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The Vocation of Sister Joseph
Born Carolyn Thall (1844-1893)

From Materials Submitted by Tom Gerber


The Story of Sister Joseph
Book of Life
Society of the Holy Child Jesus
Waseca, MN
Most likely written by the secretary of the local Society convent

Edited by Bob Sweeney
Sullivan County Historian
December 2002

The Vocation of Sister Joseph

The first vocation to the Sisterhood from the Catholic parish in Towanda was Mary Thall. She was the first postulant received by the Sisters of the Holy Child in America. In religion, her name was Sister Joseph and was a Lay Sister. She made her vows in 1864-- and died in 1893. Sister Joseph's sister, Anna Thall, became a Franciscan, Sister Mary Anacleta. She entered the Convent at St. Mary's Hospital, Philadelphia, in 1877--and was professed August 12, 1879. She died in Tacoma, Washington, February 3, 1928.

The following information was contributed to the Sullivan County Genealogical Society by Tom Gerber in May 2002. All the materials are from the Society of the Holy Child Jesus archives. Tom wrote to them hoping to find information on Carolyn's mother, Carolyn Lefevre Thall, namely, where she was born in France. They sent him the materials presented below. The materials include excerpts or notes from the Book of Life. The Book of Life gives basic facts which can >contribute to a story about a person, but is not a story in itself. It is a Province-wide listing and entries are made at the Provincial Office for the American Province. The author of the original handwritten document is unknown.

In May 2013, the Society honored Sister Joseph with a special ceremony at the order house in Waseca. Here is a copy of the actual Celebration Announcement posted on their web page: Sister Joseph Commemoration.

Each convent in the order keeps its own local journals. So, the House Journals and Waseca Annals are from the Society's church school records starting in Waseca, Waseca County, Minnesota, founded in 1886. Here is a historical overview of the Catholic community in Waseca, as given to Tom by the Waseca County Historical Society:

When the village of Waseca was incorported in 1869, several Catholic families in the community met to organize a parish. On 24th October 1869, they met at the home of Thomas White. Mass was celcbrated in the Madson store before the first church was erected in 1874. At the turn of 20th century, the present Catholic church was erected. The parish school started in 1886 under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus. In 1904, the Sisters of St. Francis took over the school. Monsignor James J. Treanor served as paster of the congregation from 1890 until his dealth in 1942.

Let us begin by reference to the original records written in Waseca in 1893:

Sister Joseph became a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus in Towanda PA, was sent to Waseca, Minnesota in 1886, and seven years later died at the age of 49, after serving 29 years in the sisterhood. She died in 1893.

From the House Journal
January 1893

3rd: School began today with Low Mass - as there is so much sickness in the town.
16th: Reverand Mother Antonia accompanied by Sr. Joseph went to St. Paul, to the hospital where sister is to be treated.
19th: Sister Joseph died this morning at 2.30 at the hospital in St. Paul. Dismissed the school at eleven until Monday. Rev. Mother Antonia returned on the 1 1/2 train with Sister's remains, which were placed in the chapel.
21st: Mass this morning at 7:30 said by Bishop Cotter in the Chapel. Funeral Mass in the church at 9 o'clock. High Mass sung by Father Treanor. The members of the choir asked as a special privilege to be allowed to sing. The Bishop gave thc absolution and preached a beautiful sermon taking for his text, "Whether we live or whether we died, we are the Lord's". The snow was so deep all went in sleighs. Father Treanor went to the cemetery, and after the usual prayers, knelt and said some prayers for the repose of Sister's soul. R.I.P. Many people followed to the cemetery*. The Bishop called in the afternoon before leaving (Waseca) and was very kind.
22nd: Sunday - Sr. Joseph was prayed for at all the masses.
According to the Annals, the cemetery referred to is located at Sacred Heart Church.

From the Waseca Annals

Sister Joesph was the first American received as a postulant in the Society of the Hold Child Jesus. She was Caroline Thall of Towanda where she was born and raised and where she first met the Sisters of the Holy Child. The Thalls were devout Catholics. Caroline, the second of twelve children was described as a happy, devout child. One who had been a schoolmate with her assures us that she was much loved by her companions and the immediate family, all of them trying to dissuade her from the intention she later formed of entering the Convent. They were not rich people, owning only a small farm, and the expenses incurred by her entering the Convent somewhat alarmed them. However, she held her own and was received by Mother Mary Xavier (Noble) who gave her the hood. Apparently Caroline lived at the Convent in Towanda as a postulant. The companion referred to above wrote:

The children had good crying spells after she left us. I watched my chance to steal out of the classroom, down to the basement where one of the windows looked on the back of the Convent. Then I sometimes saw her, washing, ironing, or sewing as the case may be. I do not think she was more than 18 when she went to the Convent, and sometimes I ran over and spoke to her. For a while all went well, but one day she told me not to come again as she had a rule of silence to keep and I must not make her break it by talking. I did as she bade me for I would not for worlds have prevented her being received as a Sister.

