitam lascivam ducunt, et nimium dissolutam." "Swine Priory," in 1303, had a Prioress named Josiana, whose conduct made the name of her house quite appropriate. In France, in the Council of Troyes, A. D. 999, the Archbishop said, "In convents of monks, canons, and nuns, we have lay abbots residing with their wives, sons, daughters, soldiers and dogs;" and he charges the whole clergy with being in a deprived and sinful state. But the particulars now before us, of such shameful things in Germany, Italy, &c., for ages, would fill a larger volume than this.
Now, let the defenders of nunneries repeat, if they dare, their hackneyed denunciations of those who deny their sanctity. Here stand some of their own bishops and popes before us; and the anathemas must fall first upon mitres and tiaras! Americans will know how much confidence to place in the pretended purity of institutions, whose iniquity and shame have been thus proclaimed, age after age, in a far more extensive manner than by this book. But we can at any time shut their mouths by the mere mention of "Den's Theology," which they must not provoke us to refer to.
Early Life—Religious Education neglected—First Schools—Entrance into the School of the Congregational Nunnery—Brief Account of the Nunneries in Montreal—The Congregational Nunnery—The Black Nunnery—The Grey Nunnery—Public Respect for these Institutions—Instruction Received— The Catechism—The Bible.
My parents were both from Scotland, but had been resident in Lower Canada some time before their marriage, which took place in Montreal; and in that city I spent most of my life. I was born at St. John's, where they lived for a short time. My father was an officer under the British Government, and my mother has enjoyed a pension on that account ever since his death. [Footnote: See the affidavit of William Miller, in the Appendix.]
According to my earliest recollections, he was attentive to his family; and a particular passage from the Bible, which often occurred to my mind in after life, I may very probably have been taught by him, as after his death I do not recollect to have received any religious instruction at home; and was not even brought up to read the scriptures: my mother, although nominally a Protestant, not being accustomed to pay attention to her children in this respect. She was rather inclined to think well of the Catholics, and often attended their churches. To my want of religious instruction at home, and the ignorance of my Creator, and my duty, which was its natural effect. I think I can trace my introduction to Convents, and the scenes which I am to describe in this narrative.
When about six or seven years of age, I went to school to a Mr. Workman, a Protestant, who taught in Sacrament street, and remained several months. There I learned to read and write, and arithmetic as far as division. All the progress I ever made in those branches was gained in that school, as I have never improved in any of them since.
A number of girls of my acquaintance went to school to the nuns of the Congregational Nunnery, or Sisters of Charity, as they are sometimes called. The schools taught by them are perhaps more numerous than some of my readers may imagine. Nuns are sent out from that Convent to many of the towns and villages of Canada to teach small schools; and some of them are established as instructresses in different parts of the United States. When I was about ten years old, my mother asked me one day if I should not like to learn to read and write French; and I then began to think seriously of attending the school in the Congregational Nunnery. I had already some acquaintance with that language, sufficient to speak it a little, as I heard it every day, and my mother knew something of it.
I have a distinct recollection of my first entrance into the Nunnery; and the day was an important one in my life, as on it commenced my acquaintance with a Convent. I was conducted by some of my young friends along Notre Dame street till we reached the gate. Entering that, we walked some distance along the side of a building towards the chapel, until we reached a door, stopped, and rung a bell. This was soon opened, and entering, we proceeded through a long covered passage till we took a short turn to the left, soon after which we reached the door of the school-room. On my entrance, the Superior met me, and told me first of all that I must always dip my fingers into the holy water at her door, cross myself, and say a short prayer; and this she told me was always required of Protestant as well as Catholic children.
There were about fifty girls in the school, and the nuns professed to teach something of reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. The methods, however, were very imperfect, and little attention was devoted to them, the time being in a great degree engrossed with lessons in needle-work, which was performed with much skill. The nuns had no very regular parts assigned them in the management of the schools. They were rather rough and unpolished in their manners, often exclaiming, "c'est un menti" (that's a lie), and "mon Dieu" (my God), on the most trivial occasions. Their writing was quite poor, and it was not uncommon for them to put a capital letter in the middle of a word. The only book on geography which we studied, was a catechism of geography, from which we learnt by heart a few questions and answers. We were sometimes referred to a map, but it was only to point out Montreal or Quebec, or some other prominent name, while we had no instruction beyond.
It may be necessary for the information of some of my readers, to mention that there are three distinct Convents in Montreal, all of different kinds; that is, founded on different plans, and governed by different rules. Their names are as follows:—
1st. The Congregational Nunnery.
2d. The Black Nunnery, or Convent of Sister Bourgeoise.
3d The Grey Nunnery.
The first of these professes to be devoted entirely to the education of girls. It would require however only a proper examination to prove that, with the exception of needle-work, hardly anything is taught excepting prayers and the catechism; the instruction in reading, writing, &c., in fact, amounting to very little, and often to nothing. This Convent is adjacent to that next to be spoken of, being separated from it only by a wall. The second professes to be a charitable institution for the care of the sick, and the supply of bread and medicines for the poor; and something is done in these departments of charity, although but an insignificant amount, compared with the size of the buildings, and the number of the inmates.
The Grey Nunnery, which is situated in a distant part of the city, is also a large edifice, containing departments for the care of insane persons and foundlings. With this, however, I have less personal acquaintance than with either of the others. I have often seen two of the Grey nuns, and know that their rules, as well as those of the Congregational Nunnery, do not confine them always within their walls, like those of the Black Nunnery. These two Convents have their common names (Black and Grey) from the colours of the dresses worn by their inmates.
