A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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by Sister Thomas Marie McMahon, C.S.J., B.A.


Establishments of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Other

Parts fo the Territory of Arizona, 1873-1890

The Mission San Xavier del Bac was the first work undertaken by the pioneer Sisters outside of the city of Tucson. This was the home of the Papago tribe, those faithful Indians who had protected their ancient church, "The White Dove of the Desert", from the onslaughts of the Apaches and other destructive forces since the beginning of the Mexican Republican era in 1822. One of the most demoralizing measures of the new regime had been the secularization of the missions. Hence, for more than fifty years, San Xavier had been without a resident priest, and in fact, many years had passed before the mission began to be infrequently visited by one of the diocesan clergy from Tucson.

Although the San Xavier Mission Indians had soon abandoned the civilized way of life so laboriously imparted during a century of work by the mission fathers, they never forgot their Spanish hymns and prayers, nor the fact that they were Christians. These were handed down to their children and thus kept alive. Nevertheless, it is true, that 'in the course of time many of the truths of our holy Faith came to be confused with pagan superstition and were but vague traditions to the younger Indians.

Since the reservation was under the protection of the United States Government, an Indian agent was delegated to manage its affairs. In his frequent visits to Tucson, he had observed the conscientious and unselfish work being done by the Sisters of St. Joseph. He was convinced that they, if anyone, could educate the Indians at San Xavier. Consequently, in 1873, he asked Bishop Salpointe to help him in this matter. 

The idea met with the Bishop's immediate approval. It had always been a source of great worry to him that he was unable to station a priest at the mission or even visit it frequently. The presence of the Sisters, their religious instructions and training, and the example of their self-sacrificing lives would do much toward saving these faithful sows. It was out of the question to deplete the small community at San Agustin's in order to obtain the Sisters for the mission.

Consequently, on his way to settle the affair with the Department of the Interior, he stopped at Carondelet to petition for additional Sisters. These were ready to accompany him on his return trip. Their overland trek, by way of Denver, Trinidad, and Santa Fe, was recounted earlier. Only one of the new missionaries, Sister Francesca Kelly, was chosen to join two of the veterans, Mother Maxine Croisant and Sister Euphrasia at San Xavier's Indian School, which had opened in December, 1873, a month before her arrival.

Although the mission buildings were in a ruinous condition, the Government repaired several rooms in the mission cloister for the use of the Sisters and for classrooms. There is very little material on hand regarding the labor and experiences of the Sisters during the three years the school was in existence, but it is not difficult to conjecture what went on. Physically and spiritually there was much to contend with. The isolation of the mission surrounded as it was by endless miles of sand and sagebrush; the terrible silence of the place at night, broken only by the howl of coyotes or the gutteral muttering of the Indians; the lack of sanitation and utter repulsiveness of many of the Indians; their own complete ignorance of the Papago language; the deprivation of daily Mass and Holy Communion, were some of the circumstances which tried their perseverance and courage. But, in spite of them, the school was progressing prosperously when a sudden order from Washington ended it abruptly.

...This school, which at the beginning had to be taught through the medium of an interpreter, was giving surprising results when, of the 1st of April, 1876, it was closed by order of the government owing to the consolidation of the Papago agency with that of the Pimas.1

Thus, after indescribable labor and self-sacrifice, the Sisters were forced to leave their children of the desert and return to the academy in Tucson. The consolidation of the two tribes rather than being a benefit to the Papagos was a detriment. No provision was made for their education and they promptly reverted to their former low state. 

For twelve years this condition persisted until, in 1888, Bishop Bourgade begged the Sisters to return to San Xavier. This time they were not being hired by the government and consequently could expect no remuneration for their service. The Congregation generously accepted his invitation and three new missionaries were chosen: Mother Florence Benigna O'Reilly, Sister Agnes Orosco, and Sister Bernadette Smith. Sister Bernadette has left an account of the events of their first day at the mission:

When we arrived at the mission the carpenters were building a little dormitory and community room for us. Since they were not finished, we were obliged to fix lip an old room in the monastery which had not been used for a hundred years or more. The first thing Mother did was to get several pans of sulpher, and kept it burning in this room for several days and nights to oust the centipedes, scorpions, matavenados and tarantulas, etc., which had nested for years and years. The result was that they began to fall half-dead upon the floor, from the dried mud which formed the ceiling.2

The rest of the day was spent in an examination of their surroundings and in attempts to make the acquaintance of the Indians. The homes of the latter were objects of special interest. These wigwam-like "wickiups", constructed of mud and straw were oval at the top. There were no windows and the only entrance was a small opening near the ground. Admittance to the hut could be gained only by crawling through this opening on hands and knees. Such became a common experience for the Sisters as they made the rounds of the mission visiting and caring for the sick and assisting at the death beds of numerous poor Indians. Mother Aquinas Duffy, who spent over forty years at San Xavier, refers to this:

... In order to seek admittance into one, it was necessary to crawl in through a little opening near the ground, which was neither easy nor agreeable. It was so dark when inside that it was necessary to feel until you found the sick person. Cleanliness and work alike were unknown to them.3

The children were very scantily clothed and were filthy beyond description, I indictment against their lazy and improvident mothers who spent their time playing games or engaging in tribal dances on the mountains while their children ran wild about the village. The Sisters seemed very strange to them that first day, and in fact, for many days after, they continued to shy away from them. As night drew on and the -workmen prepared to go back to Tucson, without realizing it the three sisters must have betrayed their apprehension at being abandoned by the only white persons within a radius of many miles. Sister Bernadette's account relates:

...Within an hour Mr. McClary returned and said, "Sisters, I haven't the heart to leave you here alone." So he put his cot outside the window a little distance from us and said, "I'll take good care of you tonight. Do not be afraid." We appreciated his kindness very much indeed.4

A thorough examination of the huge mission plant with its crumbling walls and piles of debris made one fact clear to the Sisters. If they expected to conduct a school and teach these wild, improvident people even the rudiments of cleanliness and order, the accumulated filth of half a century would have to be cleared out. Load upon load of debris was hauled out of the mission with no better equipment than a shovel and bucket. It is no wonder that in four months' time the Superior was so exhausted and broken in health that she was replaced by Mother Aquinas Duffy, whose first impression of the place was:

How can I ever do, or live here? Every part was so dilapidated. The church was infested with bats, the priest could hardly offer up the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The floor and walls were in a most deplorable condition; it was a common thing to see large snakes and other reptiles creeping around. But with a brave heart I shut my eyes to the surroundings.5

By January, 1889, the schoolrooms were clean and ready for occupancy and Sister Bernadette was placed in charge while Mother and Sister Agnes went around the reservation trying to coax the children to come to school. Gradually their reticence and fear wore away, and the difficulty then became to make them return home. The very first lessons, needless to say, were on cleanliness and neatness. Water for this and for all other purposes had to be hauled from a well located about a city block from the mission.

