Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A City Girl Moves to the Country

In order to do the sleuthing necessary to discover the writer of the postcard featured in yesterday’s post, I have to lay out the cast of characters from which to select our possible subject. This, as I discovered from puzzling over dozens of links yesterday, has not been an easy search. However, before we get to the analysis, let’s first uncover the back story.

An older sister of my husband’s grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, found herself at the age of twenty three moving from her lifelong world in Chicago to a country town over four hundred miles away. Mary Monica Tully—or May, as everyone called her—owed her new course in life partially to the wife of her neighbor and family doctor, Thomas McGonagle. His brother, newly a widower, was ready to remarry. The only hitch: he lived in a bucolic setting which was the very opposite of the surroundings in which May had been raised.

Along with her willingness on June 3, 1902, to say “I do,” Mary Monica gained an instant family of two young children and a farm in remote New Lexington, Ohio. How she adapted to country life I’ll never know, unless a diary manages to surface among her possessions passed down to her immediate descendants. Judging from the papers habitually accumulated by both her sister Agnes and her sister Lily, it may be possible that the new Mrs. McGonagle left such mementos. But what I can share today will be limited to what I’ve garnered from online resources.

May and her husband, Dennis Austin McGonagle, had nine children together, plus the son and daughter he already had with his now-deceased first wife, Ellen Clementine Bennett. Beginning with Anna Catherine in 1903, May added six daughters and three sons to the McGonagle family. The youngest, Joseph Edward McGonagle, born in 1919, ended up giving his life in service during World War II, dying somewhere over France on March 8, 1944.

Somewhere within that range of birth dates—from 1903 to 1919—one of those children must have borne a daughter who later responded to the call to join a convent in the Perry County area. That someone, writing about her “great aunt” Agnes to Agnes’ sister Lily in 1944, would have to be about the age of twenty or older by that date, if she were already in the convent, putting her date of birth around—or previous to—1924.

The trouble is that, for Mary Monica and Dennis Austin McGonagle to have a grandchild born before 1924 would require the child’s parents—one of whom would be May and Dennis’ child—to be old enough in 1924 to have children of their own. That leaves, for possibilities, the McGonagle children Anna, Ethel and Agnes. While Anna did have a daughter named Mary Eileen, that child definitely would not be the candidate to become Sister Mary Agnes of the postcard pictured in yesterday’s post. Mary Eileen married and had a daughter of her own—not indicative of someone about to choose a cloistered lifestyle.

And the rest of the grandchildren? Whether born early or late, none of those granddaughters were named Eileen, nor did they remain single and childless.

Trying to find the order to which Sister Mary Agnes was affiliated became a challenge, too. Mentioning “Carmel” in the postcard brings to mind some of the Catholic history of the Perry County region around New Lexington and its neighboring village, Somerset—the home of the first Catholic church in the state of Ohio—which leads one to think of connections to Saint Mary’s of the Springs. However, the signature line used by Sister Mary Agnes, “Yours with Good Shepherd,” may point to a different Order. At any rate, neither of these labels provided Google hits when combined with either “Eileen” or “Sister Mary Agnes” that would be of help in this particular search.

So who is Sister Mary Agnes? For the current time, that will have to be a question that remains unanswered. Since there are a number of other letters yet to be transcribed from among Agnes Tully Stevens’ papers, perhaps a clue will emerge there to allow us to determine her identity.

Photograph: Portrait of the family of Austin and May McGonagle of New Lexington, Ohio.

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