In all these three Convents, there are certain apartments into which strangers can gain admittance, but others from which they are always excluded. In all, large quantities of various ornaments are made by the nuns, which are exposed for sale in the Ornament Rooms, and afford large pecuniary receipts every year, which contribute much to their incomes. In these rooms visitors often purchase such things as please them from some of the old [Footnote: The term "old nun," does not always indicate superior age.] and confidential nuns who have the charge of them.
From all that appears to the public eye, the nuns of these Convents are devoted to the charitable objects appropriate to each, the labour of making different articles, known to be manufactured by them, and the religious observances, which occupy a large portion of their time. They are regarded with much respect by the people at large; and now and then when a novice takes the veil, she is supposed to retire from the temptations and troubles of this world into a state of holy seclusion, where, by prayer, self-mortification, and good deeds, she prepares herself for heaven. Sometimes the Superior of a Convent obtains the character of working miracles; and when such a one dies, it is published through the country, and crowds throng the Convent, who think indulgences are to be derived from bits of her clothes or other things she has possessed; and many have sent articles to be touched to her bed or chair, in which a degree of virtue is thought to remain. I used to participate in such ideas and feelings, and began by degrees to look upon a nun as the happiest of women, and a Convent as the most peaceful, holy, and delightful place of abode. It is true, some pains were taken to impress such views upon me. Some of the priests of the Seminary often visited the Congregation Nunnery, and both catechised and talked with us on religion. The Superior of the Black Nunnery adjoining, also, occasionally came into the School, enlarged on the advantages we enjoyed in having such teachers, and dropped something now and then relating to her own Convent, calculated to make us entertain the highest ideas of it, and to make us sometimes think of the possibility of getting into it.
Among the instructions given us by the priests, some of the most pointed were those directed against the Protestant Bible. They often enlarged upon the evil tendency of that book, and told us that but for it many a soul now condemned to hell, and suffering eternal punishment, might have been in happiness. They could not say any thing in its favour: for that would be speaking against religion and against God. They warned us against it, and represented it as a thing very dangerous to our souls. In confirmation of this, they would repeat some of the answers taught us at catechism, a few of which I will here give. We had little catechisms ("Le Petit Catechism") put into our hands to study; but the priests soon began to teach us a new set of answers, which were not to be found in our books, and from some of which I received new ideas, and got, as I thought, important light on religious subjects, which confirmed me more and more in my belief in the Roman Catholic doctrines. These questions and answers I can still recall with tolerable accuracy, and some of them I will add here. I never have read them, as we were taught them only by word of mouth.
Question. "Pourquoi le bon Dieu n'a pas fait tous les commandemens?"
Reponse. "Parce que l'homme n'est pas si fort qu'il peut garder tous ses commandemens."
Q. "Why did not God make all the commandments?"
A. "Because man is not strong enough to keep them."
And another. Q. "Pourquoi l'homme ne lit pas l'Evangile?"
R. "Parce que l'esprit de l'homme est trop borne et trop faible pour comprendre qu'est ce que Dieu a ecrit."
Q. "Why are men not to read the New Testament?"
A. "Because the mind of man is too limited and weak to understand what God has written."
These questions and answers are not to be found in the common catechisms in use in Montreal and other places where I have been, but all the children in the Congregational Nunnery were taught them, and many more not found in these books.
Story told by a fellow Pupil against a Priest—Other Stories—Pretty Mary—Confess to Father Richards—My subsequent Confessions—Left the Congregational Nunnery.
There was a girl thirteen years old whom I knew in the School, who resided in the neighborhood of my mother, and with whom I had been familiar. She told me one day at school of the conduct of a priest with her at confession, at which I was astonished. It was of so criminal and shameful a nature, I could hardly believe it, and yet I had so much confidence that she spoke the truth, that I could not discredit it.
She was partly persuaded by the priest to believe that he could not sin, because he was a priest, and that anything he did to her would sanctify her; and yet she seemed doubtful how she should act. A priest, she had been told by him, is a holy man, and appointed to a holy office, and therefore what would be wicked in other men, could not be so in him. She told me that she had informed her mother of it, who expressed no anger nor disapprobation, but only enjoined it upon her not to speak of it; and remarked to her, that as priests were not like other men, but holy, and sent to instruct and save us, whatever they did was right.
I afterward confessed to the priest that I had heard the story, and had a penance to perform for indulging a sinful curiosity in making inquiries; and the girl had another for communicating it. I afterward learned that other children had been treated in the same manner, and also of similar proceedings in other places.
Indeed, it was not long before such language was used to me, and I well remember how my views of right and wrong were shaken by it. Another girl at the School, from a place above Montreal, called the Lac, told me the following story of what had occurred recently in that vicinity. A young squaw, called la Belle Marie,(pretty Mary,) had been seen going to confession at the house of the priest, who lived a little out of the village. La Belle Marie was afterwards missed, and her murdered body was found in the river. A knife was also found covered with blood, bearing the priest's name. Great indignation was excited among the Indians, and the priest immediately absconded, and was never heard from again. A note was found on his table addressed to him, telling him to fly if he was guilty.
It was supposed that the priest was fearful that his conduct might be betrayed by this young female; and he undertook to clear himself by killing her.
