Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inspiration for a Namesake

Among the many letters that Agnes Tully Stevens saved over the years has been a number from local church-affiliated leaders who made a difference in her life. One such role model for Agnes in her younger years was a woman whom she called Sister Mary Patricia. Whatever the relationship was between them, or how it began, I don’t know for sure. I can only glean impressions from what has been left behind.

The fact that, once married and a mother, Agnes chose to name her only daughter after this woman is a significant statement of the older woman’s importance in her life.

We’ve been introduced to this namesake before, in the post about Agnes’ daughter (who eventually came to be known simply as “Pat”). There, in that post, we learned that Sister Mary Patricia was involved in the field of education. Perhaps it was during the earlier portion of her tenure in this occupation that she first came to know Agnes. The acquaintance grew into a lifelong relationship, witnessed by the invitation kept among Agnes’ papers to attend Sister Mary Patricia’s Golden Anniversary of her religious profession—a celebration occurring in 1950.

From that invitation, I learned that Sister Mary Patricia’s surname was Dawson. Yet, perhaps owing to the custom of some as they enter religious orders to change their given names, I have not been able to find any genealogical record of her family connections. I did find one article published by someone with that same name—and same field of endeavor—in a 1927 journal. Other than that, Sister Mary Patricia Dawson remains a mystery to me: a woman whose influence meant a great deal to someone in our family.

The undated letter below must have been written either upon hearing Agnes’ news of her approaching marriage, or following the birth of her firstborn son. It is difficult from the context of the letter—and the changes in language usage in the ensuing one hundred years—to determine which is the better guess. This could put the date of the letter some time before mid-June of 1912—in the case of the former celebration—or during May of 1913.

Whichever the case, undoubtedly, Agnes must have brought her “darling boy” by to meet the respected mentor as soon as possible.

My own dearest Agnes: —
            Doubtless you have come to the conclusion and justly so, that I have forgotten you and your new found love but I assure you such has not been the case. I have only been unavoidably detained in adding my measure of joy to your cup which must be full to over flowing in the possession of your new treasure. You have been daily in my thoughts and many an aspiration has been breathed to the Sacred Heart. Closing Exercises and Final Exams are in vogue and you can readily imagine my leisure moments.
            Bring your darling boy to see me as soon as you can. Have you heard that Elinor has a dear baby girl—
            Yours same as always—
                        Sister Mary Patricia


  1. It would seem Sister to me that Mary Patricia lived near Notre Dame University (South Bend in St. Joseph County, Indiana) which of course isn't all that far from Chicago.

    I suspect she is talking about either grading or taking final exams in her letter. Her paper (in your link) was published in Indiana in 1927 in which she mentions the Department of Education at Notre Dame University.

    Of course she may have taught at any school - even if its probable that it was nearby.

    I think "aspiration has been breathed to the Sacred Heart" means "prayers" at the altar - and there is a Basilica of the Sacred Heart within Notre Dame University.

  2. Hmmm... "The Religious Motive and Character Education" was written by Mary Patricia Dawson and published by Loyola University of Chicago, in 1927.

    Loyola University was founded in 1870 by Father Arnold Damen, S.J., Saint Ignatius College was renamed Loyola University in 1909. The university began instruction at 1076 W. Roosevelt Road and in 1912 began a 10-year process of relocation to its Lake Shore Campus in Rogers Park. A downtown campus was established in the Loop in 1914 and, after a move within that neighborhood in 1927, eventually relocated to the Near North Side in 1946.

    I can sense her "ghost" lingering in the Chicago area...

    1. You found some solid hints, Iggy. It prompted me to look back at that original post (linked within this one) mentioning Sister Mary Patricia. I took a look at the return address there--keep in mind that was mailed in 1950, much later than this letter--and it indicated St. Xavier College in Chicago. So whether as a faculty member at Loyola, or even Notre Dame, or at this other college, she was evidently involved in higher education, at least in her later years.

  3. If I had to "bet the farm on it," I wouldn't, but check this out:

    Patricia Dawson (b. abt 1880 in Illinois) is shown as a "nun" in Chicago, Cook, Illinois 1930 US Census. It was recorded at the "Mercy Convent" 9130 Prarie Avenue (Ward 8 Block 12).

  4. I'm going to bet the farm now. :)

    I looked for some of the other sisters listed with Patricia Dawson, and sadly couldn't find many, BUT the one that I did...

    In the Census - Assumpta Lyons, in the press... "Requiem Mass was read last January in Chicago for Sister Mary Assumpta Lyons. There were present in the sanctuary..."

    In the Census - Anacleta Mcmanus ... on her gravestone ... "Sr. Mary Anacleta Mcmanus"...

    What do you think of that? :)


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