Early days in Philadelphia

Mother Rose White

Mother Rose White, leader of the first group of Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s to serve in Philadelphia. After Elizabeth Seton’s death in 1821 Mother Rose served as the community’s superior.

(Image of Mother Rose White and passage from Mother Rose White journal used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

The journal of Mother Rose White gives us a glimpse into the work of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s during their earliest days at St. Joseph Orphan Asylum in Philadelphia. Yesterday’s post provided a passage from the journal. Today, we continue with Mother Rose’s recollections.

We took possession of the Asylum on the 6th of Oct & our kind benefactress, Mrs. Montgomery, who was the President of the Lady Managers, & the true Mother of Charity towards the Orphans & Sisters. The Asylum was in debt $5,000. The subscriptions for its support were few; the embargo made goods double price, & it was often told us to reflect that the sum allowed for support was only $600 a year. They had no occasion to remind us, for our fears were so great that we would not be able to make out that for 3 months; we never ate bread for dinner, but used potatoes; no sugar in our coffee which was made of corn. As the poor children had not been accustomed to get any sugar in their morning beverage; breakfast was weak coffee & dry bread, sugar being very high. However, Rev. Mr. Hurley hearing of our not using sugar, commanded us to use it, & some was sent. We found the children lying 3 & 4 in a bed. Notwithstanding the embargo which caused such hard times, yet God in his mercy sent means, & we made out to get separate beds for the children. We had both boys and girls which we regretted much, but it was told us that it was so because no means offered for a separation, & it was with much difficulty it was effected to keep them as they were, but should means offer, the intention was to form separate establishments. The truly good lady who may be styled the Orphans’ Mother, Mrs. Montgomery, did all in her power & was always employed, whether in her chamber or her parlor sewing & knitting stockings for the orphans. She presented us the first winter with twenty seven pairs of her own work; the most of our children were small, & the boys’ stockings were short ones. The children had scarcely a 2d change. The Ladies Society had just been formed to assist the Managers, & it was they who paid the traveling expenses of the Sisters to Phila., & pd the salary of each Sister – $36 a year, & found them in shoes. We were going on with many fears that the sum allowed wd not suffice & then both Sisters & children had barely necessaries. When we wd go to market, much time was spent in trying to procure the cheapest articles. It appeared that a merchant on the same street as the market, who had been watching us, wrote us a letter, begging us not to be so sparing in our purchases; that if at the end of the year we found the sum allowed by the trustees would not meet our expenses, we might call on him for any reason able sum which he would cheerfully give, & begged us to go on with our arduous task. He had not signed his letter, but told us by applying to Miss Cauffman, one of our lady managers, wd tell us who to apply to. We found out afterwards the name of this good gentleman was Mr. Springer who at the end of the year pd a grocery bill of $8, though we had not expended the $600. Sometimes when we wd return from early Mass during the week & wd find a barrels of flour at our kitchen door; sometimes the kitchen table strewn with the produce of the market. Some of our kind friends would leave us to guess which of them it was. Mr. Ashley was one of the most liberal. When we first arrived in the city, finding us clothed in heavy, thick flannel … he went to Miss Cauffman & put five gold pieces in her hand & begged her to go & purchase bombazette & have it made up for us, that it would never do for us to wear such clothing. Happily before Miss C purchased the stuff, she spoke to us. We told her it would never be accepted by us & begged she would not put Mr. Ashley to so useless an expense. Finding they could not prevail, they begged Mr. Cooper who was in the city, to write to our Suprs. to insist on our wearing bombazette. Our Mother answered the letter thanking them, yet assuring them that our dress could not be altered so they said no more.

During this first year we were afraid to call on the Managers & continued to beg alms for the orphans, knowing the house to be in debt. We lived mostly on potatoes, & our fires were mostly of tan from the tan yard. One morning we had but 12 2 cents in the house. We sent one of the orphans to market to beg a shin of beef, if she could get one; it was washing day & we could not go ourselves. In about two or three hours, little Maurice returned with a large piece of beef, her 12 ½ cents, & a half dollar besides, telling us that a little old woman who kept a butcher’s stall asked her if she was not one of the orphans from near Trinity Church. On her answering yes, she gave her the above & told her whenever we were in want to send to her. We made good use of her kind offer & recd large pieces of good meat for the Asylum. One day, in the octave of Corpus Christi the blessed Sacrament was exposed, one of the Sisters was making her fervent supplications for help, as we were told it was likely the sheriff would come & sell the house over our heads. When we returned from church we found our kind little benefactress, who gave us the meat, seated in the parlor. It was the first time she had visited us, renewed her friendly offer, and gave us ten dollars. This was a great help. Soon after this the embargo was raised, the city illuminated [p29] & the public rejoicing was followed by an overflow of business, & the market glutted. The time to give in our account came, & to our great joy we found we had called but for $400. The $200 remaining, we claimed as our due, in case the next year we could not make out with the $600. allowed. The Managers much pleased; the money remained in their hands. What with our cash donations, charity box donations & eatables, we had made out with the above sum.

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Filed under Ministries, Sisters of Charity Federation, Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, Social Work

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