These stories struck me with surprise at first, but I gradually began to feel differently, even supposing them true, and to look upon the priests as men incapable of sin; besides, when I first went to confession, which I did to Father Richards, in the old French church (since taken down), I heard nothing improper; and it was not until I had been several times, that the priests became more and more bold, and were at length indecent in their questions and even in their conduct when I confessed to them in the Sacristie. This subject I believe is not understood nor suspected among Protestants; and it is not my intention to speak of it very particularly, because it is impossible to do so without saying things both shameful and demoralizing.
I will only say here, that when quite a child, I had from the mouths of the priests at confession what I cannot repeat, with treatment corresponding; and several females in Canada have recently assured me, that they have repeatedly, and indeed regularly, been required to answer the same and other like questions, many of which present to the mind deeds which the most iniquitous and corrupt heart could hardly invent.
There was a frequent change of teachers in the School of the Nunnery; and no regular system was pursued in our instruction. There were many nuns who came and went while I was there, being frequently called in and out without any perceptible reason. They supply school teachers to many of the country towns, usually two for each of the towns with which I was acquainted, besides sending Sisters of Charity to different parts of the United States. Among those whom I saw most, was Saint Patrick, an old woman for a nun (that is, about forty), very ignorant, and gross in her manners, with quite a beard on her face, and very cross and disagreeable. She was sometimes our teacher in sewing, and was appointed to keep order among us. We were allowed to enter only a few of the rooms in the Congregational Nunnery, although it was not considered one of the secluded Convents.
In the Black Nunnery, which is very near the Congregational, is an hospital for sick people from the city; and sometimes some of our boarders, such as are indisposed, were sent there to be cured. I was once taken ill myself and sent there, where I remained a few days.
There were beds enough for a considerable number more. A physician attended it daily; and there are a number of the veiled nuns of that Convent who spend most of their time there.
These would also sometimes read lectures and repeat prayers to us.
After I had been in the Congregational Nunnery about two years, I left it,[Footnote: See the 2d affidavit.] and attended several different schools for a short time; but I soon became dissatisfied, having many and severe trials to endure at home, which my feelings will not allow me to describe; and as my Catholic acquaintances had often spoken to me in favour of their faith, I was inclined to believe it true, although, as I before said, I knew little of any religion. While out of the nunnery, I saw nothing of religion. If I had, I believe I should never have thought of becoming a nun.
Preparations to become a Novice in the Black Nunnery—Entrance— Occupations of the Novices—The Apartments to which they had Access— First Interview with Jane Ray—Reverence for the Superior—Her Reliques —The Holy Good Shepherd or nameless Nun—Confession of Novices.
At length I determined to become a Black nun, and called upon one of the oldest priests in the Seminary, to whom I made known my intention.
The old priest to whom I applied was Father Rocque. He is still alive. He was at that time the oldest priest in the Seminary, and carried the Bon Dieu, (Good God,) as the sacramental wafer is called. When going to administer it in any country place, he used to ride with a man before him, who rang a bell as a signal. When the Canadians heard it, whose habitations he passed, they would come and prostrate themselves to the earth, worshipping it as God. He was a man of great age, and wore large curls, so that he somewhat resembled his predecessor, Father Roue. He was at that time at the head of the Seminary. This institution is a large edifice, situated near the Congregational and Black Nunneries, being on the east side of Notre Dame street. It is the general rendezvous and centre of all the priests in the District of Montreal, and, I have been told, supplies all the country with priests as far down as Three Rivers, which place, I believe, is under the charge of the Seminary of Quebec. About one hundred and fifty priests are connected with that of Montreal, as every small place has one priest, and a number of larger ones have two.
Father Rocque promised to converse with the Superior of the Convent, and proposed my calling again, at the end of two weeks, at which time I visited the Seminary again, and was introduced by him to the Superior of the Black Nunnery. She told me she must make some inquiries, before she could give me a decided answer; and proposed to me to take up my abode a few days at the house of a French family in St. Lawrence suburbs, a distant part of the city. Here I remained about a fortnight; during which time I formed some acquaintance with the family, particularly with the mistress of the house, who was a devoted Papist, and had a high respect for the Superior, with whom she stood on good terms.
At length, on Saturday morning about ten o'clock, I called and was admitted into the Black Nunnery, as a novice, much to my satisfaction, for I had a high idea of a life in a Convent, secluded, as I supposed the inmates to be, from the world and all its evil influences, and assured of everlasting happiness in heaven. The Superior received me, and conducted me into a large room, where the novices, (who are called in French Postulantes,) were assembled, and engaged in their customary occupation of sewing.
Here were about forty of them, and they were collected in groups in different parts of the room, chiefly near the windows; but in each group was found one of the veiled nuns of the Convent, whose abode was in the interior apartments, to which no novice was to be admitted. As we entered, the Superior informed the assembly that a new novice had come, and she desired any present who might have known me in the world to signify it.