And so, Sister Joseph, once known as Caroline Thall, cast in her lot with the gallant little group of Holy Child Sisters who gladly endured the hardships of pioneer days and who, through silence, prayer and hard work seasoned with gaiety, strengthened the Kingdom within and channeled grace to those with whom they came in contact.

From the Book of Life

Sr. Joseph
Parents John, Mary Thall, Dushore PA
Note: This information is not correct. Her parents were James and Carolyn (Lefevre) Thall.
Birth: April 22, 1844
Baptism: 1860
Clothing (reception of Habit): March 18, 1864, America
Note: This apparently refers to her being initiated by receipt of the nun's habit and that it took place in America. Recall that the Society was founded in Europe.
Vows: January 29, 1867
Death: January 19, 1893, Waseca, Minnesota.

She was remarkable for all her virtue of a true religous but her humility, patience and prompt obedience were striking. Her observance of the rule of silence was a source of great edification to all and her child-like docility endeared her to all her superiors as well as to the members of the convent where she dwelt. (MStMartin)
Note: "MStMartin" is a reference to Mother St. Martin, the apparent source of this comment.
Caroline Thall was the first American received as a postulant for the Soc. of the H.C.J. after our arrival in America. Her father, Jas Thall, was born in Philadelphia but was of Swabian parentage. Caroline's mother, Caroline Lafeber [sic], was an Alsatian and used to tell the story of when, from her little home in Alsace, she could see the clock on the cathedral at Strasburg· Her grandfather had been one of Napoleon's body-guard and was mortally wounded at the battle of Waterloo.
Note:In early 2002, Bob Sweeney was able to establish that Caroline's house had been on the island of Saulcy in the middle of the river that flows through Strasburg.
The little girl was born Apr. 24, 1844 at Towanda in the valley of the Susquehanna. The family contained twelve children of whom Caroline was the second in age. The Thalls were devout Catholics and Caroline's religious education was carefully watched over by her parents. A happy pious Catholic child is the opinion given of her childhood by those who knew her in those early days. One who had been a school mate with her assures us that she was much beloved by her companions & the immediate family, all of them trying to dissuade her from the intention she later formed of entering the convent. They were not rich people, owning only a small farm and the expenses incurred by her entering the convent somewhat alarmed them. However she held her own and was received by Mother [??] who gave her the hood & marked her to become an inmate of the convent. The companion of whom we have spoken writes "the children had good crying spells after she left us. many a time I watched my chance to steal out of the class room, down to the basement where one of the windows looked on the back of the convent. Then I sometimes saw her washing, ironing or sewing as the case might be. I do not think she was more than 18 when she went to the convent and sometimes I ran over and spoke to her. For a while all went well. but one day she told me not to come again as she had a rule of silence to keep & I must not make her break it by talking. I did as she bade me for I would not for worlds have prevented her being received as a sister.
Note: This part repeats the same story told above in the Waseca Annals. We also know from the preceding source that the Mother Superior was named "Mother Mary Xavier".
Note: The words "John Murphy" are crossed out here in the handwritten text.
It was a hard life upon which Caroline had entered. The Society of the Holy Child had been founded in England by Mother Cornelia Cormoily in 1846, but it was not until 1887 that the Papal approbation was given. It was not until 1861 that the desire of the Society Foundress was fulfilled in sending a colony of her nuns to her native land, America. It was through the [??] of the Duchess of Leeds, another American lady, that this was brought about. The patron of the new foundation was Louise Caton, the Duchess of Leeds. [She was ? ] one of the daughters of Richard Caton and Mary Carroll Calion of Ballinene(?), grand-daughter of Chas. Carroll of Carrollton, all of whom married abroad.
Note: This section apparently traces the connection to the sponsor. The town referred to as Ballinene (?) is undoubtedly in Ireland and, with that verbal construction, probably in the western part of the country. It would be whatever town in Ireland the Carrolls came from. Charles Carroll "of Carrollton" was famous as having signed the American Declaration of Independence with his town address after his name, so that the British would not attempt to arrest the wrong Charles Carroll.
A part of the patrimony thet the Duchess of Leeds [owned] consisted of a tract of forest lands in Lycoming Co Penna. and farm land (160 acres) with house & building in the Borough of Towanda in Bradford Co. They were offered the farm & buildings as a home for the first missionary band and a school in which to begin their work. On August 12 in 1862, they landed in America & on Aug 18, two sisters in company with Rev. Charles I.H. Carter set out for Towanda. The route in 1862 was probably by railroad to [???], there by stage coach over mountains & highlands which separate the two branches of the Susquehanna. The buildings and surroundings of their new home did not come up [to the ?]account given to the Duchess by her agent *. Actual experience and trial must prove whether or not it could succeed. The parish school was organized and opened in a hall in the little town on the first day of Sept. 1862. Besides this, an Academy was opened & also a night school for any working girls who might wish to attend. Most of the students were splendid girls employed as domiciles. No other employment was in sight. The period of the type-writer and stenographer had not yet arrived.
* Note: Here s a photo of the original 1862 convent building in which the nuns first lived:


