This year we mark the 75th anniversary of the division of the North American Province into three independent provinces: Holy Name (Stella Niagara), Sacred Heart (Denver), St. Francis (Monrovia à Sierra Madre à Redwood City). January 1, 1939, was the official date which not only set the seal, as it were, on the efforts of more than a year, but also saw the beginning of journeys which continue to this day.
So, how did it come about that a province that spanned the North American continent was reconfigured into three entities? From the time the first sisters arrived in Buffalo in 1874, the mission and then the province grew rapidly. By 1929 the newly created North American province was home to over 500 professed sisters, novices, and postulants living in 34 convents and staffing 45 institutions across the country. By 1936, the number of sisters had jumped to over 600! According to the revised Constitutions (1929), the provincial superior was to make a visitation of all the houses of her province at least once a year. This mandate called for almost superhuman stamina and meant that the provincial would have to spend the better part of each year on the road in order to visit houses and institutions stretching from the shores of the Atlantic to the hills of West Virginia, the banks of the Niagara and the Ohio, the plains of the Dakotas, the mile-high city, and on to the Golden State of California and the Pacific Northwest. With the gradual cessation of the “free” railroad passes, this travel would also strain the financial resources of the province. It was clear that something needed to be done.
During the provincial chapter of 1937, the question was proposed to the delegates as to whether the division should create two provinces of equal status, entirely independent of one another, or whether the western portion should remain for a few years a commissariat of the Eastern Province. The vote of the chapter was unanimous—to create two independent provinces, and the dividing line was to be the natural boundary between east and west—the Mississippi River, with Chicago as terminus in the north.
(Chronicle of the Division of the North American Province, 1938)
The requisite permission would be sought from the general council, but in the meantime, Mother Lidwina Jacobs embarked for her western visitation trip in January 1938. In addition to visiting all the sisters “in the west,” she also had the task of finding a suitable location for the new western motherhouse and novitiate—a place that “would be easily accessible to all parts of the new province, and in a diocese where our congregation would be welcomed by the bishop.” Prior to her departure, the provincial council determined that it might be advantageous to investigate potential sites in Denver or Los Angeles. Thus it was that on the morning of January 27, 1938, Mother Lidwina and her secretary, Sister Bernice Danley, arrived in Denver for visitation and reconnoitering!
As we move through this anniversary year, From the Archives will continue to look at some of the circumstances surrounding the formation of the three provinces.