Two Miss Fougnees, and a Miss Howard, from Vermont, who had been my fellow-pupils in the Congregational Nunnery, immediately recognised me. I was then placed in one of the groups, at a distance from them, and furnished by a nun called Sainte Clotilde, with materials to make a kind of purse, such as the priests use to carry the consecrated wafer in, when they go to administer the sacrament to the sick. I well remember my feelings at that time, sitting among a number of strangers, and expecting with painful anxiety the arrival of the dinner hour. Then, as I knew, ceremonies were to be performed, for which I was but ill prepared, as I had not yet heard the rules by which I was to be governed, and knew nothing of the forms to be repeated in the daily exercises, except the creed in Latin, and that imperfectly. This was during the time of recreation, as it is called. The only recreation there allowed, however, is that of the mind, and of this there is but little. We were kept at work, and permitted to speak with each other only on such subjects as related to the Convent, and all in the hearing of the old nuns who sat by us. We proceeded to dinner in couples, and ate in silence while a lecture was read.
The novices had access to only eight of the apartments of the Convent; and whatever else we wished to know, we could only conjecture. The sleeping room was in the second story, at the end of the western wing. The beds were placed in rows, without curtains or anything else to obstruct the view; and in one corner was a small room partitioned off, in which was the bed of the night-watch, that is, the old nun that was appointed to oversee us for the night. In each side of the partition were two holes, through which she could look out upon us whenever she pleased. Her bed was a little raised above the level of the others. There was a lamp hung in the middle of our chamber which showed every thing to her distinctly; and as she had no light in her little room, we never could perceive whether she was awake or asleep. As we knew that the slightest deviation from the rules would expose us to her observation, as well as to that of our companions, in whom it was a virtue to betray one another's faults, as well as to confess our own, I felt myself under a continual exposure to suffer what I disliked, and had my mind occupied in thinking of what I was to do next, and what I must avoid.
I soon learned the rules and ceremonies we had to regard, which were many; and we had to be very particular in their observance. We were employed in different kinds of work while I was a novice. The most beautiful specimen of the nuns' manufacture which I saw was a rich carpet made of fine worsted, which had been begun before my acquaintance with the Convent, and was finished while I was there. This was sent as a present to the King of England, as an expression of gratitude for the money annually received from the government. It was about forty yards in length, and very handsome. We were ignorant of the amount of money thus received. The Convent of Grey Nuns has also received funds from the government, though on some account or other, had not for several years.
I was sitting by a window at one time, with a girl named Jane M'Coy, when one of the old nuns cams up and spoke to us in a tone of liveliness and kindness which seemed strange, in a place where everything seemed so cold and reserved. Some remark which she made was evidently intended to cheer and encourage me, and made me think that she felt some interest in me. I do not recollect what she said, but I remember it gave me pleasure. I also remember that her manner struck me singularly. She was rather old for a nun, that is, probably thirty; her figure large, her face wrinkled, and her dress careless. She seemed also to be under less restraint than the others, and this, I afterward found, was the case. She sometimes even set the rules at defiance. She would speak aloud when silence was required, and sometimes walk about when she ought to have kept her place: she would even say and do things on purpose to make us laugh; and although often blamed for her conduct, had her offences frequently passed over, when others would have been punished with penances.
I learnt that this woman had always been singular. She never would consent to take a saint's name on receiving the veil, and had always been known by her own, which was Jane Ray. Her irregularities were found to be numerous, and penances were of so little use in governing her, that she was pitied by some, who thought her partially insane. She was, therefore, commonly spoken of as mad Jane Ray; and when she committed a fault, it was often apologized for by the Superior or other nuns, on the ground that she did not know what she did.
The occupations of a novice in the Black Nunnery are not such as some of my readers may suppose. They are not employed in studying the higher branches of education; they are not offered any advantages for storing their mind, or polishing their manners; they are not taught even reading, writing, or arithmetic; much less any of the more advanced branches of knowledge. My time was chiefly employed, at first, in work and prayers. It is true, during the last year I studied a great deal, and was required to work but very little; but it was the study of prayers in French and Latin, which I had merely to commit to memory, to prepare for the easy repetition of them on my reception, and after I should be admitted as a nun.
Among the wonderful events which had happened in the Convent, that of the sudden conversion of a gay young lady of the city into a nun, appeared to me one of the most remarkable. The story which I first heard, while a novice, made a deep impression upon my mind. It was nearly as follows:
The daughter of a wealthy citizen of Montreal was passing the church of Bon Secours, one evening, on her way to a ball, when she was suddenly thrown down upon the steps or near the door, and received a severe shock. She was taken up, and removed first, I think, into the church, but soon into the Black Nunnery, which she soon determined to join as a nun; instead, however, of being required to pass through a long novitiate (which usually occupies about two years and a-half, and is abridged only where the character is peculiarly exemplary and devout), she was permitted to take the veil without delay; being declared by God to a priest to be in a state of sanctity. The meaning of this expression is, that she was a real saint, and already in a great measure raised above the world and its influences, and incapable of sinning, possessing the power of intercession, and being a proper object to be addressed in prayer. This remarkable individual, I was further informed, was still in the Convent, though I never was allowed to see her; she did not mingle with the other nuns, either at work, worship, or meals; for she had no need of food, and not only her soul, but her body, was in heaven a great part of her time. What added, if possible, to the reverence and mysterious awe with which I thought of her, was the fact I learned, that she had no name. The titles used in speaking of her were, the holy saint, reverend mother, or saint bon pasteur (the holy good shepherd).
It is wonderful that we could have carried our reverence for the Superior as far as we did, although it was the direct tendency of many instructions and regulations, indeed of the whole system, to permit, even to foster a superstitious regard for her.