The Sisters had no resident chaplain, nor for a long time was the Blessed Sacrament reserved at the mission. One of the priests from Tucson came out on the second and fourth Sundays and on Thursdays to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On the first and third Saturdays the horse and wagon was sent from the hospital to take the Sisters in to Tucson for Mass. Many thrilling tales are on record of these bi-weekly trips--of the crossing of swollen streams, of run-away horses, etc. The little wagon was loaded with provisions 60fon the return trip as the Sisters were very poor and depended upon the institutions in town for their support. Their desire for a private chapel was at last realized:

We longed for a little chapel where we might say our prayers and have our dear Lord in the Blessed Sacrament with us. One day Bishop Bourgade came out to see us, so he and Mother started out looking for he best place for a chapel. To our great joy they found a poor little room upstairs in the tower and decided that this room would be best for a little chapel. We started in to clean it up, shoveling out the dirt, dusting the walls, etc. the best we could, and fixed it up nicely with several donations from our good Sisters in town. Then I must say we did feel happy.6

As the years passed remarkable changes began to be noted on the reservation. The Sisters had become skilled in the Papago language and after spending long hours in the classroom and dispensary, the evenings were given to preparing the older Indians for the reception of the Sacraments. Within the first two years ninety-two adults were baptized and made their First Holy Communion. The men and women were persuaded to give up their games and instead till the soil and care for their homes and families. The Sisters became not only the teachers, but also the doctors, nurses, and spiritual advisers of the whole reservation. It was they, who in the absence of the priest, closed the eyes of the dying Indian and officiated at his funeral. At their insistence and encouragement, the women were taught what should have been instinctively theirs, the art of molding pottery and weaving baskets.

In the archives at Carondelet are numerous letters written by Mother Aquinas when this transformation was being effected. By perusing them one can follow the gradual change taking place on the reservation. It is worthy of comment that each one contains a note of thanks to the Superiors at Carondelet for gifts for the Indians, clothing and supplies for the Sisters, and money to purchase food, not only for the Sisters, but also for the children's noon meal. It was not until 1910 that the school received any Government support. The joys and sorrows, failures and successes, and every-day happenings of the mission are all faithfully recorded. Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi, and above all their patronal feast of St. Francis Xavier, each had its distinctive religious ceremony in the morning and simple entertainment in the afternoon. The celebration of the last named feast was the most elaborate of the year. For weeks ahead preparations were in progress. The mission church would receive a thorough cleaning--the altars washed, rough pews dusted, headless and battered statues refurbished, St. Francis' splintered form cleaned and dress in freshly starched white vestments. Finally the three day celebration would take place presided over and directed by twelve chiefs chosen from the tribe each year. After Mass on the feast these twelve would reverently take the flag to St. Francis and pledge to carry on the celebration the following year. The Bishop never missed the feast and pontificated at the Mass and Benediction of the third day. After the spiritual exercises were completed the rest of the day was given over to playing games, feasting, and dancing. In one of her letters, Mother Aquinas includes the following:

... The Indians are very busy preparing for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, as usual working hard for it. The Bishop will present the chief of the Feast with a black ebony gold-headed cane which I am sure will please them very much. They are heart and soul in the work. It is the only pleasure they have all year.7

The fiftieth anniversary number of the TUCSON CITIZEN gives the following tribute to the trans formation which was effected at San Xavier's through the labor of the pioneer group and their successors: 

The Papago village of San Xavier is today a village of homes and farms. The blankets, the wickiups, the squalor are all gone and in their stead are houses, modern homes, and cleanliness.

The school is a thing of pride, not of torture to their children and parents. They have their own choir, their own club, their own social recreation, of American origin.

... The golden anniversary of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet can have no brighter or more honorable feature, as it is observed, than the stupendous work under superhuman odds out at San Xavier. There is, perhaps, no record of like achievement with like instruments on like objects in the history of the United States8

In 1886, Reverend Mother Agatha Guthrie was petitioned by Rev. J.A. Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, to supply a number of Sisters to the Fort Yuma Indian School. Reverend Mother, because of her many visits to the West, had complete knowledge of the past history and the contemporary activities of the Yuma tribe. She was favorably impressed by neither. Their reservation of forty-five thousand acres stretching along the California side of the Colorado River was almost entirely desert land. Without doubt, much of their ferocity and animosity towards the whites was due to the fact that it was almost impossible to eke out a living on their arid soil. The tribe, numbering approximately one thousand members, was solidly pagan. To their ancestors belongs the rather questionable fame of having massacred the beloved Padre Garces, his priest companions, and the small Spanish colony which was settled on the site of the Fort. The Yumas had conceived an implacable hatred for the white man since that time and had resisted every effort to Christianize them and educate them.

In 1852, in order to make overland travel safe for many Americans going west and to keep the Yumas in check, a fort manned by a garrison of American soldiers was erected by the United States Government on an elevation overlooking the Colorado River. It consisted of about a dozen large one-story adobe cottages, arranged in the form of a arallelogram, with a courtyard in the center. Fort Yuma maintained its military character until 1884 when the soldiers were withdrawn, and its control passed from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. The Yuma Reservation was established by an executive order on January 9, 1884.10

Although the Yumas had been submissive during the period of military occupation, it was through fear rather than the civilizing influence of the American soldier. They were as unreliable and as completely pagan at the end of the thirty-two years of military rule as before. The next attempt of the Government to civilize and Americanize the Yumas was the establishment of a school in the vacated barracks. This, likewise, was an absolute failure. The lack of sympathy of the teachers for the pupils was quickly sensed and resented. Finally, when the enrollment had dropped to seven pupils, the Indian Commissioner, John H. Overly, appealed to Father Stephan for a group of Catholic nuns to take over the school. 

