Paths of Daring Deeds of Hope


Reunion and Reaction

Mother Theresa lived her last seven years in West Chester. Her life seems to have been peaceful and contented. The one painful deprivation she experienced was Bishop O'Hara's refusal to allow her to visit in Scranton or to receive regular communication from the sisters there. She died after a brief illness on January 14, 1892.

Reunion and Reaction

Theresa's long cherished dream of returning to her IHM Sister came to reality on January 21, 1885 when she arrived at the IHM Motherhouse in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She remained there until her death on January 14, 1892. The sisters who lived with her during these last years of her life report on her gentle joy at her restoration and her desire to be helpful in the work of the house. During these years she shared with other sisters her reminiscences of earlier days; for the first time she told the detail of her childhood and her life in Baltimore.

Theresa's life continued to be shadowed by the painful experiences of the 1850s and 1860s. The Bishop of Scranton, William O'Hara, refused to allow her to visit the sisters in that diocese. He also forbade the sisters to write to Mother Theresa on any but special occasions. The reason seems to be the old fear that Theresa might disrupt the Congregations. Bishop O'Hara had come to Scranton in 1868 for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. He had served under Archbishop Wood as rector of the seminary and pastor from 1860 to 1868 and as Bishop of Scranton was his suffragan. It would seem he inherited the Archbishop's apprehensions about Theresa as a threat to the tranquillity of the Congregation.

The occasion of Theresa's death elicited comments about her from former associates who reflected on various stages in her life. The issue emerged as to the appropriateness of considering her a founder of the IHM Congregation -- an issue which is, for some, unresolved to this day. Fr. Schnuttgen, the Redemptorist priest whom Theresa had first contacted in 1877, resolved to publish a biography of Theresa, in collaboration with Sr. Genevieve, Theresa's faithful correspondent from her Ottawa days. That project did not come to fruition.

In the years after Theresa's death, she remained a cause of controversy. The main controversy was over acknowledgement of her membership in the Oblates of Providence prior to her years as an IHM. There were several efforts to keep secret this significant fact of her background.

When one attempts to discern the reason for this reluctance, the only credible one is an unwillingness to acknowledge Theresa's African-American roots.

Some Comments

Theresa's most fervent prayer and most urgent desire seemed to be fulfilled when she was welcomed back the West Chester. Yet her frustration was not ended, restricted as she was from free contact with the Scranton Congregation. She seems, however, to have lived out her days peacefully, surrounded by affectionate and attentive sisters.

So many of Theresa's contemporaries seem to have very strong opinions about her; perhaps the force of her own personality elicited vigorous responses. Her presence and actions also challenged entrenched systems of her day, with predictable results. She did not conform to her generation's expectations of women, and particularly of women religious. She was too assertive and too impulsive to find favor with those who tried to control her life. Her single-minded devotion to the Redemptorist tradition led her to dramatic actions, and also sustained her through their painful consequences.

It is unfortunate that knowledge of Mother Theresa's African-American roots was suppressed for so many years. In our own day, the bigotry of her attackers, rather than Theresa's racial background, is a source of embarrassment. We need to acknowledge Theresa's roots with gratitude, while recognizing that the scourge of racism is far from exterminated in our own society or in our personal and communal lives.

It would seem that the sexism and clericalism that afflicted Theresa continue to some extent to cloud an authentic appreciation of her central role in the early life of the Congregation. The reasons for this anomaly seem clear. The culture of religious life did not change so very much from Theresa's time until the Second Vatican Council. Concepts of blind obedience, episcopal supremacy, personal subjection and the suspension of individual judgment still dominated religious life until 1970. Similarly, myriad stereotypes of women's roles and limitations infused the early development of many of us present day IHMs. Only as we develop new paradigms of religious life, more responsive to the ultimate dignity of the person and to the full potential of women, will we grow to appreciate Mother Theresa as one of God's choicest gifts to the IHM Congregation.

Mother Gonzaga to West Chester IHM Sisters


Villa Maria,
West Chester, Penna.

My dear Child,

Have the kindness to read the following announcement to your community assembled at some convenient time on Sunday, 11th inst.

Having written to Our Most Reverend Archbishop for permission to recall Mother Teresa, His Grace has, by letter given me full power to act in the matter. I am preparing to effect her return in the most quiet manner possible. The necessity of secrecy for the present will, I am sure, appear obvious to every member of the Congregation.

