franscican sisters

Just two years after the death of Very Reverend Benito Fernandez, Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica from 1837 to 1855, the first Franciscan Sisters arrived from Glasgow, Scotland, at the request of his successor, the Very Reverend James Dupreyron, S.J., and through the influence of Reverend Joseph Howell, S.J.

As the history of the Church has so often proved, the seed of a new foundation must be sown in the soil of poverty in order to yield a rich harvest in later years. Thus it was with the beginnings of the Franciscan mission in Jamaica.  After harrowing experiences on the long sea voyage, the first Sisters disembarked at Kingston on November 5, 1857. they were four in number, Mother Veronica, the Superior, Sisters Paula, Philomena, and DeSales. On their arrival they had but 2/6 in their possession. They soon found friends, however, among the fine Catholic laymen of Kingston. Their first benefactor, Hon. Richard O’Reilly, sent them ten pounds, and Mr. Henry Vendryes made available his home on East Queen Street, where the Gaiety Theatre now stands, as their first convent. In January 1858, they opened there a boarding and day school for girls, the Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

It was not long before the daughters of some of the most prominent families in Jamaica were called to imitate the noble sacrifices of those early Franciscans, and they were joined by the two D’Aquin sisters, Sister Mary Clare and Sister Mary Joseph, whose generous father, Mr. Henry D’Aquin, gave as their dowry the twenty-five acre “Pen” called Morengo Park. The Sisters renamed it “Alvernia,” but it became familiarly known as “Nuns’ Pen.” They were followed by Sis. Sacred Heart (Miss Duverger), Sister Xavier (Miss Chevolleau), and Sister Francis (Miss Elise Branday). The last mentioned Sister after spending fifteen fruitful years was the first nun to die in God’s service in Jamaica. In 1857, Miss Grant and Miss Fillipi, two students at the Academy, became Sister Mary Teresa and Sister Mary Conception.

Meanwhile, Mother Veronica, the foundress, after a term of five years had been forced, because of ill health, to return to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels in Tourcoing, France, the Motherhouse from which she had gone to make a foundation in Glasgow, Scotland in 1847. The Motherhouse in Scotland had been unable to send any more Sisters after the first group, and for this reason an appeal was made by the Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica, Very Rev. Thomas Porter, S.J., to the Very Rev. Leo Da Saracena, O.F.M., Provincial of the Friars Minor of North America, who in turn placed the matter before Reverend Mother Teresa of Allegany, New York, Mother General of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, a Congregation founded by the Very Rev. Pamphilus da Magliano, O.F.M., in 1859. Her missionary zeal motivated her decision to take over this foreign mission at a time when the Allegany community was itself just emerging from its pioneer stage. Thus, in January 1879, when Sister M. Dominica, Sister M. Veronica and Sister M. Raphael set sail from New York harbour, the Allegany Franciscans became the first group of American Sisters to undertake a foundation on foreign soil.


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