Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reception of the Black Veil, 1869

Reception of the Black Veil by Three
Dominican Sisters at St. Agnes Convent on 
Sunday Morning

Editors Ledger: Through the kindness of Mother Mary Joseph, Superioress of the Convent of St. Agnes, in this city, I was permitted yesterday morning to witness, at that institution, the solemn ceremony of the Reception of the Black Veil by three Sisters, who had previously received, at St. Peter's church, the Habit of the Order of St. Dominic.  The services consisted of a grand High Mass, chanted in touching and impressive tones by Rev. Father Fortune, assisted by a choir of the Convent Sisters, who sang the Kyrie Eleison, Gloria in Excelsia, Veni Sancte Spiritus, as well as psalms and hymns appropriate to the occasion, in such concord of sweet sounds as filled the hearts of all present with the purest feelings of devotion.  It was a scene that the best-gifted mind in the world might admire--a scene, in fact, that an angel might rejoice over--so simple, and yet so majestically grand--so quiet, and yet so full of moving melody--so formal, and yet so devoutly sincere--so seemingly sad, and yet so full of soul-joy, of illumined Faith, of Hope clinging to a thousand rocks, of Charity lifting the humble and oppressed from the depth of darkness into the effulgence of light--a sublime grouping of pious souls and wholesome sentiments formed by the teachings and discipline of a Christian church.

After Mass, the three Sisters--formerly known among their relatives and acquaintances as Miss Marian Owen, of Canda, Miss Fanny Keenan, of Canada, and Miss Agnes Leister, of Ohio, but now separated from the world and its vanities, and known among the Sisterhood of the Order of St. Dominic as Sister Martha, Sister Mary and Sister Mary Agnes-knelt before the Mother Superioress, who was seated on a chair near the altar of the Convent chapel, and repeated in succession their last vows, and signed and sealed them in the presence of witnesses, according to the customs and usages of the Order from the establishment of the Convent of Prouille in 1206 to the present time.  The Superioress then arose from her seat and adjusted in due form the Black Veil on the head of each Sister, when, after suitable prayers and short sermon by Father Fortune, and the singing of the Veni Creator by the choir, the ceremony ended.

This going out of the world into a cloistered life by ladies calculated to adorn society may seem like a puzzle to some who cannot see in every movement of humanity the workings of a Divine Providence.  But does a lady who he becomes a Sister and enters a convent actually leave the world?  Not at all--she only strips herself of a series of useless vanities and puts on a habit of usefulness; she leaves behind her all the caprices, vexations, sensations, annoyances, pleasures, pastimes, and thousand and one little trifles and troubles which make up the life of the fashionable belle, the woman of fortune, or the "splendid girl" of the period, and enters into a life of serenity, happiness, humility, tenderness, joyousness of soul, meekness of heart, and never-ceasing charity; to assist the needy, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to soothe the suffering, to lead the young mind into the paths of honor and virtue, and to be forever doing good to somebody.  Although her face may be hid from the world, her benevolent acts are felt in it, and will take root and sprout, and bloom into beautiful blossoms, shedding fragrance here and there for the benefit of society.  What would the world be were not some men and women called by a wise Creator to follow as near as possible in the steps of the Great Teacher and his disciples?  A terrible chaos of darkness and infidelity.  The breath of life in a tabernacle of clay, even under the mellowing influences of civilization, is a wild and wayward element that cannot be subdued save by the powers of Christianity and a system of education that softens the passions.  How often do we see it fume and fret and mount into billows of wrath like the ocean, and grow dim and dismal and send forth a whirlwind of spleen like a tempest; and then when its rage exhausts itself, it gradually lulls into a sweet calm, and the mind becomes placid as an unruffled sea, and the eye looks as lovely as unclouded sky, and the heart, grown tender after the tumult, feels the touch of something divine within it.  But this is the feeling of the well-trained Christian heart, whose rage is the work of the Spirit of Evil, and whose calm is the work of the Spirit of Goodness.  And how many are lost for the want of Christian training, and whose Spirit of Evil is allowed to run roughshod over the Spirit of Goodness, lacerating all the fine feelings of humanity, and making man, instead of hal-angel, half devil, wholly a demon.  And what a glorious thing it is for society that intellectual women can be found who are willing to enter into fields of labor, such as convents, asylums, hospitals and homes of charity, and devote their lives to the education of youth, the helping of the feeble, the raising up of the wretched, and the spiritual instruction of the ignorant, so that the Spirit of Evil may be subdued and the Spirit of Goodness cultivated in such a manner as to produce that calm in the Christian's breast which is as beautiful as a placid sea and as lovely as an unclouded sky.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal August 18 1869.

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