Reverend Mother Agatha refused Father Stephan's request because of certain difficulties she felt were insurmountable: 1. since the Yumas were savage papans, she deemed it necessary that a priest be appointed to direct the school and minister to the spiritual needs of the Sisters; 2. due to the fact that it was a government school, the Sisters would not be free to teach religion and, as a result, would be merely school teachers; 3. the agent at Fort Yuma was a Protestant, and she felt this would be a further obstacle to the success of the Sisters. Her reply was brought to the attention of Father Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., who immediately dispatched a lengthy refutation of her arguments: 1. the Sisters could be easily provided with a chaplain from the East, one who would tend to their spiritual needs but would exercise no authority in the school; 2. the Sisters would be free to give religious instructions, since the attitude of the government was favorable to this practice; 3. the Sisters are not under the agent but under the control of the school superintendent, hence the religion of the former could not affect them. In his conclusion he remarked:

.. If that school gets into Protestant hands and those Indians become non-Catholics, I do not think Our Lord would overlook the matter. Please to reconsider the case and make a trial anyway.11

Consequently, against her own wishes and with a certain sense of foreboding, Mother Agatha accepted the school. Her assistant, Mother Julia Littenecker, was at the time making a visitation of the western houses. She, in company with Sister Ambrosia O'Neil, the future superior at Fort Yuma, took up residence in Yuma, Arizona on March 16, 1886 to await the formal transfer of the school from the Colorado Agency. This did not take place, however, until May 1.12

During the many weeks of weary waiting, the time was spent in becoming acquainted with the Indians and in sizing up conditions at the Fort across the River. Although the Yumas were pagan and guilty of many vices, they had been taught by their chief, Pasqual, to hate lying, stealing, and drinking. Mother Julia, in one of the many letters written during this period of waiting, describes their first meeting with the dignified, white-haired old chief:

We went yesterday across the bridge to see Chief pasqual. He received its with marks of great respect and kissed our hands. The Indians were looking on in astonishment ... Himself and his squaw were dressed in Adam's fashion; so are the generality of the Yumas. And Oh! their faces are beauties--enough to scare anyone who does not view beneath them an immortal soul. 'Tis true, they are not devoid of natural beauty and grace of form, but they spoil it by their horrid painting.13

Another of Mother Julia's letters contains a graphic description of Fort Yuma and its surroundings: 

I do not know wether you visited the Fort during your visit to Yuma. The view from it is just magnificent. The Sisters will have an eye on the whole Indian reservation which stretches along the Colorado for 20 miles, and it is said to be 4 miles wide. They can see the confluence of the Colorado and the Gila Rivers, back of the hill on which the Fort is built. The contrast between the view of the town and that from the Fort on the lovely valley beneath, is very striking. I cannot help thinking, that the Sisters going there, will be pleased, apart from the pleasure which the thought or hope of their probable success in their mission may afford them.

But now to the buildings destined for the future habitation of your daughters. There is certainly a great deal of wreck and ruin. Yet some are in a tolerable good state of preservation. They have been well-constructed and several of them have also been well finished in casings, ceilings, and flooring. There is one separate building, occupied at present by the lady teacher and her assistants. It has eight fine rooms and stands in front of and in view of all the other buildings around, forming as it were a center, and yet it is at a sufficient distance from the rest. We thought Our Lord's Providence had designed this house for a little cloister for St. Joseph's daughters. From this place, they can have a full view of the group of buildings constituting the Fort, the beautiful valley of the Colorado and the Gila Rivers, the entire town of Yuma with the hills beyond.14

On May 1, 1886 the five Sisters, who with Mother Ambrosia were to form the Fort Yuma Community, arrived from Tucson. Under the escort of Father Juan Chaucot, pastor of Yuma, Arizona, they took up their residence in the building mentioned above, which they named El Monte de Buena Esperanza, The Mount of Good Hope. Rather than the resentful attitude accorded their lay predecessors, the Yumas extended an enthusiastic welcome to the Sisters. To show their pleasure at having the latter with them, the boys vied with one another in clearing the buildings of accumulated debris and in scrubbing the floors, etc.15 Since the government did not supply furniture for the living quarters of its employees, the Sisters had to improvize until the necessary articles--beds, etc.--arrived from Tucson. Each building of the Fort was set aside for a certain purpose. The best-preserved was selected as the chapel; several others were set aside for classrooms and dormitories for the boarders; the remaining few as laundry, bakery, and workshops.

Chief Pasqual trusted the Sisters implicitly. During their interval of waiting to take possession of the Fort, he had had several meetings with them in which he told them among other things that:

... he would do his part toward us; that if we came to do them good, he would be good to us, and would also teach his people to be good to us; that hitherto many fine promises had been made to him and his people by persons sent by the Government, but these were not carried out, and now he would like to see proofs, he had been so often disappointed.16

Being convinced by what he saw and heard that the Sisters were working in the interest of the Yumas and not for personal gain, he summoned his tribesmen from all parts of the reservation to a great council, which was to take place in the courtyard of the Fort. Mother Julia's description of what occurred on the third day is quite realistic:

... The Yumas all kept gathering from early morning; at about ten, Pasqual sent word to the Sisters, that he would like to have them present. They went out among them, and I assure you, they were mustered well by all the braves of the Yuma Nation. Pasqual's interpreter, a Mojave Indian, seems to have taken a great liking to the Sisters. He speaks Yuma, Spanish, and English well.17

Through the medium of the interpreter they learned that he was not only urging, but commandng his tribesmen to send their children to the school taught by the Sisters because they were from God and would bring good to the tribe. He informed them further that the Sisters were not like other women, but that they were God's own women and were superior to all. 