One of us was occasionally called into her room, to cut her nails or dress her hair; and we would often collect the clippings, and distribute them to each other, or preserve them with the utmost care. I once picked up all the stray hairs I could find, after combing her head, bound them together, and kept them for some time, until she told me I was not worthy to possess things so sacred. Jane McCoy and I were once sent to alter a dress for the Superior. I gathered up all the bits of thread, made a little bag, and put them into it for safe preservation. This I wore a long time around my neck, so long, indeed, that I wore out a number of strings, which, I remember, I replace with new ones. I believed it to possess the power of removing pain, and often prayed to it to cure the tooth-ache, &c. Jane Ray sometimes professed to outgo us all in devotion to the Superior, and would pick up the feathers after making her bed. These she would distributed among us, saying, "When the Superior dies, reliques will begin to grow scarce, and you had better supply yourselves in season." Then she would treat the whole matter in some way to turn it into ridicule. Equally contradictory would she appear, when occasionally she would obtain leave from the Superior to tell her dreams. With a serious face, which sometimes imposed upon all of us, and made us half believe she was in a perfect state of sanctity, she would narrate in French some unaccountable vision which she said she had enjoyed. Then turning round, would say, "There are some who do not understand me; you all ought to be informed." And then she would say something totally different in English, which put us to the greatest agony for fear of laughing. Sometimes she would say that she expected to be Superior herself, one of these days, and other things which I have not room to repeat.
While I was in the Congregational Nunnery, I had gone to the parish church whenever I was to confess; for although the nuns had a private confession-room in the building, the boarders were taken in parties through the streets on different days by some of the nuns, to confess in the church; but in the Black Nunnery, as we had a chapel and priests attending in the confessionals, we never left the building.
Our confessions there as novices, were always performed in one way, so that it may be sufficient to describe a single case. Those of us who were to confess at a particular time, took our places on our knees near the confessional-box, and after having repeated a number of prayers, &c., prescribed in our books, came up one at a time and kneeled beside a fine wooden lattice-work, which entirely separated the confessor from us, yet permitted us to place our faces almost to his ear, and nearly concealed his countenance from view, even when so near. I recollect how the priests used to recline their heads on one side, and often covered their faces with their handkerchiefs, while they heard me confess my sins, and put questions to me, which were often of the most improper and even revolting nature, naming crimes both unthought of and inhuman. Still, strange as it may seem, I was persuaded to believe that all this was their duty, or at least that it was done without sin.
Veiled nuns would often appear in the chapel at confession; though, as I understood, they generally confessed in private. Of the plan of their confession-rooms I had no information; but I supposed the ceremony to be conducted much on the same plan as in the chapel and in the church, viz. with a lattice interposed between the confessor and the confessing.
Punishments were sometimes resorted to, while I was a novice, though but seldom. The first time I ever saw a gag, was one day when a young novice had done something to offend the Superior. This girl I always had compassion for; because she was very young, and an orphan. The Superior sent for a gag, and expressed her regret at being compelled, by the bad conduct of the child, to proceed to such a punishment; after which she put it into her mouth, so far as to keep it open, and then let it remain some time before she took it out. There was a leathern strap fastened to each end, and buckled to the back part of the head.
Displeased with the Convent—Left it—Residence at St. Denis—Reliques— Marriage—Return to the Black Nunnery—Objections made by some Novices— Ideas of the Bible.
After I had been in the nunneries four or five years, from the time I commenced school at the Congregational Convent, one day I was treated by one of the nuns in a manner which displeased me, and because I expressed some resentment, was required to beg her pardon. Not being satisfied with this, although I complied with the command, nor with the coolness with which the Superior treated me, I determined to quit the Convent at once, which I did without asking leave. There would have been no obstacle to my departure, I presume, novice as I then was, if I had asked permission; but I was too much displeased to wait for that, and went home without speaking to any one on the subject.
I soon after visited the town of St. Denis, where I saw two young ladies with whom I had formerly been acquainted in Montreal, and one of them a former schoolmate at Mr. Workman's school. After some conversation with me, and learning that I had known a lady who kept school in the place, they advised me to apply to her to be employed as her assistant teacher; for she was then instructing the government school in that place. I visited her, and found her willing, and I engaged at once as her assistant.
The government society paid her 20l: a-year: she was obliged to teach ten children gratuitously; might receive fifteen pence a month (about a quarter of a dollar), for each of ten scholars more; and then she was at liberty, according to the regulations, to demand as much as she pleased for the other pupils. The course of instruction, as required by the society, embraced only reading, writing, and what was called ciphering, though I think improperly. The only books used were a spelling-book, l'Instruction de la Jeunesse, the Catholic New Testament, and l'Histoire de Canada. When these had been read through, in regular succession, the children were dismissed as having completed their education. No difficulty is found in making the common French Canadians content with such an amount of instruction as this; on the contrary, it is often very hard indeed to prevail upon them to send their children at all, for they say it takes too much of the love of God from them to sent them to school. The teacher strictly complied with the requisitions of the society in whose employment she was, and the Roman Catholic catechism was regularly taught in the school, as much from choice as from submission to authority, as she was a strict Catholic. I had brought with me the little bag I have before mentioned, in which I had so long kept the clippings of the thread left after making a dress for the Superior. Such was my regard for it, that I continued to wear it constantly round my neck, and to feel the same reverence for its supposed virtues as before. I occasionally had the toothache during my stay at St. Denis, and then always relied on the influence of my little bag. On such occasions I would say—
"By the virtue of this bag, may I be delivered from the toothache;" and I supposed that when it ceased, it was owing to that cause.