We will now substitute for the "Veni Creator" the 90th Psalm, to be said at Night Prayer, immediately before the offering of the following day's prayers, works, etc.

Believe me in Jesus and Mary,
M. Gonzaga.
Jan. 8, 1885

Mother Theresa to Sister Genevieve

Villa Maria, West Chester
February 7, 1885
Sister M. Genevieve
Ever dear Child

Your kind favor of 4 inst. came duly to hand yesterday and was perused with pleasure. The box of good things was received also, tho' Friday. Mother had a little feast last evening. Many thanks,

I am sorry to hear of Mother Francis, suffering so much with Rheumatism. Did she not try the remedy I wrote to her about sometime ago, which was learned from an indian and which I think would cure her? Anyhow, it would do no harm being simply equal part of sarsaparilla and squaw root infused with gin. Taking a small quantity every day it works in the system.

Words are inadequate to express my joy and grateful feelings to our dear Lord for His great mercies to me in restoring me to my own. I am so happy in being in the Institution, so dear to me and which I had never left in heart, indeed, we have been here in jubilation ever since my arrival. I have received the visits of several missionaries, letters and presents from many.

Notwithstanding my long absence, on arriving, as soon as I had the sight of the Sisters with the habit of the I.H. I felt at home. Mother Superior had had such a fine cell prepared for me, that when taken to it, I was surprised and felt confused, and since, I am loaded with kindness from Mother, and all the Sisters. Every day she brings me something new, I have no chance to practice poverty. It is a great consolation for me to find everything here the same as in the beginning, the rules strictly observed. I am also edified by the fervor of the Community.

In one of your last letters you said that you had not yet got the manual, compiled for the use of the Sisters, Servants of the Imm. Heart, indeed, you ought not to be without it in Scranton, it is complete, having the prayers prescribed for every exercise in the institution; the office of the B.V. and Office for the Dead. I like it very much, it is just the thing we wanted.

Now, I know that you and all the Sisters in Scranton had prayed hard for me, to obtain my deliverance, do then help me in returning thanks to Our Heavenly Father for all His blessings. We can now expect to see one another in this life, in some future time.

Please thank Sister Agatha for the fine book she sent me and the many welcomes she expressed. O how happy, I will be to see her again! ...

I have written and received from Ottawa more than one letter since my arrival, one from the Bishop, from Rev. Father Gaudet, etc. The morning I left, after receiving his last blessing, kissing his cross, I said, Father are you glad that I am going? Yes, he said I am glad you are going home. On thinking of the past tribulations I can hardly realize the change that has taken place. How grateful I feel towards all those who shared in my afflictions and have been the means, by their prayers or otherwise of restoring me to by beloved Community.

Kind and affectionate regards to dear Mother, and every one in the Community, also to my little Genevieve.

Truly yours in the SS Hearts of Jesus and Mary Immaculate
Sr. M. Theresa, C.I.M.


There are ... numerous anomalies of sentence structure [in the following letter] indicating the spontaneous and hurried nature of the writing and the fact that Theresa did not learn English as her first language and had not often written it for the previous twelve years.

Mother Theresa to Sister Genevieve

Convent of the Gray [sic] Nuns
Ottawa October 9, 1881

My dear Child, Sr. M. Genevieve,

Your very welcome letter come duly to hand and was for me a cause of both joy and sorrow. I was glad to learn that I was not forgotten by you and by many others of those ever dear to me, and grieved at so cruel a separation, doubt not that you are all always present in my memory and are objects of my daily prayers, my life here has been a long martyrdom indeed, it is was possible for the Archb. and Bp. to know the extent of the sufferings and unhappiness this state of things brings, the tears that are still flowing, their hearts would be moved to compassion should it be of stone, and all this for what, I could not say! Now that earch [each] diocese has its own Convents and Sisters independent of the others I should think that Bishop O'Hara [first Bishop of Scranton] could grant the permission necessary for my return without Arch Wood's having any thing to say against it, anyhow, he need not know of it, for my part, if I had the happiness of being again with my own I would be very quiet and silent, they need not apprehend any trouble from me, should they be merciful. It is now an old story, the anger of Bp. Lefevere ought to be in oblivion now.