The school was formally opened on May 5, 1886 with fifty-nine pupils in attendance, forty-six boys and thirteen girls. Each day found the number increasing.18 In a letter to Mother St. John dated May 13, 1886, Mother Julia was able to report on the first week's progress of their dusky charges:

They knew nothing of English when we commenced last week; and now, they know by heart how to make the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, and the fundamentals of the Catechism. They are fond of singing, (though I assure you, they had never been used to anything except wild yells.) Yet they have already learned to sing O Sanctissima, 0 Piisinma, which together with a hymn in honor of the Sacred Heart, they sing every evening at the foot of the flagstaff which we have entitled "Our Lady's Post."19

The Sisters of St. Joseph were to direct the Fort Yuma Indian School for fourteen years. Through a careful study of the voluminous and detailed correspondence dealing with every event which took place during those years one may piece together the whole story with its lights and shadows. Before the Sisters had ever taken possession of the Fort, Mother Julia and Mother Ambrosia had perceived the bigoted hostility of many of the white citizens of Yuma. So long as Chief Pasqual remained alive there was not too much danger of the Indians becoming infected by the virus of distrust and hate. Through his actions they were encouraged to embrace Christianity. He had exhibited a curiosity about the Sisters' God and had received instructions during the entire first year. When Mother Ambrosia perceived that his end was drawing near she brought up the question of his Baptism:

... Pasqual had been ill for some time, and I was not a little uneasy fearing he would die. Just two weeks ago tonight I promised myself I would send for him and ask if he wanted to be baptized. He came and our good Bill interpreted for me. I told him he was not going to live long, and would he not like to be baptized and go to heaven. After thinking a few moments, he asked, "Do you think it will be good for me?" I answered, "Yes.' He at once consented, and told me to tell him when I wished it to take place, for me to appoint the day. I consulted Father Chaucot, and we selected May first, it being our anniversary, also the feast of our good father, St. Joseph. Pasqual came to the Fort and remained with us after I had asked him, and we hoped he would be able to come to our little chapel to be baptized, but he was not. His feet were very much swollen and his strength exhausted. Father performed the ceremony in his room, and it was truly edifying and most consoling to witness it. He seemed truly to desire it, and wished to do everything just as Father directed. I was greatly censured by some of the Indians for proposing it to Pasqual, but he rebuked them saying he knew what he was doing.20

In the same letter is found an account of his funeral which took place on May 9:

... Poor old Pasqual, we feel that we have lost a friend in him. They kept his body five hours, (usual time, two). From the hill we saw the funeral rite, and it as indeed curious. During the past week he was robed just as hey wished him to be when dead. He wore a green silk scarf having a large rosette in the center, around about his head, Being in his younger days a brave warrior, and having gone to many battles, his equipment was placed near him. These consisted of his horse, a bell, war plume, spear, and bow and arrow. Before burning the body, they went through a program similar to what was customary with them when going to war. Two horses were decked in gaudy trimmings and two men appointed to ride them, one his own son, the other a companion of his youth. The son wore his father's war plume, etc. They rode tip and down past the corpse four times, and two shots were fired, the signal for battle. After some time they dismounted and the horses were led to the spot where a man was prepared to slay them. Fine-spirited animals they were, but with a stroke of an ax they fell and were buried in a hole prepared beforehand, and over this spot Pasqual was placed on the funeral pile, together with all they had: clothing, implements, food, everything. The pile was then put ablaze, and in a few minutes there was but a small heap of ashes. The crying and lamenting were terrible to hear. It made us feel very sad but at the same time, we were happy to think he had received such a great grace in his last hours and died an old saint. May he intercede with our dear Lord for his poor pagan tribe.21

Pasqual's successor, Miguel, was a pagan. His followers, also pagans, had resented the Sisters' presence at the Fort. Now with their leader in power they intended to get rid of them. In spite of the difficulties and annoyance they caused the Sisters, wonderful results, both spiritual22 and temporal were taking, place. Visits from officers of the Indian School Service invariably evoked commendatory reports.23 The classrooms filled with neatly clothed children busily at work, the sewing rooms, workshops, sleeping apartments, dining, room, dispensary--all received their share of praise. The school was supported by the government. Hence, nothing in the way of supplies and equipment was lacking. Poverty was not the cross that had to be borne at Fort Yuma.

As was noted earlier, the greatest trial sustained by the Sisters through the years was the bitter antagonism of a low white element in Yuma, who sought every opportunity of proselytizing the young Christian Yumas and of dishonoring the Sisters. Miguel's pagan group on the Reservation became permeated with this spirit and put every obstacle in their way. Typical of the cowardly attacks on the Sisters was an anonymous letter to the editor of the ARGONAUT, a San Francisco newspaper. It was published on Nov.15, 1886 under the title, "A Governmental Nunnery at Fort Yuma"; we quote in part:

... Through the influence of the wife of General Sherman, the Yuma Indian School, a school established for the educating of the children of the Yuma Indians, has been placed under the management of the Sisters of St. Joseph, under the principalship of one Sister Mary O'Neil Ambrose who signs herself Mary O'Neil and who no doubt is carried on the payrolls under that name. 

... Comments or complaint upon the action of the Department in educating Indians in the Catholic faith would be treated with silent contempt by those in authority or at the head of the department, but, nevertheless the existence of this state of affairs is galling in the extreme to true American citizens, and silent muttering may develop into public indignation.