While engaged in this manner, I became acquainted with a man who soon proposed marriage; and young and ignorant of the world as I was, I heard his offers with favour. On consulting with my friend, she expressed an interest for me, advised me against taking such a step, and especially as I knew little about the man, except that a report was circulated unfavorable to his character. Unfortunately, I was not wise enough to listen to her advice, and hastily married. In a few weeks, I had occasion to repent of the step I had taken, as the report proved true—a report which I thought justified, and indeed required, our separation. After I had been in St. Denis about three months, finding myself thus situated, and not knowing what else to do, I determined to return to the Convent, and pursue my former intention of becoming a Black nun, could I gain admittance. Knowing the many inquiries that the Superior would make relative to me, during my absence before leaving St. Denis, I agreed with the lady with whom I had been associated as a teacher (when she went to Montreal, which she did very frequently), to say to the Lady Superior that I had been under her protection during my absence, which would satisfy her, and stop further inquiry; as I was sensible, that, should they know I had been married, I should not gain admittance.
I soon returned to Montreal, and on reaching the city, I visited the Seminary, and in another interview with the Superior of it, communicated my wish, and desired him to procure my re-admission as a novice. Little delay occurred.
After leaving me for a short time, he returned, and told me that the Superior of the Convent had consented, and I was soon introduced into her presence. She blamed me for my conduct in leaving the nunnery, but told me that I ought to be ever grateful to my guardian angel for taking care of me, and bringing me in safety back to that retreat. I requested that I might be secured against the reproaches and ridicule of all the novices and nuns, which I thought some might be disposed to cast upon me unless prohibited by the Superior; and this she promised me. The money usually required for the admission of novices had not been expected from me. I had been admitted the first time without any such requisition; but now I chose to pay it for my re-admission. I knew that she was able to dispense with such a demand as well in this as the former case, and she knew that I was not in possession of any thing like the sum required.
But I was bent on paying to the Nunnery, and accustomed to receive the doctrine often repeated to me before that time, that when the advantage of the church was consulted, the steps taken were justifiable, let them be what they would, I therefore resolved to obtain money on false pretences, confident that if all were known, I should be far from displeasing the Superior. I went to the brigade major, and asked him to give me the money payable to my mother from her pension, which amounted to about thirty dollars, and without questioning my authority to receive it in her name, he gave it me.
From several of her friends I obtained small sums under the name of loans, so that altogether I had soon raised a number of pounds, with which I hastened to the nunnery, and deposited a part in the hands of the Superior. She received the money with evident satisfaction, though she must have known that I could not have obtained it honestly; and I was at once re-admitted as a novice.
Much to my gratification, not a word fell from the lips of any of my old associates in relation to my unceremonious departure, nor my voluntary return. The Superior's orders, I had not a doubt, had been explicitly laid down, and they certainly were carefully obeyed, for I never heard an allusion made to that subject during my subsequent stay in the Convent, except that, when alone, the Superior would herself sometimes say a little about it.
There were numbers of young ladies who entered awhile as novices, and became weary or disgusted with some things they observed, and remained but a short time. One of my cousins, who lived at Lachine, named Reed, spent about a fortnight in the Convent with me. She, however, conceived such an antipathy against the priests, that she used expressions which offended the Superior.
The first day she attended mass, while at dinner with us in full community, she said before us all: "What a rascal that priest was, to preach against his best friend!"
All stared at such an unusual exclamation, and some one inquired what she meant.
"I say," she continued, "he has been preaching against him who gives him his bread. Do you suppose that if there were no devil, there would be any priests?"
This bold young novice was immediately dismissed: and in the afternoon we had a long sermon from the Superior on the subject.
It happened that I one day got a leaf of an English Bible, which had been brought into the Convent, wrapped round some sewing silk, purchased at a store in the city. For some reason or other, I determined to commit to memory a chapter it contained, which I soon did. It is the only chapter I ever learnt in the Bible, and I can now repeat it. It is the second of St. Matthew's gospel, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea," &c.
It happened that I was observed reading the paper, and when the nature of it was discovered, I was condemned to do penance for my offence.
Great dislike to the Bible was shown by those who conversed with me about it, and several have remarked to me, at different times, that if it were not for that book, Catholics would never be led to renounce their own faith.
I heard passages read from the Evangile, relating to the death of Christ; the conversion of Paul; a few chapters from St. Matthew, and perhaps a few others. The priest would also sometimes take a verse or two, and preach from it. I read St. Peter's Life, but only in the book called the "Lives of the Saints." He, I understand, has the keys of heaven and hell, and has founded our church. As for St. Paul, I remember, as I was taught to understand it, that he was once a great persecutor of the Roman Catholics, until he became convicted, and confessed to one of the father confessors, I don't know which. For who can expect to be forgiven who does not become a Catholic, and confess?
Received Confirmation—Painful Feelings—Specimen of Instruction received on the Subject.
The day on which I received confirmation was a distressing one to me. I believed the doctrine of the Roman Catholics, and according to them I was guilty of three mortal sins; concealing something at confession, sacrilege, in putting the body of Christ in the sacrament under my feet, and receiving it while not in a state of grace; and now, I had been led into all those sins in consequence of my marriage, which I never had acknowledged, as it would cut me off from being admitted as a nun.
