Mar. 5, 1892 – To General Superior Sr. M. Edward, Holyoke MA, from Archbishop Cleary, Archbishop of Kingston, Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Va.
Mar. 5, 1892
Rev. Mother Edward,

From my heart I sympathize with you and your religious Sisters in Holyoke in your present most painful position made known to me by your telegram just received. You know I am not well in health since my recent attack of Grippe and the excessive labor of mind and body, I have been obliged to undergo in the discharge of urgent Diocesan duties before I had regained sufficient strength to undertake them.

Yet I feel bound to make a little sacrifice of my much-needed rest in this place of retirement, for the purpose of helping to sustain you and the good Sisters in patience and adherence to your Constitutions and vows under the pressure that has been unhappily brought to bear upon you in the interest of disorder.

Let all the Sisters fervently pray that our Lord Jesus Christ who has been corporally withdrawn from them, may be pleased to strengthen them in spirit by His Grace and to give them more and more courage to hold by their vows and their rules of religious discipline and obedience for His sake and in the hope of the great reward promised to all who shall remain faithful to the end.

It is indeed for them and for you an hour of supreme trial of your fidelity to your holy vocation. Nothing can be conceived more distressing to a religious Community than to be deprived of the Sacramental presence of our dear Lord, and at the same time to be compelled to submit to Spiritual direction from a priest, who, although holding the sacred relation of Confessor to the Community, has made himself the leader of a faction and has openly encouraged resistance on the part of some to the authority of their Superior General, their Ecclesiastical Prelate in Ordinary and the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda.

The religious Sisters of other Convents have, however, been subjected to equally ill treatment heretofore and have found protection and relief in the tribunal of the Holy See. Be assured that Rome will not abandon you. Let no one be deceived by the senseless allegation that an appeal has been made against the decision of Propaganda, and that by virtue of this appeal all authority of Superiors in your religious Institute and all vows of obedience made by the Sisters to their Superior General, their Archbishop and the Holy See, must be regarded as suspended and no government must be exercised, nor any discipline of obedience observed, until judgment be given on the appeal. In the first place there is no such thing as an “Appeal” possible in the present case. An appeal can only proceed from the judgment of an inferior to a Superior court. Now the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda is the Supreme Papal Court for the hearing of cases from all provinces of the Church subject to its jurisdiction. If its decision be unacceptable to anyone, he may have “recourse” to the Holy Father directly, for a new hearing of the case, but this is not an “appeal”.

In the second place, even though an appeal properly so called, were admissible in the present instance, it most certainly would not have the effect of withdrawing authority from the ordinary Superiors of the Institute or of justifying the Sisters in disregarding their Rules and Constitutions and their vows of obedience. On the contrary, the law of the Church, and also of every civilized State, gives to an appeal, when legitimately made, the sole force of restraining either of the parties in dispute from regarding the question as finally settled; and required the ordinary Constitutional government and administration of the Institute, whose disintegration is the object of the petition laid before the Court, to continue as before and to be preserved until the Supreme Judgment on the appeal shall have been delivered. This is what is meant by the order that the “Status quo ‘ante'” be maintained, which not only does not substitute disorder for discipline, and universal insubordination for religious obedience, but insists that, so long as, the Supreme Court shall not have decided to grant the petition for disintegration, all the subjects of the Institute shall remain bound as heretofore, by the rules and Constitutions under which they made their religious profession and by their Vows of obedience to the Superior General. Hence it can be readily understood, although I have no official knowledge of it, that the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda warned the Most Rev. Bishop of Springfield soon after he had presented his petition of your holy Institute that the Status quo ante should be preserved until the final decision be given; in other words, that no encouragement should be given to any Sister to act as though the bond of obedience were severed by the fact of the Bishop’s having made the petition; but that all should proceed in the ordinary course of discipline and government, as previously, until Rome should decide whether the petition be granted or rejected. Hence also we can understand why the Cardinal Prefect issued a warning to the Bishop of Springfield not to disturb the Status quo ante, and made no reference to it in any of his Eminence’s letters to me, all my efforts being directed solely to the permanent preservation of the Status quo.

In conclusion, I pray Almighty God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ and the intercession of His Most Blessed Mother, to comfort you during the time of the Saviour’s Corporal absence, to give light to your minds and the strength of patience to your hearts to maintain your fidelity to your religious obligations and to live in charity and peace and unity of spirit with one another for the honor of religion and the tranquility of your souls.

I remain, yours devotedly in Christ
James Vincent Cleary, Archbishop of Kingston
Source: 407-409-A, General Secretary Fonds, Annals of the Congregation/Generalate series, Volume 1861-1892, pp. 258-261, Archives, Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catherine McKinley’s Letters

This letter is part of a large database of correspondence written by and to Catherine McKinley, who is considered one of the founders of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. As a Sister of Providence she was known by her religious name Mother Mary Edward.

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