You tell me dear Child, that everyone would like to have me back in the Order in fact, which I never left in heart, for I am now just the same as when I came here, necessity obliges me to wear another habit that is all by you know "L'habit ne fait pas le moine".

Now, why dont you write a petition to Bp. O'Hara. begging my admission and have every Sister in his Diocese write their name at the end in case it was the desire of all. I think you would be capable of doing it should you be chosen to do so in the name of the Superior. You may tell the Bishop that I am but a poor exiled member of the Instition [sic] of the Imm. Heart there is no inconsistency in me, for miserable I have been since; living in hope that Divine Providence would permit me to go back to my own, and pray daily for that object in reciting the Litany of Divine Prov. and many other prayers.

I have written to Father Smuder [sic] on the subject for I know that he has no other wish but that I should be with my Sisters, but got the answer that the Priest in charge of the Sisters, did not seem to care about it. I was not surprised at this from Father Joos, the Order is now altogether in his hands and is considered as his own work and I think he has done well for it is in a very good standing, however, could I return and have my choice I would prefer Pennsylvania to Detroit, havin [sic] been a victim in the transportation of the Order to Philadelphia, for this is the origin of all the trouble.

The Bp. of Detroit had given permission to have a mission in that state and a foundation was made instead, he got angry and on seeing that all the Sisters wanted to follow those that were there, he made the Division in the Order and wrote to Bp. Wood against the Fathers and poor me -- You say that you never gave up hope, I can say the same -- did all I could to make the sacrifice sometimes being told that I ought. Still in the most inmost recess of my soul always indulged the thought that I would not die here and with this strange habit on, I have kept the blue habit of flannel and scapular I wore when I came I sleep with my Rosary, have the same Im. ring on my finger besides, the prayers of the community I say my own privately. Even the good health I enjoy notwithstanding my years has been for me a subject of hope -- It is very seldom any Sister write to me I used to write sometime to one sometime to another and received no answer, and had to be silent even that consolation was denied me for Mother Gonzaga said many years ago that she dared not give my letters to the Sisters nor write to me herself. The good Sr. Ann writes every New Year to Sr. Mary [Whipple] and I, so this is the only sympathy I got, that, I don't know whether is the Bp. or the Superior who gave the privilege Sr. Mary and I are much pleased of it and always expect her letter tho' very short for she does not write herself. Mother Anastasia wrote too some time past I thought she would write again after the retreat. -- You must all have been pleased to have a Redemptorist. --

I am glad you expect to have a new mission, I remember Father Whitty he is a real gentleman, once I had to go to Phila. I think it was with Sr. Ignatia, as it was necessary to stopt [sic] over night Father Hugh [Monaghan] sent him word about it, when we got at his house I found on his table a very polite note regretting of having been obliged to be absent from home but he had charged his housekeeper to take good care of us.

Sr. Mary is in the same city, but not in the same Convent with me. She is in the boarding school and I am at the Motherhouse we often see one another. Her case is altogether different from mine. She is a Gray [sic] Nun since she made a noviciate [sic] and profession here; this I did not I came with my habit and remained as I was could never change. In case I would be able to return home there would be no difficulty on this side, only the want of means, but feel capable on [sic] begging all the way, a thing I never did. I would not leave without the permission of the Bp. here, which I think would be obtained for in [he] knows my painful situation having opened my heart to him at his first pastoral visit in the convent which takes place every year every Sr. has to go speak to his Lordship privately. There has been three visits and each I mention my feelings, all he can do in the matter is to encourage me to bear my cross with patience.

The Sisters here dont understand why my Sisters dont exert themselves and make some effort to remove the obstacles. Tell you dear young Sisters to pray hard to our Blessed Mother teller her that I am in her Imm. Heart. Let those who are learning french study well for when I'll come I will hear their lessons.

Please present my most affectionate remembrance to Mother Francis and thank her for the picture she sent me, accept my thanks for the nice one I received from you. I trust that the Heart of a Mother will help her exiled child.