In contrast to this attack it is well to note that from time to time the progress of the Fort Yuma School was commended in local newspapers and popular periodicals of the day. One of them noted:

... Now the Yuma walks the streets of the city of Yuma clothed in the garb of the white man or woman. The school is a perfect success; it numbers about 152 boys and girls from the ages of six to eighteen. The children are in class from nine to half-past three, with intervening recess, They are taught the ordinary branches of the public schools, besides manual labor and trades for the boys, and all the branches of sewing and domestic duties for the girls--the latter being able to cut and make their own clothing and that of the boys...These good Sisters work from early morning until late at night instilling into the clouded minds of these children ideas of God and civilization.24

From a well-known Catholic periodical: 

... It took three centuries to make Rome Christian and the Sisters have been laboring among the Yumas but eight short years. When, after Benediction, I heard the Indian boys singing harmoniously the Laudate Dominum, I said to myself that God would in His mercy and good time hear this invitation, and that he would call to His light even at the eleventh hour, the once ferocious and mighty tribe of the Yuma Indians.25

Strictly speaking, the period under consideration in this study ends in 1890, but it would be well to summarize the events which took place at Fort Yuma between 1890 and the withdrawal of the Sisters in 1900. Because Miguel was definitely proving himself a bad chief he was deposed in May, 1893. Most of the Yumas, recognizing his defects, had signified to the Indian inspector their willingness to choose a new chief.26 Immediately his faction blamed the Sisters for his deposition and removed their children from the school. More shameful still, to show his contempt for the training in virtue the Sisters had been giving their daughters, Miguel took a number of these young girls across 15 the river to Yuma and sold them to the highest bidder.27 The following excerpt from one of Mother Ambrosia's letters relative to the incident demonstrates to what lengths those who were bigoted against the Church were ready to go:

Miguel has been very applauded by the people belonging to the Church of the New Era in Los Angeles. They told them that they would send him a token of respect for the late action lie took against the Sisters' school at Fort Yuma.28

Miguel was determined to be reinstated in his office as chief, but was convinced such could not be effected as long as the Sisters were at the Fort. If El Capitan, the Indian boys' favorite name for Mother Ambrosia, could be done away with the other Sisters would leave and Miguel would once more be chief. The murder was planned for the night of October 27, 1893, but Mother Ambrosia, because of the suspicious actions of Miguel's followers, stationed two Sisters in each building with the children. An remained awake awaiting the attack which might occur at any moment. Several times during the night the murderers came as far as the convent door but retreated each time. Towards morning a Christian Yuma led Mother Ambrosia and her companions to a hiding place below the hill. Shortly after, the horde stormed the convent only to be overpowered by a guard of faithful Indians who had secretly entered and were awaiting the attackers. Miguel and his followers were brought to trial and served prison sentences at Los Angeles.29

During his absence, all was quiet and the school made rapid progress. The Yumas proved their loyalty to The Sisters in a very definite way in 1894. For years poverty, hunger, and sickness had hounded them, and was in part responsible for their antagonism towards the white man. Although their reservation was unusually large, it was impossible to make a living on the land which was almost entirely desert. In 1894 a commission was appointed by Hoke Smith, Secretary of the Interior, for the "cession to the United States of such portions of their reservation as they might be willing to cede."30 With what was realized from the sale of the land, levees and irrigating ditches were to be built so as to improve the rest. The Yumas knew this would solve their problem but:

Before the Indians agreed to the cession of any portion of their reservation, and before one would sign the agreement, they asked that the Sisters of St. Joseph be given the buildings and land mentioned in Article VII. We ascertained that the Sisters of that order have had charge of that school for the past eight or nine years; that they have labored faithfully, patiently, and tinder many difficulties to civilize and Christianize the Indians.31

Being satisfied that the request of the Indians was just, it was embodied in Article VIII of the agreement32 and promptly signed by two hundred three adult Indians.33

The average enrollment of the school during the next six years was 182 boys and girls. It continued to gain recognition for the excellence of the work being done, but this was accompanied in each successive year by mounting antagonism from anti-Catholic groups who were unable to find a single valid defect in the Sisters' work. After Miguel's release from prison, the internal opposition was resumed. In 1900 Reverend Mother Agatha permanently removed the Sisters from the Fort, not only for these reasons, but also because of the general unfriendly sentiment of the Government towards religious being employed in government schools.

As early as 1871 Bishop Salpointe had negotiated with Reverend Mother St. John concerning the establishment of a school in Yuma, Arizona:

Now to encourage you in your project for Arizona, I must make a request for Sisters for another house about 300 miles from Tucson. It is Arizona City or Yuma on the Colorado River. The Sisters of necessity know about this place, and I think that the population is sufficient for them to be able to maintain themselves there. I have told these people that they should promise to consider building a house and procure the necessary money for the transportation of the Sisters while waiting for an arrangement with you. I hope that I have not gone too far and that you will be kind enough to hold to what I promised these people. As for the rest, I have considered the good of my mission. I see, moreover, a great advantage in having several houses of your order in the Territory.34

It was at Yuma that the seven pioneers had been met in 1870 by Father Francis Jouvenceau and escorted inland to Tucson. Yuma's location made it one of the most active towns in Southern Arizona. Ships carrying supplies followed a regular route from the Gulf of California up the Colorado River to Yuma where a number of Americans were carrying on a thriving business in freighting and merchandising. From Yuma these supplies were sent overland to the interior of Arizona.

Yuma had sprung into existence as a white settlement because of the many gold-seekers going west. For this reason, it has the reputation of being the first American town in Arizona. Like Tucson, it also had the reputation of being one of the most lawless towns on the frontier. It was conspicuous for its gambling houses, saloons, and dance halls where the local Vigilance Committee found it impossible to keep order. The name of the town had been changed from Colorado City to Arizona City in 1862 and finally to Yuma in February, 1873.35

In 1875 the Sisters of St. Joseph took charge of Sacred Heart elementary school, the first Catholic school in Yuma. Sister Maxine Croisant was appointed superior, and she was assisted by Sister Monica Corrigan and Sister Martha Peters. They found the familiar adobe house so suited to the southwestern climate awaiting them. Its thick walls produced a welcome coolness to the travelers after their hot stage trip from Tucson. In opening Sacred Heart School they employed the wealth of experience they had gleaned in their five years at Tucson. The language, climate, food, customs, and habits of the people were as familiar as if they were natives.

Most of their pupils were Mexican Catholic children. There were very few American children in the town. Being non-Catholic, for the most part, they attended a public school which had been functioning since 1872 in an old abandoned court house on Main Street. A few of Yuma's American settlers, even at that early date, seemed to be infected with that hostility towards the Sisters which was to erupt into open antagonism two decades later. 

