10 December 2010

A Peek into the Archives

We have a very special series to share with our readers. It is taken from the handwritten Book of Records Containing an Abridgement of the Lives and Deaths of the Members of this Community, located in our Monastery archives. The book contains 19 lives that we will post one at a time at the approximate pace of one per week. There is much more to say about each sister than can or should be recorded on this blog, but the series will offer a glimpse into the past. Our Sister Archivist is overseeing this project with a member of Georgetown University's faculty, who, although she will remain nameless, can easily be identified by the amazing homemade pizza (from down the "streetza") she provided for our September movie night.


Sister Charity McAtee was born 1782 in Charles County, Maryland, to parents of modest means. There was a nearby Carmelite convent, but she encountered unspecified obstacles attempting to join that order and instead turned to the Visitation house in Georgetown. With her parents' consent she entered on July 23, 1809, age 27. After four years her health began to decline, and she developed consumption (today known as tuberculosis), dying at age 32 or 33 on April 2, 1815, the first Sunday after Easter. She retained the rank of lay sister, which meant she did domestic duties, cooking, cleaning, etc. in the monastery and school. She might possibly have assisted in the domestic care of the students. It also usually meant that she lacked even a basic education; confirmation of this can be found when the annual vow book is signed with an X instead of her name. These handwritten biographies by surviving sisters are characteristically florid, but if one reads between the lines, she seems to be praised particularly for evenness of disposition, modesty, submission, and deeming others superior to herself.

As a note, the convent where she did not enter was the Carmel of Port Tobacco, founded in 1790 in Charles County and now located in Baltimore. It was founded by Charles Neale, brother to two other famous Neales: Archbishop Leonard Neale who founded our monastery and school, and Francis Neale who founded Holy Trinity parish two blocks away from us. Their cousin was John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University.

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