The Superior here was pleased with your presents and returns her thanks for the same. As for myself I have no pictures here but those that came from my own Sisters of the Im. Heart. I like the Scapulars much the work is so well done making Scapulars and Agnus Deis is one of my employments and at this present there is such a press for the brown Scap. it [is] by the hundreds I have to made [sic] and everyone are [sic] so busy that it is hard to get help. You can judge by that, why my letter is in such confusion, as I wanted to write without delay could not wait until I would have time but had to snatch a little moment in haste therefore it is all broken and even the wrong page was taken and it must be full of mistake. However I fear not of not bein [sic] understood for, by the tone of your letter and the sentiments of affection it contained I doubt not of being understood anyhow this scrawl will be seen only by my dear children in the I.H. as it is with permission of my Confessor I need not show them to the Superior my case is an exception my life here has been that of a religious and [I have] .. observed the rule of this order as punctually as any member. As it is I would wish you to write as soon as possible after you receive this to let me know what foundation you have for [hope] of my return. I think by the little I said the sooner would be the better for many reasons that I cannot mention in writing.

The S. General has many houses to visit so she is often absent and the Assistant Sup. who receives letter in her stead when she is absent is so considerate that when any letter is addressed to me she gives unopened. The Mother is leaving today or tomorrow for perhaps two weeks so by your writing soon you need not think anyone but myself will see it write freely. For the directions to be more sure direct as follows:

Convent of Gray [sic] Nuns
Water Street
Ottawa, Province of Ontario

The Superior of the Boarding School has the name of Theresa of Jesus, so it has happened that letter to my address has been found in the box at her convent and was opened by not taken [sic] tome to read the whole direction. This will not be by mentioning the street as above however your letter came direct I must now conclude I trust that you will write soon my sincere regards to all have no time to read this.

As ever truly and affectionately yours
In the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Sr. Mary Theresa
Servant of Cor Immaculatum Mariae
Nunc et Semper

Had I have time and made the enclosed Agnus Dei purposely to send they would be better but they are the best I have now one for Mother Francis and one for you.

Sr. M. Clotilde Rouillet to Superior General, Grey Nuns in Ottawa

Mother Theresa died on January 14, 1892. In this letter to the Superior General of the Grey Nuns of Ottawa Sr. M. Clotilde Rouillet of the West Chester IHMs relates the details of her dying.

Convent of the I.H.M.
West Chester, Pa.
Feb. 14, 1892

My Reverend Mother,

You have without doubt learned through the letter written to Reverend Father Gaudet, the death of our poor Mother Teresa and of the fervent prayers offered for her by the dear community of Ottawa.... The good Mother never forgot the pure and disinterested charity of which she had been the object in your community after she left ours. If the glass of water given for the love of God has its reward, what blessings have been merited during these 18 years of generous hospitality. Pardon me, my good mother if I have delayed so long to give you details which interest you, I am sure. Our Reverend Mother had asked me to write to you some time ago, but I had lost the address.

Sunday the 10th of January, Mother Theresa was at Holy Mass, received Holy Communion with the Community and took breakfast in the refectory.... In the afternoon, she had chills, we put her to bed and the doctor was called immediately. He pronounced the case as influenza. She did not believe that she was sick, for she was not suffering; she was only tired. Wednesday evening, during recreation, our Reverend Mother came to spend some time with her. She was all Gaiety, conversing, laughing, and she even sang with us in a voice as strong as mine, the verse, "It is the month of Mary." The night was very calm.... But at her age there is always so much danger. Our Mother thought it prudent to have her receive the last Sacraments. Thursday morning the doctor, who arrived earlier than usual, warned us that the end was near. She made her act of resignation to God's Will. The French aspirations that we made for her made her very happy. I remained at her side until the last moment. In the afternoon, the breathing was more painful. The oppression increased more and more. At 5 o'clock, we began the prayers which she answered in a firm voice. Aloud she thanked God for the grace she had received to die in the Community of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. About 8 o'clock, she joined us in prayers until the last moment. She seemed to fall asleep.... but it was in order to awaken in Eternity.

Father Smulders to Sr. Genevieve(?)

While Mother Theresa was still living, the question arose as to whether she could be regarded as a founder. In the following letter, Father Smulders responds.

Church of The Most Holy Redeemer
Detroit, Nov, 8th, 1891
I received your kind letter, beautiful pictures and very kind wishes of August 29th, with real heartfelt pleasure. My delay in answering is not indifference, for I think of you every day and every Sister Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Pennsylvania is in my memento at Holy Mass every time I say it. I have long wished to see you all at your annual retreat but it seems not the be the Will of God. His Holy Will be done!