On the day, therefore, when I went to the church to be confirmed, with a number of others, I suffered extremely from the reproaches of my conscience. I knew, at least I believed, as I had been told, that a person who had been anointed with the holy oil of confirmation on the forehead, and dying in the state in which I was, would go down to hell, and in the place where the oil had been rubbed, the names of my sins would blaze out on my forehead; these would be a sign by which the devils would know me; and they would torment me the worse for them. I was thinking of all this, while I sat in the pew, waiting to receive the oil. I felt, however, some consolation, as I often did afterward when my sins came to mind; and this consolation I derived from another doctrine of the same church: viz. that a bishop could absolve me from all these sins any minute before my death; and I intended to confess them all to a bishop before leaving the world. At length, the moment for administering the "sacrament" arrived, and a bell was rung. Those who had come to be confirmed had brought tickets from their confessors, and these were thrown into a hat, carried around by a priest who in turn handed each to the bishop, by which he learnt the name of each of us, and applied a little of the oil to our foreheads. This was immediately rubbed off by a priest with a bit of cloth, quite roughly.
I went home with some qualms of conscience, and often thought with dread of the following tale, which I have heard told to illustrate the sinfulness of conduct like mine.
A priest was once travelling, when, just as he was passing by a house, his horse fell on his knees, and would not rise. His rider dismounted, and went in to learn the cause of so extraordinary an occurrence. He found there a woman near death, to whom a priest was trying to administer the sacrament, but without success; for every, time she attempted to swallow it, it was thrown back out of her mouth into the chalice. He perceived it was owing to unconfessed sin, and took away the holy wafer from her: on which his horse rose from his knees, and he pursued his journey.
I often remembered also that I had been told, that we shall have as many devils biting us, if we go to hell, as we have unconfessed sins on our consciences.
I was required to devote myself for about a year, to the study of the prayers and the practice of the ceremonies necessary on the reception of a nun. This I found a very tedious duty; but as I was released in a great degree from the daily labors usually demanded of novices, I felt little disposition to complain.
Taking the Veil—Interview afterward with the Superior—Surprise and horror at her Disclosure—Resolution to Submit.
I was introduced into the Superior's room on the evening preceding the day on which I was to take the veil, to have an interview with the Bishop. The Superior was present, and the interview lasted about half an hour. The Bishop on this as on other occasions appeared to me habitually rough in his manners. His address was by no means prepossessing.
Before I took the veil, I was ornamented for the ceremony, and was clothed in a rich dress belonging to the Convent, which was used on such occasions; and placed not far from the altar in the chapel, in the view of a number of spectators who had assembled, perhaps about forty. Taking the veil is an affair which occurs so frequently in Montreal, that it has long ceased to be regarded as a novelty; and, although notice had been given in the French parish church as usual, only a small audience had assembled, as I have mentioned.
Being well prepared with a long training, and frequent rehearsals, for what I was to perform, I stood waiting in my large flowing dress for the appearance of the Bishop. He soon presented himself, entering by the door behind the altar; I then threw myself at his feet, and asked him to confer upon me the veil. He expressed his consent, and threw it over my head, saying, "Receive the veil, O thou spouse of Jesus Christ;" and then turning to the Superior, I threw myself prostrate at her feet, according to my instructions, repeating what I had before done at rehearsals, and made a movement as if to kiss her feet. This she prevented, or appeared to prevent, catching me by a sudden motion of her hand, and granted my request. I then kneeled before the Holy Sacrament, that is, a very large round wafer held by the Bishop between his fore- finger and thumb, and made my vows.
This wafer I had been taught to regard with the utmost veneration, as the real body of Jesus Christ, the presence of which made the vows uttered before it binding in the most solemn manner.
After taking the vows, I proceeded to a small apartment behind the altar, accompanied by four nuns, where was a coffin prepared with my nun name engraven upon it:
My companions lifted it by four handles attached to it, while I threw off my dress, and put on that of a nun of Soeur Bourgeoise; and then we all returned to the chapel. I proceeded first, and was followed by the four nuns; the Bishop naming a number of worldly pleasures in rapid succession, in reply to which I as rapidly repeated—"Je renonce, je renonce, je renonce"—[I renounce, I renounce, I renounce.]
The coffin was then placed in front of the altar, and I advanced to lay myself in it. This coffin was to be deposited, after the ceremony, in an outhouse, to be preserved until my death, when it was to receive my corpse. There were reflections which I naturally made at the time, but I stepped in, extended myself, and lay still. A pillow had been placed at the head of the coffin, to support my head in a comfortable position. A large, thick black cloth was then spread over me, and the chanting of Latin hymns immediately commenced. My thoughts were not the most pleasing during the time I lay in that situation. The pall, or Drap Mortel, as the cloth is called, had a strong smell of incense, which was always disagreeable to me, and then proved almost suffocating. I recollected also a story I had heard of a novice, who, in taking the veil, lay down in her coffin like me, and was covered in the same manner, but on the removal of the covering was found dead.
When I was uncovered, I rose, stepped out of my coffin, and kneeled. The Bishop then addressed these words to the Superior, "Take care and keep pure and spotless this young virgin, whom Christ has consecrated to himself this day." After which the music commenced, and here the whole was finished. I then proceeded from the chapel, and returned to the Superior's room, followed by the other nuns, who walked two by two, in their customary manner, with their hands folded on their breasts, and their eyes cast down upon the floor. The nun who was to be my companion in future, then walked at the end of the procession. On reaching the Superior's door, they all left me, and I entered alone, and found her with the Bishop and two priests.
