With a clear call from God and the love of Christ Crucified flaming in their hearts, five Passionist Nuns set out from their monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1946 and started the long journey to Kentucky. It is with profound gratitude to God that I dedicate these blog posts to those Foundresses as we celebrate the marvels He has done.
The community of Passionist Nuns in Scranton, PA in early 1946. The Superior, Mother Mary Agnes Roche, is seated second from the far right. The other four foundresses together with the first postulant are circled.
Five valiant Nuns consecrated to Christ Crucified brought Passionist life to Owensboro, Kentucky, planting the spirit of St. Paul of the Cross firmly in Western Kentucky soil. The tiny seed of those early days has grown and borne fruit as winter, spring, summer and fall recurred over the course of 65 years. I hope you will continue to journey with us as I recount the story of those first beginnings….
Your letter of May 1st comes as a great surprise to me. I am wondering how you even knew there was an Owensboro Diocese….
So began a letter of Most Rev. Francis R. Cotton, Bishop of Owensboro. In early May, 1946, he received a letter sent by the Passionist Nuns of Scranton, Pennsylvania to 21 bishops. Bishop Cotton’s speedy response on May 3rd—the first favorable answer the Nuns received—proved to be decisive. God knew there was an Owensboro diocese, and that’s exactly where He was going to lead the founding nuns!
From Scranton to Owensboro
During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the Scranton community was blessed with so many vocations that they began planning a new foundation. The superior, Mother Mary Agnes Roche, hoped to open the new monastery in Boston, or perhaps Trenton or Camden, New Jersey.
Although the bishops in these cities responded graciously, none was able to consider a new monastery in his diocese. Mother Mary Agnes then searched the Catholic Directory for dioceses that had no contemplative monasteries, or at least none that engaged in retreats.
Meanwhile, let us cry to the Lord continually, since this holy work must be the fruit of prayer.
-St. Paul of the Cross to Mother Mary Crucified, the first Passionist Nun
Mother Mary Agnes and her Scranton community understood this very well, and so they backed up all these efforts by earnest prayer.
Under the Patronage of Saint Joseph
Realizing the gravity of the enterprise, and her need for divine guidance, Mother Mary Agnes sought the powerful intercession of St. Joseph, the Patron of the Interior Life and the Guardian of Virgins. Here is her own account of the “long talk” she had with him one day:
I said to him, ‘What am I to do? They want me to make a new foundation and I don’t know where to go or what to do. But, dear St. Joseph, if you take over, I’ll follow the counsel of those who have a right to advise me.’
Subsequent events throughout our 60 year history show how seriously St. Joseph took this conversation! Later Mother Mary Agnes wrote that she had visited Owensboro “with great confidence in St. Joseph…as we had so specially placed our difficulties before him.” She added that
St. Joseph manifested his care by donations sent in his honor or in his name. This happened so frequently that we decided on dedicating the new monastery to his patronage.
Choosing a Site
Arriving in Owensboro for a visit, the Nuns found that Bishop Cotton had already picked out the Benita Avenue property for the new monastery. He did, however, suggest that the Nuns inspect a few other possible sites. In the end, Benita Avenue was chosen and Mother Mary Agnes expressed her satisfaction in a letter:
We secured a very nice piece of property at Owensboro. The grounds are in good condition and are considerably larger than our place here in Scranton. There are two houses and a garage. The main building is a large…eight room residence with four massive white columns along the front. The other is a little four-room cottage.
Both places are in perfect condition so we will not have to spend anything on repairs, just for alterations necessary to adapt them to our needs. We shall have to get our enclosure wall erected and later when we have grown and can think of building the convent and chapel, the present house will be excellent for retreats.
To be continued…