The Sacred Heart School remained under the care of the Sisters of St.Joseph, with the exception of one short interval when it was closed, until the disastrous flood of 1891. There were no conveniences of any kind in this frontier school. Boards resting on packing boxes did service as desks. Seats were improvised by placing planks on nail kegs. Blackboards consisted of smooth boards nailed together and painted black. A barrel of drinking water was bought each day, but when it was settled, about one-fourth of it would prove to be sand or yellow clay. In spite of the rudeness of the school and convent, many happy days were spent there and much apostolic work was done. There was a great deal of sickness each year as the water from the Colorado lowered, the terrible heat increased in intensity, and swarms of mosquitos appeared. Epidemics of typhoid occurred frequently and the Sisters became "angels of mercy" to the sufferers in the vicinity.

During the disastrous flood of 1891 when the Gila River twice within four days poured its destructive waters over the whole town, all but fifty buildings were destroyed. The adobe convent and school collapsed before the onrushing water and were completely washed away. The Sisters would have preferred to stay -with the poor people who had taken refuge in the hills, but the pastor, Rev. John Chaucot, insisted that they accept Mother Ambrosia's invitation to move themselves and their things to the Fort across the river.

So we took whatever could be put in our satchels. The Indian boys carried those and we set out with sad hearts, leaving our convent and little children. As we neared the railroad bridge, the men came to us and told us the water was almost tip to the rails. The boys said, "Come, Sisters, with us. You will be all right." As we all had great faith in the Yuma Indians we said, "Yes, we shall go." The boys went on and we followed. The water splashed against the sides of the bridge. When we were in the middle of the bridge it began to shake and creak, but we went bravely on and reached the other side.

Mojave Bill and another Indian were there waiting to take us in the farm wagon to the Fort. In places the water almost covered the horses. In about an hour we reached the Fort. We were glad to see the Sisters but sad that our poor people were left homeless by the flood.36

When the flood had subsided it was discovered that the only part of the parish property that had been saved was the church. Its preservation was accomplished through the efforts of the prisoners from the territorial prison in Yuma. They had worked almost uninterruptedly for two days and nights digging trenches around it to divert the water. When the damage was estimated, Father Chaucot had not the money nor the courage to rebuild, and the children were forced to attend the public school.

Prescott, which is located in the mountainous section of west-central Arizona, was another of the settlements which received the ministrations of our pioneer Sisters. In those days it was the center of the gold country, and its population consisted principally of American prospectors. For many years it had the distinction of being the territorial capital and most of its chief citizens were from the East. It was a typical American town having frame houses with glass windows rather than the wooden-shuttered adobe house peculiar to the region. In fact, no trace of the Mexican or Spanish influence could be found in Prescott. Besides being the seat of the territorial government for so many years, it enjoyed the satisfaction all through the Indian days of having Fort Whipple close by.

St. Joseph's Hospital was formally opened on September 6, 1878 by Mother John Berchmans Hartrich, Sister Mary Martha Dunne, and Sister Mary Rose Doran. It was founded for the purpose of caring for the sick and injured miners of the area. The construction and primitive equipment of the hospital was financed through alms begged by the Sisters, funds furnished by John C. Fremont, Military Governor of Arizona, who enthusiastically encouraged the Sisters in the project, and very substantially by an inheritance brought into the Congregation by Sister Monica Corrigan.

A year had not passed when the superior, Mother John Berchmans Hartrich, another victim of overwork and worry, passed to her eternal reward on June 14, 1879, after having labored on the Arizona missions but three years. Her burial is poignantly described by Governor Fremont's daughter, Elizabeth Benton Fremont:

There were no hearses in the town, and so the top was removed from an army ambulance; and with General Wilcox and my young brother Frank representing my father as leading pall bearers, the mournful procession wended its way to the lonely graveyard over the hillside, where a rude grave was made, and loving hands covered it with wild flowers and blooming cactus.37

Since mining regions can change from boom towns to ghost towns overnight due to the fluctuating fortunes of the mines, often there were few patients at the hospital. During these quiet periods the Sisters had been in the habit of conducting classes in the hospital building for the Catholic girls of the town. This was the case in 1886, when Bishop Bourgade made a visit to Prescott. 

There was no Catholic school in the town, and the people had been soliciting him for some time to found one. Upon investigation, he saw no need for a hospital and was in favor of converting the building into a school. With this in mind he invited Mother Julia to come to Prescott from Fort Yuma, and after seeing conditions for herself, reach a decision.38 Because of pressing official business at the Fort.39 Mother Julia was forced to refuse his invitation. On July, 13 he addressed her a second time on the same subject:

Your answer came duly to hand. I am sorry you could not come to Prescott; being on the spot you could have seen Yourself and helped me to meet the difficulties which may arise out of the decision that has to be taken. I see no hopes for the hospital; indeed they are now building a branch road to Prescott, the future completion of which is very doubtful; and should it be completed, it will not materially alter the state of things for the hospital, on the other hand, from what I can see and hear the hopes for a school are very good, even for a boarding school. There are no risks to be run as you have the building to be abandoned if it were kept for a hospital, is it not better to turn it to some good use? You are not going to keep four Sisters here awaiting for a sick man to come occasionally.

Again if a school is decided upon no time should be lost in preparing for its opening, as there is but very little time left. The music teacher ought to be sent at once, one or two advertisements published so as to bring it to the knowledge of the public, and such other arrangements and preparations made as is usual in such cases. Let us go on without delay. You say you will let me know later on what your superiors think of the matter. It will take a precious time. Bear this in mind, Mother, the best opportunities are often lost here in this country by inopportune delays. I am decidedly in favor of the school and of a boarding school... Lose no time in speaking to Reverend Mother General of extending the age for boys. I see no real inconvenience for the teachers, while it gives its the means to keep our Catholic boys in our own schools. This is a mission and has to be treated as one by all those who work therein.40

It was considered improper in those days for nuns to teach boys after they had reached the age for First Holy Communion, which at that time was twelve years. Bishop Bourgade objected to this custom. Because of the extreme poverty of the Arizona missions, he was unable to pay male teachers. On the other hand, the Sisters of St. Joseph were working without a salary, and he felt they should include the older boys in their schools. Nevertheless, the prejudice against such an innovation was so strong that Reverend Mother Acratha would not consent to it.

