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More than once it challenged their admiration, and compelled them to allow periods of comparative calm to those whom they professed to admire. The Christmas season, which is midsummer in that region, was frequently saddened by pestilence. On these occasions the Sisters dropped everything to devote themselves to the stricken, often abandoned by fathers, brothers, and husbands; and sometimes—alas, for poor human nature—by sisters, wives, and even mothers.
V. The most dreadful experience of the devoted Mother and her children came in the summer and autumn of 1875. Towards Christmas, that epoch of peace and good-will, their calm courage and self-denying charity were completely ignored by the enemies of religion, and threats of vengeance against them were heard, now aloud, again in smothered tones. The infidel party, reinforced by communists, had become the dominant one. In February a revolution broke out, and scenes were re-enacted which had a few years before been the order of the day in Paris. The Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy, being the only religious in the city, were marked out for destruction. The massacre of the archbishop was decreed in a sort of secret consistory, and a partial execution of these murderous enactments quickly followed. Early on Sunday,
, February 28th, the mob marched from the port, where they had assembled before dawn, to the episcopal palace. Not finding the archbishop, they smashed the windows and furniture, defaced the massive, many-pillared cathedral, crying out meanwhile that their thirst for vengeance could be slaked only by his blood. They next proceeded to the beautiful church of St. Ignatius, which they speedily demolished. On the preceding day the Jesuit Fathers, by the advice of friends, had asked protection from the government; but the president paid no attention to the petition—save to resolve that no aid from him should reach the petitioners—and stealthily withdrew to his country house. Yet they seem to have relied on some measure of protection, for they did not leave the city, nor do anything towards saving their property.
In times of revolution, in Spanish-American countries, the chief executive, for the time being, is rather a dictator than a constitutional ruler.
The Jesuit college, San Salvador, a monster edifice that accommodated four hundred boarders and an immense number of day students, was one of the most magnificent educational establishments in the world. Twenty-four grand pianos, with other musi
· Unlike most other structures in Buenos Ayres, it was four stories high, and built chiefly of glass and iron.
cal instruments, were disposed about the spacious main hall, the walls of which were covered with cases containing vast stores of scientific instruments. A collegiate church of exquisite workmanship had just been completed for the use of the students. Everything was sacrificed by the mob, an assemblage of so-called gentlemen. The college was on the Calle Rio Bamba, opposite the Convent of Mercy. Mother M. Evangelista and her household suffered the most poignant anguish as the shouts of the demoniac procession, parading the principal streets, reached their ears. Amid blasphemies and savage execrations they could distinguish the ominous words: "First the Jesuits, and then the Sisters of Mercy!"
But we shall let an eye-witness still further describe the terrible scene:
“When the mob, consisting of several thousands, reached the college, forty Fathers and scholastics were at recreation in the garden. Savage cries for their blood, the noise of breaking doors and the crashing of glass fell upon their ears. The rooms and corridors were soon filled with wild beings in human form, who, with yells and curses, smashed everything that would yield to their clubs and hatchets. Over what remained they poured petroleum, and in a moment all was ablaze within and without, for petroleum had also been applied to the beds and broken furniture which had been dashed from the college windows. Like fiends they burst into the chapel, and threw vestments, chalices, and pictures into the blazing pile. A fresh supply of the murderous fluid reduced to ashes the priceless treasures of the library which it had taken years to collect.
"A splendid picture of the Sacred Heart was carried out with every term of blasphemy, and held up by one of the wretches while another transpierced it with a javelin amid indescribable insults. This fearful outrage did not go unpunished, for one of his own vile companions plunged a sword into his body, and the wretched creature fell dead. The Most Adorable Sacrament was taken from the tabernacle and flung into the street."
At this stage of the diabolical proceedings Maria Lasagna, a poor Italian woman, broke into the infuriated rabble, and, on her knees, gathered, as best she could, the Adorable Fragments, with a heroism greater than that of the pious Veronica. To the convent she hastened with the Precious Burden, saying, as she deposited It with the kneeling Sister at the gate : “I must go back and try to save my Lord from further insult.” And back again went Maria Lasagna. And though beaten and cursed by the furies whose every move was a new sacrilege, she desisted not, but reverently gathered the Sacred Particles, mingled with clay and ashes and the blood of the wretch that had led the riot, now a corpse.
Bitter were the tears shed by the afflicted Sisters. In presence of these awful sacrileges the loving heroism of Mother M. Evangelista made her oblivious of danger. Falling prostrate on the ground at the convent gate, she made burning acts of reparation to her outraged Lord, heedless of the shouts and threats of the mob. “O my Jesus!" she frequently exclaimed, “that I should see Thee thus outraged !" By a special intervention of Providence the convent was saved. The French Consul did good service, yet the mob had broken open the chapel doors when a voice was heard : “ Not there." The orphans, boarders, and inmates of the House of Mercy gathered around Reverend Mother, who, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, recited the rosary in Reparation. All night long they watched before the Tabernacle, the Mother's heart broken with indescribable anguish. To the hour of her death, eleven years later, the howlings of these fiends, their wild revolutionary songs, and their horrible imprecations rang in her ears. That miserable Sunday was as the first Good Friday in the streets of Jerusalem. Constantly she shed torrents of tears, crying out from the depths of her loving heart: “O that my sweet Lord should be so treated by His own creatures !"