You wish to know who is the founder of your Congregation? Father Louis Gilet [sic] brought Mother Theresa and Sister Ann from Baltimore to Monroe, he wrote a sketch of the Rule, Father Francis Poilvache, a man of God inspired them with the true Religious spirit. Mother Theresa received Sister Alphonsine and Sister Celestine and they made their profession under her. When I succeeded Father Gilet in 1847, I took charge of them by authority of the Bishop. I blessed their new house on the feast of our Mother Immaculate, and then at the request of Mother Theresa and the Community, I announced that henceforward their name was "Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary." The Bishop afterwards approved of it. Mother Theresa asked my consent to give the Sisters the blue scapular. I consented; then to change the black habit to sky blue. I consented and blessed them (the habits). We Redemptorists helped them to perfect the Rule according to our own Rules, and Father Poirier, who succeeded me did the same.

Ergo: Mother Theresa is the founder with help of the Redemptorist Fathers. --I begin my retreat of ten days, tomorrow. Pray for me. I pray for you.

Truly yours, in J. & M.
E. Smulders, C.SS.R.

Keeping a SecretIn 1928 Rev. Hugh J. duffy, SSJ initiated inquiries about Theresa's connections with the Oblates. The following letters record correspondence with one of the IHM superiors general.

Father Duffy to IHM Superior General, Monroe

November 25, 1928

Venerable Mother Superior
Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Elm Avenue
Monroe, Michigan

Venerable and dear Mother Superior:

I am engaged in compiling the history of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. In studying the affairs of the order I find here a connections between the Oblates and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am enclosing some of the data which I have in my possession which leads me to make this statement.

Your own work "The Sisters of the IHM" does not make clear this connection. Under the date of Jan. 17, 1914, Mother M. Mechtildis through her secretary, wrote to the Superior of the Oblates, seeking information concerning Ann Constance, Ann Schaef or Schaefer and Theresa Maxis. She mentions "they came to Monroe in 1845" and asks "were they postulants or novices of your congregation?" These names appearing in your book noted above and also the annals of the Oblates, together with the names of Frs. Gilet, Zackert, and others, seem to confirm the statement contained in the account which I enclose.

Will you help me to settle this point? In justice to the Oblate Sisters it is necessary to show why one of the founders withdrew. If Sister Theresa and Ann Constance, former Oblates of Providence, founded your wonderful Order then the Oblates should share in the glory. From the historical standpoint what has been stated is either true or not true. The data in the archives of the Oblates leads [sic] us to believe it is true. This point should be settled only on evidence of a most trustworthy nature. Dr. Guilday, who has a deep interest in your Order, advised me to secure what information I could from you so that the matter might be truthfully and justly presented. You may be sure that I shall submit that portion of my manuscript which concerns the IHMs to you before publication. May I depend on you for an early reply?

Sincerely yours in Christ
Hugh J. Duffy, SSJ



Mother Domitilla to Father Duffy

Dec. 5, 1928

Rev. Hugh J. Duffy, S.S.J.
Epiphany Apostolic College
Newburg, NY

Rev. Dear Father:

In response to your kind letter permit me to say that it is evident that Mother M. Mechtildis did not receive a reply to the inquiry she made in January 1914 since there is no letter on file regarding the subject. We have reason to believe that our sister Theresa was not the same as Sister Maria Theresa (Almaide) Duchemin as all our records give "Maxis" as the family name of the former.

We regard the Reverend Louis Florent Gillet as the founder of our Community He wrote the first Rule which was based on that of St. Alphonsus and approved by Right Rev. Bishop Lefevere. In justice we must state that we owe the support and progress of the order, during the first ten years of its existence to the Redemptorists. They changed both the name and the holy habit.

Some years ago probably at the time of M. Mechtilde's letter, a Sulpician who was writing an account of the Oblate Sisters requested information. We asked him to please not refer to the Immaculate Heart Sisters in his article. Our Eastern Sisters are most anxious that no reference ever be made to this connection since the bitter attack made by a certain Fr. Slattery possibly familiar to you, we are convinced that silence is the fairest, wisest and most agreeable way of committing to oblivion this subject.

Very sincerely yours,
Mother M. Domitilla
Servant of Mary