Saturday, March 30, 2013

Family History, Beliefs and Traditions

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
…ut cognoscatis quia in eo nullam causam invenio et purpureum vestimentum et dicit eis ecce homo
A commemoration carried down for nearly two thousand years, Easter—or, as some prefer to call it, Resurrection Day—brings with it a variety of personal history tokens of how countless families have celebrated the day.

While I have virtually nothing representing how Samuel Bean and his family observed the holiday, I do still have a number of keepsakes kept by the Irish Catholic Stevens and Tully families. In recognition of this special season, today and tomorrow, I’d like to set aside our story of Sam Bean, and take a holiday detour to share those items with you.

If you remember back to the stories I’ve posted of Agnes Tully Stevens, the woman saved everything. One way I was able to piece together the extended family’s rather commonplace life in Chicago was to sift through both the documents and the ephemera passed down from Agnes’ mother to her—and then through the generations, eventually, to me.

Though the small card, above, was not specifically presented to (I presume) Agnes on the occasion of Easter—or even the days leading up to Good Friday—it bears a graphic reminder applicable to this portion of the Church calendar.

Marked on the front, under the heading, “Ecce Homo,” was the legend,
Benziger & Co.          Déposé.          Einsiedeln, Schweiz.
Curious to know if there was anything listed online—after all, what a powerful research resource we have in the Internet—I entered those terms in the search engine. I found out almost immediately that Benziger started out as a Catholic Publishing house in 1792. Its founder was a man named Joseph Charles Benziger, and he was born—no surprise here—in Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

Through wars, pillage, and even famine, the patriarch of the Benziger line of publishers was able to continue the work of the company and eventually pass it to his sons, Charles and Nicholas. Over the next century, business expanded, including branches in the United States—among them an office in Chicago by 1887.

With such a heritage behind this tiny card—the ornate border expands its measurements to barely two-and-a-half by four inches—it is interesting to juxtapose its orthodoxy with the personal touch affixed to the reverse side.

I am presuming the note—writtten in pencil in a light hand—was addressed to Agnes, herself, or perhaps a sister. Possibly on the occasion of her first communion in 1897, the note to the girl read:
            O, my dear child, pray earnestly that you may understand fully and perfectly the nature and value of this Divine Life.
            After Communion, pray for Sister M. Evangela.
            May 30, 97


  1. That is a lovely card - and sooooo Catholic in style. It looks like every statue and stained glass I've ever seen in a Catholic church.

    (You're not stopping here, are you? Is there a great story about Sister M. Evangela? I hope so.)

    Wishing you a Happy Easter!

    1. Oh, Wendy, I wish I could find some stories about Sister M. Evangela. I don't even know where to begin...though I suppose the records at Saint Ann's church in Chicago might have been a possible starting place...if the parish were still in existence.

      I'm not even sure I'm reading that name right. I tried both the scan-and-enlarge process using PhotoShop, and also went the route of a good, lit, magnifying glass, and I still can't feel confident that I've read that name correctly.

  2. It's amazing that the lacy border is in nearly perfect condition after over 100 years. What a treasure you have, Jacqi.

    Benziger, by the way, is still very much in business today as a leading Catholic publisher.

    A very Happy Easter to you and Chris!

    1. Yes, Linda, it is a treasure--one which I'll need to preserve carefully. It already is difficult to handle the thing properly, with the material becoming so brittle.

      Fascinating to know that Benziger is still going strong! They have an amazing story.

  3. This is Beautiful! You must put it in a sleeve to keep clean and skin oil off it. Thank you for sharing.
    Have a Blessed Easter, Jacqi.

    1. Ah, Betty, there is so much that needs to be done to keep these family items well preserved. I've been reading up on a couple useful books on the topic. When I think of all the stuff I've inherited from Agnes' saved papers, there is so much work yet to be done...

  4. It is so good that so many treasures have made their way to you Jacqi! Not only do you value them, but you share them and inspire family and friends alike.

    1. Michelle, I think "like attracts like" in these sorts of experiences. Sometimes, family members realize the value of preserving their history, see the value in these items, but aren't sure they have the time, or ability, or ongoing dedication to give the project what it takes. That's when they are all too glad to pass along material to someone in the family who is already doing this. It's amazing what seems to come our way as family history researchers, once others in the family become aware of what we are doing.

  5. Maybe the card was written by a nun who was a friend of (or knew) Sister M. Evangela, and given to Agnes, as you say, at her first communion. Lots of love and hope in this seemingly simple card.

    1. Now, that's a plausible possibility, Mariann. Thanks for bringing up that point.


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