The Superior now informed me, that having taken the black veil, it only remained that I should swear the three oaths customary on becoming a nun; and that some explanations would be necessary from her. I was now, she told me, to have access to every part of the edifice, even to the cellar, where two of the sisters were imprisoned for causes which she did not mention. I must be informed, that one of my great duties was, to obey the priests in all things; and this I soon learnt, to my utter astonishment and horror, was to live in the practice of criminal intercourse with them. I expressed some of the feelings which this announcement excited in me, which came upon me like a flash of lightning, but the only effect was to set her arguing with me, in favor of the crime, representing it as a virtue acceptable to God, and honorable to me. The priests, she said, were not situated like other men, being forbidden to marry; while they lived secluded, laborious, and self-denying lives for our salvation. They might, indeed, be considered our saviours, as without their services we could not obtain the pardon of sin, and must go to hell. Now, it was our solemn duty, on withdrawing from the world, to consecrate our lives to religion, to practice every species of self-denial. We could not become too humble, nor mortify our feelings too far; this was to be done by opposing them, and acting contrary to them; and what she proposed was, therefore, pleasing in the sight of God. I now felt how foolish I had been to place myself in the power of such persons as were around me.
From what she said I could draw no other conclusion, but that I was required to act like the most abandoned of beings, and that all my future associates were habitually guilty of the most heinous and detestable crimes. When I repeated my expressions of surprise and horror, she told me that such feelings were very common at first, and that many other nuns had expressed themselves as I did, who had long since changed their minds. She even said, that on her entrance into the nunnery, she had felt like me.
Doubts, she declared, were among our greatest enemies. They would lead us to question every point of duty, and induce us to waver at every step. They arose only from remaining imperfection, and were always evidence of sin. Our only way was to dismiss them immediately, repent, and confess them. They were deadly sins, and would condemn us to hell, if we should die without confessing them. Priests, she insisted, could not sin. It was a thing impossible. Everything that they did, and wished, was of course right. She hoped I would see the reasonableness and duty of the oaths I was to take, and be faithful to them.
She gave me another piece of information which excited other feelings in me, scarcely less dreadful. Infants were sometimes born in the convent; but they were always baptized and immediately strangled! This secured their everlasting happiness; for the baptism purified them from all sinfulness, and being sent out of the world before they had time to do anything wrong, they were at once admitted into heaven. How happy, she exclaimed, are those who secure immortal happiness to such little beings! Their little souls would thank those who kill their bodies, if they had it in their power!
Into what a place, and among what society, had I been admitted! How differently did a Convent now appear from what I had supposed it to be! The holy women I had always fancied the nuns to be, the venerable Lady Superior, what were they? And the priests of the seminary adjoining, some of whom indeed I had had reason to think were base and profligate men, what were they all? I now learnt they were often admitted into the nunnery, and allowed to indulge in the greatest crimes, which they and others called virtues.
After having listened for some time to the Superior alone, a number of the nuns were admitted, and took a free part in the conversation. They concurred in everything which she had told me, and repeated, without any signs of shame or compunction, things which criminated themselves. I must acknowledge the truth, and declare that all this had an effect upon my mind. I questioned whether I might not be in the wrong, and felt as if their reasoning might have some just foundation. I had been several years under the tuition of Catholics, and was ignorant of the Scriptures, and unaccustomed to the society, example, and conversation of Protestants; had not heard any appeal to the Bible as authority, but had been taught, both by precept and example, to receive as truth everything said by the priests. I had not heard their authority questioned, nor anything said of any other standard of faith but their declarations. I had long been familiar with the corrupt and licentious expressions which some of them use at confessions, and believed that other women were also. I had no standard of duty to refer to, and no judgment of my own which I knew how to use, or thought of using.
All around me insisted that my doubts proved only my own ignorance and sinfulness; that they knew by experience they would soon give place to true knowledge, and an advance in religion; and I felt something like indecision.
Still, there was so much that disgusted me in the discovery I had now made, of the debased characters around me, that I would most gladly have escaped from the nunnery, and never returned. But that was a thing not to be thought of. I was in their power, and this I deeply felt, while I thought there was not one among the whole number of nuns to whom I could look for kindness. There was one, however, who began to speak to me at length in a tone that gained something of my confidence,—the nun whom I have mentioned before as distinguished by her oddity, Jane Ray, who made us so much amusement when I was a novice. Although, as I have remarked, there was nothing in her face, form, or manners, to give me any pleasure, she addressed me with apparent friendliness; and while she seemed to concur in some things spoken by them, took an opportunity to whisper a few words in my ear, unheard by them, intimating that I had better comply with everything the Superior desired, if I would save my life. I was somewhat alarmed before, but I now became much more so, and determined to make no further resistance. The Superior then made me repeat the three oaths; and when I had sworn them, I was shown into one of the community rooms, and remained some time with the nuns, who were released from their usual employments, and enjoying a recreation day, on account of the admission of a new sister. My feelings during the remainder of that day, I shall not attempt to describe; but pass on to mention the ceremonies which took place at dinner. This description may give an idea of the manner in which we always took our meals, although there were some points in which the breakfast and supper were different.