He voices his disappointment at her refusal and asks that Mother Gonzaga, the western provincial, and Mother Celestia, superior of the hospital at Prescott, be notified officially of its conversion into a school:

Archepiscopal Residence
Santa Fe, New Mexico
August 12, 1886

Mother Julia
Reverend Mother,

Yours of the 26th of last month reached its here in Santa Fe. From what Sister Monica wrote to me, there seemed to be an objection on account of the alms collected to turn the hospital into a school. But, as Reverend Mother is reluctant to decide upon the matter I am willing to stand by Sister Monica's Suggestion. Will you please then notify Mother Gonzaga and Sister Celesttia so that they make the proper arrangements without delay.

I regret very much that Rev. Mother did not extend the age for boys who have made their First Communion. This is entirely a mission country. The want of means and of good useful male teachers compels us to neglect our boys--they go to public schools and the consequences are simply disastrous, more so than in the East. In Tucson, I have to dismiss my male teacher this year as I am in the utmost impossibility of making his salary. A great many of our boys will go to public school and be lost to the Church, as the influence of that school is worse on the Mexicans than the Americans. I think exception should be made for missions and the grace of God won't be wanting to meet the inconveniences to result therefrom.

I have been quite sick, of late, with no prospects of improvement. God's will be done, though it distresses me only in so far as it robs me of the strength necessary for the proper care of my poor mission. 

Pray remember me to Reverend Mother.

Yours sincerely in Xt.,
P. Bourgade
Vic. Ap. of Arizona41

The hospital was soon remodeled to suit its new status, and St. Joseph's Academy opened its doors for the fall term of 1886 with a record enrollment for that sparsely settled region. Two years later one of its students wrote:

... Prescott has also several educational institutions, among, which none is more deserving of note than St. Joseph's Academy, conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

This school is in a very flourishing condition; daily growing in popularity and attendance, and promises to be at no distant time the seat of Catholic learning in this section of the "Far West.42

An interesting story is on record in connection with the Academy at Prescott. Sister St. Barbara Reilly was very happily conducting her class in cool, mountainous Prescott when she received word to leave immediately for Tucson. The only means of making a quick departure was by being the sole passenger in a buckboard that was leaving for Tucson that evening.

The driver helped Sister up into the high seat, and then produced an iron box, which he deposited directly behind her feet, asking her, respectfully, to "Just forget it's there, Ma'am please." Her full habit skirt hid the box from view, and scarcely a Sister noted the incident so quickly was it over.

... Goodbyes were reiterated, and tears were bravely controlled as the travelers began their long journey southward. The little Sister kept looking back at the dimming picture of white guimpes until her straining eyes could no longer detect the faintest sign of them. Then, with characteristic fortitude, she looked straight ahead into the darkness.

The driver was firm, but kindly. As they neared the steep grades Of the canyon, he topped the horses, announcing, "Ma'am, I reckon I'm going to have to tie you in. It's dangerous along here." But he had reckoned without his passenger of the iron will. Politely, albeit firmly, she asserted her right to travel upon the highways of her country free and unshackled. Upon his insistence, she gripped the edge of the seat with her small determined hands, thus demonstrating her ability to stay in, no matter how rough or how steep the road.43

After the passage of several hours Sister noticed considerable movement in the bushes ahead of them. The driver stopped at the very spot, dismounted, and left her alone completely revealed in the bright moonlight. He pretended to be repairing some injury to the buckboard and kept up a lively conversation with her. All signs of movement in the bushes had stopped.

In a few minutes they were on their silent way again. By early morning they had reached the first stopping place, where they were to change horses. As they drove tip to the little town, a group of miners crowded about the vehicle, throwing their hats into the air, shouting for all they were worth.

With wondering eyes the Sister passenger watched the men celebrate their arrival, as the driver mildly said to her, "Now excuse me, Ma'am, but we'ver got to get that there box!" The iron box! She had forgotten all about it! She looked at it curiously as the driver took it into his hands, and amid still more jubilant shouts from the in miners, opened the lid. Gold! Filled to the brim with gold pieces-- the miners' pay! Two thousand dollars in gold!

"Thought you might've been held up," volunteered one of the men.

"Bunch of fellows waitin' for you back there in the canyon last night!" added another.

"Sure I know," drawled the driver. "Saw' em ahead of its. But we fooled 'em that time!"44

The bandits hadn't dared to raid the buckboard when they saw who its passenger was.

St. Joseph's Academy, Prescott, has continued uninterruptedly since its opening in 1886, and has more than fulfilled Bishop Bourgade's prophecy of its success. In 1904 a new academy was built on a magnificent ten-acre tract of land having a background of pine-covered mountains and a panoramic view of the city and many miles of the country beyond. 

In 1883, responding to an urgent request made by the Rev. E. Gerard, later Vicar General of Tucson, Reverend Mother sent four Sisters to Florence, Arizona. Mother Hyacinth Blanc, Sisters Agnes Orosco, Mary Joseph Franco, and St. Barbara Reilly opened school in what had been the old church. It was the familiar adobe type with mud floors which had to be sprinkled frequently to keep them firm. 

The town was about eighty-five miles north of Tucson, with a population which had not even reached the thousand mark. Besides keeping very small farms under cultivation, the inhabitants were engaged in commercial businesses, since it was the trading center for the mines in the vicinity. Though much smaller than Tucson, it had the same desert setting surrounded by multi-colored mountains.

The convent was a separate adobe building from the school. It had very low windows and -was extremely poor. Many stories are told of frontier experiences in this convent: the fright of one of the Sisters when a friendly horse stuck his head in through the dormitory window; their difficulty in obtaining water, which had to be hauled some distance from a canal; the continuous fight with scorpions; and above all, their dire poverty.

