Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Catherine Stevens, the daughter of John Kelly Stevens, whose wedding we’ve been discussing over the past few days. Yesterday, in particular, I was speculating on why she, as bride, had insisted that her wedding be “a quiet affair.”
Knowing what I’d seen in later-life letters concerning Catherine’s relationship with her step-mom, Theresa Blaising Stevens, I had thought that was a masked commentary on a possible life-long history of such difficult family relationships. Think about it: who’s to fill the all-consuming role of mother-of-the-bride when one’s mother is long dead?
In retrospect—and, after perusing some old notes on other historical newspaper gleanings—I see there may have been another sobering death in the extended family for which Catherine wished to be circumspect: that of Theresa’s own mother.
Theresa Blaising Stevens’ childhood story was inspiring in its own right. She was raised—and brought to America under challenging circumstances—by a woman we could rightly call The Quintessential American Immigrant. Mary Ann Hirshberg Blaising, as widowed mother of ten, determined that she would seek a better future for her children in the New World. Incredibly, she saved enough money to provide for passage across the Atlantic for the entire family, and eventually settled in New Haven, a small farm community near Fort Wayne. Though she didn't arrive there until the late 1860s, among her accolades were the term, "Pioneer Woman."
You can sense, from her obituary in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, that Mary Ann Blaising was honored by not only her immediate family, but by a large extended family—and by the community at large, as well. Judging from the June 13, 1907, headline—“Close of a Noble Life” and “A Most Remarkable Woman”—her story commanded respect.
As a sub-heading to the obituary explained, Mary Ann Blaising was widowed by the death of her soldier husband, the event that touched off the process of the family’s emigration. What became of the family after that point, I’ll let the obituary express in its own flowery language of the time:
Modest, unassuming all her life, while yet worthy of the highest honors of motherhood and heroic womanhood, Mrs. Mary Ann Blaising, one of the most remarkable women that this country has ever known, passed away last evening at the home of her son, August Blaising, at New Haven. Consoled by the consolations of her religion, with the memory of her remarkable career of sacred and devoted motherhood like an aurum of sanctity about her, Mrs. Blaising passed from life as one going into a peaceful slumber at the close of a day spent in wholesome and sanctified labor. Age and the toils of a life that cannot be regarded but as phenomenal in its combined devotedness and beautiful exaltation of christian womanhood, had laid its impress upon her and had sapped her physical powers gradually but steadily, and she sank into eternal slumber as quietly and peacefully as the summer breezes pass at eventide.Mrs. Blaising's remarkable life deserves more than a passing mention. She was born in Lorraine, then a French province, on November 7, 1830. In early womanhood she was married to Lawrence Blaising, who was a soldier of the French army during the third empire. He died in Paris, leaving the widow and ten young children.With the slender means left to the widow of a soldier Mrs. Blaising started life anew, but she realized that her all but helpless offspring would have but slight chances for advancement in the fatherland. The opportunities offered to youth in America appealed to her intelligence, and she invested her whole life savings in the voyage to this country. With her flock of little ones she sailed from France in 1866 and came to America, settling at New Haven. Here, by her own labor, she reared and educated her children. Three of them preceded her to the other world. Working and striving for the welfare of her little ones, educating them in the tenets of religion and teaching them the principles of good citizenship, she spent her life, and the love and veneration of a whole community became hers because of her devotion and the knowledge of her unselfish struggles for her offspring.Mrs. Blaising was one of the oldest members of St. John's Catholic church at New Haven, and her devotion to children and church formed a beautiful example of true christian motherhood.Mrs. Blaising is survived by seven children—Henry Blaising, of New Haven; Lawrence Blaising, of Albany, N.Y.; John Blaising, of Fort Wayne; Philip Blaising, of Crestline, O.; Louis Blaising, of Garrett; August Blaising, of New Haven, and Mrs. Theresa Stevens, wife of Police Officer John Kelly Stevens, of Fort Wayne.She leaves forty-one grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren. The date of the funeral will be announced when her relatives are heard from.