Next morning a priest, disguised as a gardener, said Mass for the community. He continued to do this daily, at the peril of his life, during the reign of terror, which lasted till April, 1875. The patient heroism of the good Mother sustained her large family till peace was once more proclaimed, as in Warsaw. Divine vengeance overtook some of the ringleaders on the spot. Three, who had put on the habits of the Jesuits they had murdered, were mistaken for real Jesuits by their comrades in iniquity, and, despite their declarations and curses to prove they were not members of that obnoxious body, were cut to pieces. A few more were killed by savage spirits who, not finding any more religious to kill, thirsted for the blood of their companions.
The Convent of Mercy nearest Buenos Ayres was that of New Orleans, and between the houses there existed warm attachment and friendly sympathy. Some two years after the hideous events just narrated Mother M. Evangelista gives a harrowing picture of the condition of the community :
“How could I enter into our history ? Truly, it would seem incredible. We are now (1877) here over twenty-one years, and so far from being securely established, or from flourishing, the probabilities are that we shall be sent away in the end. The Free Masons are most powerful, and are laboring hard against religion. And the worst of it is that, though there are many good people scattered here and there, they are not united as a body, neither have they any one to lead or rouse them. There are also communists here in superabundance.
“The Jesuit College on the other side of our street was burned by no mob—at least the mobs were employed by gentlemen (?), government officials, etc. It was done in open daylight, and the government purposely delayed sending troops to stop the work of destruction till it was too late. Part of their programme was to destroy our convent. The cry was raised and the men had attacked the chapel, when a voice which all heard, but none could trace to any visible mouth, called them off. This was repeated three times, till at length they desisted from their attempt.
“But it is not only the hatred of the wicked that proves a cross, Were it merely that it would rather serve to reanimate our zeal in the good cause. But, and especially since the burning of the Jesuits' College, we are left almost powerless for good. I cannot venture to explain how this happens. In fact, we have steady, quiet opposers in those who ought to help us. The Irish, as a body, are scattered from fifty to hundreds of miles out in the camp; you see we cannot deal directly with them. .... We have had crosses almost unceasingly. Deaths of Sisters far beyond the average ; sickness and deaths among the children; steady, continued calumnies against us; false friends; bad priesis. We are in God's hands—that is our comfort. Were you to hear our story you would think it strange indeed. The bad here have a most particular hatred against the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy. Why they thus honor us I know not.
“ Pray for us. Better be turned away than remain in danger of hereafter degenerating. .... We are twenty-six in all. We have a branch at Mercedes, and a House of Mercy beside us. We have eighty poor Spanish and Italian children in one of our schools, who are perpetually coming and going. The infamous state schools now established aim at destroying the morals as well as the faith of the children. And parents are to be fined if they don't send them to these pompous dens of vice. The profits of our boarding-school help us to support thirty poor orphans.”
Any one at all conversant with the state of things in SpanishAmerican countries will understand that, after the expulsion of the Jesuits and the lamented death of good Canon Fahy, it was scarcely possible for the Sisters of Mercy to remain in Buenos Ayres. For years Mother M. Evangelista had been anxious to follow the Divine counsel, “When they persecute you in one city flee to an.
other." The New Orleans community sought to procure the blessing of receiving the Buenos Ayres Sisters, martyrs in desire and almost in fact. But the Argentine metropolitan refused to part with what he was wont to call the gem of his unfortunate diocese. His great affection for the Sisters made him unwilling to let them go. “What!" he exclaimed, when leave was asked, " allow the Sisters of Mercy, who have never given me anything but consolation, to leave my diocese! No; it cannot be. I will not part with them.” But the place did not suit the Sisters of Mercy at the time. They had noble, generous friends, but they had also dreadful enemies, from whom the archbishop was powerless to shield them.
Other means failing, the infidel party sought to effect their ruin by forcing them to receive unsuitable subjects. Mother Evangelista, while speaking them fair, would not allow them to interfere with her family any more than she interfered with theirs. Once they strove to compel her to receive as a member a person who was not even baptized.
"I cannot express to you," she wrote to her New Orleans friend, “what a consolation your kind letters and sympathy have been to me. Cut off, isolated as we are from other convents of our Order owing to great distance, sympathy is to us peculiarly sweet. Prospects are no brighter than when last I wrote, but I have great hopes that things are coming to a climax, and that our dear Lord will, before long, bring us where we may have our works and be delivered from the dangers which threaten us here. As regards what you kindly propose, I will tell you frankly I could not think of undertaking anything of my own will, choice, or judgment. What I intend doing is to get leave from the archbishop to go to Ireland on some business I have there next June. When there I will consult Cardinal Cullen, who sent us here, making known to him all the difficulties that surround us, and following his advice as to whether we shall leave, and whither we shall go.
"You may guess how secret I have to keep this. For, suppose Cardinal Cullen tells us to stay until we are driven out, you may imagine the inconveniences that would result from its being known that I consulted him. Father Fahy was a great loss to us. The archbishop is good and friendly, but he is very timid, has little energy, and has seen nothing better than what exists here. The truth is, the poor man can do little or nothing. Continue to pray for us. Prayer is our only hope."
VIII. When June, 1878, came, Mother M. Evangelista was unable to get off. There had been another revolution, and she was privately