19 February 2011

Quite a Find: the Foundress!

As we continue our series of archival accounts, we share here a brief account of the life of the Foundress of our monastery, Alice Lalor.

Alice ("Allie") Lalor was born in Ireland during the era when penal laws prevented Catholics from attending school. When she made her Confirmation, she made a vow to give her life Christ; her spiritual director urged her to devote her energies to establishing a Catholic school for girls. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was 16, in 1794. She left her home country promising to return when she was of age.

Soon she met the Rev. Leonard Neale, who convinced her that she was called to work in the U.S. They began a school in Philadelphia, but when yellow fever ravaged that city, her companions in the enterprise all died it had to close. In 1799 she joined Neale, who had been appointed President of Georgetown University (then just a small school), in Georgetown to try again. She and her two companions were known by the neighbors as the "pious ladies," and they established an Academy and a Benevolent School for orphans. Neale had initially allowed the women to make simple vows, but they took formal vows as Visitation Sisters in 1816, and Alice was renamed Mother Teresa Josephine Lalor. During her lifetime, Visitation began to expand throughout the country. As she lay dying in 1846, she joked with the sisters who were leaving to make a foundation in Frederick not to wait for her funeral. She did not want her approaching death to slow down God's work.

At some point, when the sisters renewed their vows, Alice mistakenly vowed herself to "Poverty, Charity and Obedience." Ever after, she was conscious of that fourth promise, keeping her vow of charity as faithfully as she kept the first three. She was noted for her cheerfulness, kindness, her charity -- especially in her speech, humility and sense of humor. She died September 9, 1846. She spoke so little of herself that we do not know her date of birth.

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