Father Gerard was unable to contribute anything towards their support, and the people fulfilled their obligation by contributing honey and potatoes--not a very substantial diet. At last, because of their non-support, and because the health of the Sisters was beginning to break, they were withdrawn in 1889. During their six years' residence in Florence a young nun, Sister Angeline, died. Everyone loved her, and when the Sisters left, the people refused to let them disinter her body. They insisted that if they could not keep the living Sisters of St. Joseph, no one could deprive them of their dead Sister.45

It was our purpose to prove that the seed planted in Arizona by the Spanish missionary padres during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was brought to fruition in the nineteenth century, in a large part, through the efforts of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who were the sole assistants of the few diocesan priests working in the Territory. The task which challenged them has a perfect parallel in the conditions which brought forth the Congregation in 1650. Then, France was to be saved for the Church by the employment of the active social virtues--the instruction of children, the harboring of orphans, the care of the sick and abandoned. So, too, Arizona in the nineteenth century laid low by the political, social, and moral upheaval consequent on the Mexican Revolution and the continuous, devastating Apache attacks, was to be saved for the Church, in a large measure, by the Sisters of St. Joseph employing once more that same active Christian social service. It was the zealous, self-sacrificing devotion to duty of our pioneer Sisters mingled with their constant prayer and trust in the Providence of God which enabled them to endure all the weariness, pain, fear, poverty, disappointment, and loneliness necessary to lay the foundations of the flourishing Catholic life of contemporary Arizona. At present there are many religious congregations of men and women conducting numerous parishes, hospitals, Indian schools, and other educational institutions. It is well to remember that this inheritance was bequeathed to them by a few diocesan priests and the Sisters of St. Joseph who braved remote, Apache infested Arizona in the latter half of the nineteenth century to found the first parish schools, academies, orphanages, hospitals, and Indian schools in that abandoned land.


1 Salpointe, op. cit., 264

2 Sister Mary Bernadette, Account of San Xavier , Archives of St. Mary's Provincial House, Los Angeles. 

3 Sister Mary Aquinas Duffy, San Xavier Mission, Archives of St. Mary's Provincial House, Los Angeles. 

4 Sister Mary Bernadette, op. cit.

5 Sister Aquinas, op. cit.

6 Sister Bernadette, op. cit.

7 Mother Aquinas to Mother Julia, Carondelet Archives. 

8 THE TUCSON CTTIZEN, May 23, 1920, 3

9 Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., THE FRANCISCANS IN ARIZONA (Harbor Springs, Mich.; Holy Childhood Indian School, 1899), 145 

10 U.S. Congress. Senate. LETTER FROM THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, A Copy of An Agreement with the Yuma Indians, with a Report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Accompanying Papers, Ex. Doc. No.68, 53d Cong., 2d Sess. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894), 6

11 Father Zephyrin, O.F.M., to Reverend Mother Agatha, Washington, D.C., Februarv 4, 1886. Original in Carondelet Archives. 

12 Mother Julia to Reverend Mother Agatha, Fort Yuma Indian School, May 3, 1886. Carondelet Archives. 

13 Ibid., March 18, 1886.

14 Ibid., April 10, 1886.

15 Ibid., May 18, 1886.

16 Ibid., April 15, 1886.

17 Ibid., May 3, l886.

18 Ibid., May 17, l886.

19 Original in Carondelet Archives 

20 Mother Ambrosia to Reverend Mother Agatha, May 9, 1887.

21 Ibid.

22 The following statistics are reserved in the Archives at Carondelet: 

Number of Baptisms in 1886 --- 12
                   in 1887 --- 97
                   in 1888 --- 217 children and adults
                   in 1889 --- 301 children and adults
                   in 1890 --- 225 children and adults
                    During the same year 110 received their First Holy Communion and were confirmed by Rt. Rev. Bishop Mora of Los Angeles. There were likewise celebrated 35 Christian Marriages with Nuptial Mass according to the Rites of our Holy Mother the Church.

Number of Baptisms in 1891 --- 105 children and adults
                    in 1892 --- 80 children and adults
                    in 1893 --- 25 children and adults
                    in l894 --- 60 children and adults
                         During the same year 10 Christian Marriages with Nuptial Mass. 

Number of Baptisms in 1895 --- 117 children and adults 
Number of First Holy Communions in 1895 --- 17 children
                                            40 adults 
All these were confirmed by Rt. Rev. Bishop Montgomery. 
Number of Baptisms in 1896 --- 40 children, 46 adults 
                   in 1897 --- 41 children and adults 
                   in 1898 --- 77 children and adults 
                     During this year 13 made their First Holy Communion and were confirmed by Rt. Rev. Bishop Montgomery. 
Number of Baptisms in 1899 --- 180 children and adults
                   in l9OO ---  10 children and adults

Total number of Baptisms at Fort Yuma --- 1,671
                First Holy Communions ---   233
                Confirmations         ---   233 
                Christian Marriages   ---    46 

23 The Following Reports are in the Carondelet Archives:

December 22, 1886, A.P. Upshaw, Assistant Commissioner of the Indian School Service. January 4, 1887, Rev. J.A. Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. March 17, 1890 and October 6, 1891, J.J. Morgan, Commissioner of Indian School Service. October 17, 1892, Superintendent of the Indian Industrial Training School, Perris, California

24A Sketch of the Yuma Indian School , ARIZONA SENTINEL, March 14,1891 

25 Rev. Joachim Adam, A Mission lit the Wilderness , AVE MARIA, XXXD (July 7, 1894), 14

26 Mother Ambrosia to Mother Julia, April 5, 1893. Carondelet Archives. 

27A Horrible Case of Depravity , LOS ANGELES HERALD, July 15,1893. 

28 Mother Ambrosia to Mother Julia, April 25, 1893. 

29 Savage, op. cit., 286

30 Ex. Doc. 68, op. cit.

31 Ibid., 11 

32 Ibid., 3 

33 Ibid., 29

34 Tucson, Arizona, Nov.3, 1871. French original in Carondelet Archives. 


36 Sister Anna de Sales, Memoir of Missionary Days in Arizona . Carondelet Archives.

37 I.C.Martin (ed.), RECOLLECTIONS OF ELIZABETH BENTON FREMONT (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1912), 161

38 Original in Carondelet Archives. June 3, 1886. 

39 Mother Julia to Rev. Mother Agatha, June 17, l886. 

40 Original in Carondelet Archives. NW

41 Original in Carondelet Archives.

42 F.E.D. to students of St. Joseph's Academy St. Louis. March 27, 1888, Carondelet Archives. 

43 Sister St. Barbara, op. cit. 

44 Ibid.

45 Carondelet Archives.

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