Holy Child of Jesus Convent
Towanda, PA 1862
Source: Daily Review, Towanda, PA, August 19, 2012
See accompanying article by Henry Farley on the 150th Anniversary of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus,

A lady who attended the Sisters school in Towanda writes thus of the period: "when school opened in Sept. it was full, one large room. The building is standing in the place today and is very good looking still. It was about 10 minutes walk from the convent. Many children came from the near farms as Towanda is very hilly & many of its inhabitants live on farms outside the town. About the same time, the Sisters opened a night school which was very well patronized. Most of the students were splendid girls, living in Towanda, employed in domicile work. No other employment was in sight at that time for this was before the date of the typewriter & stenographer. One of these girls so employed became the first postulant the Sisters received in America, Caroline Thall, in religion Sr. Joseph. Indeed I think Towanda has been the cradle of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus in this country. It gave three splendid religious--Sr. Michael (Dunn), Sister Joseph (Thall) and Sister Hilda (Lynch)--all devoted nuns, all rocked in the wooden cradle (rocked hard too), nuns who labored and suffered much. Mother Agatha remarked long years after [that they had] "paid the Society for coming to America". Probably it was at the night school classes that Caroline Thall first met the Sisters whose community she was so soon to join. Only about [??] whole school year and then the nuns had to leave Towanda and go to Philadelphia where they have remained ever since.
Mother Sr. John (McMaster) writes of Sister Joseph. as Professed: "A quaint quiet, pious nun. When I was a girl at Sharon, 1873-1879, she used to brush the children's hair on Saturday mornings and whilst she did so told us stories in German or recited German poems. In 1884, she went West and I did not meet her again."
Note: A Professed nun is one who has professed vows in the Society. "Sharon" refers to the convent at Sharon Hill, PA.
To return to the account given by her friend of this time:

After a time the sisters received orders to remove to the Assumption Convent on Spring Garden Street in Phila. Caroline went with them much to my grief. About 18 months later, my father and I took a trip to Phila. on business & of course I insisted on seeing Caroline. My father took me to the house at 12th & Green - a corner house - and told me to ring the bell & ask to see her. He went about his own affairs and I did as he had bidden me. Who should answer the bell but her own dear self? When she left her father's house, she was quite a pretty girl - fair, with rosy cheeks and wavy hair. She had been full of life & fun with a good deal of pep but that day I found her really changed. Her rosy cheeks had fled, she looked thin and care-worn, not a bit like our cheery girlish Caroline of bygone days. This was my first impression, but as I talked to her in the parlor, it changed somewhat and I thought that perhaps the religious habit in which I now saw her for the first time accounted for a good deal of the change. What struck me so forcibly. Certainly she grew more like herself the longer I stayed with her & was interested in everything I could tell about home and its surroundings.

Perhaps some of the following information forwarded by Miss M. Thall may have had its part in the conversation. Sister Joseph's father was a man of wonderful faith which seems to have been [shared ?] by his entire family. ** Her mother was an invalid for years and years. She had very incomplete sight and could only hear when one shouted. She prayed for her purgatory on earth & was never heard to complain no matter how great her suffering. She was a member of the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart and would spend the hours between 4 and 5pm in prayer before the B[lessed] Sacrament & said many rosaries throughout the day for she loved the Blessed Mother dearly. She had two envelopes, in one of which she kept slips of paper and as she said a rosary she would take a slip of paper out of one envelope and put it into the empty one, till the papers had all been disposed of. This was her method of keeping count of the rosaries recited.
Her son Edward, a very pious young man, was attacked by typhoid fever & his mother not realizing the critical condition of the patient did not think of sending for a priest. They were not so plentiful in those days nor so easy to reach, but Mrs. Thall was unconsolable over what she regarded as criminal neglect. In her grief, she shut herself up in her room and prayed for some sign to show that her boy was saved. A cross that looked as if it were made of [wax ?] with leaves suddenly appeared on the boson of his white shirt and remained there until he was buried which consoled his mother greatly.
Note: This anecdote appears to refer to a brother of Sister Joseph, named Edward Thall.
The following incident has also been handed down. When Sister's maternal grandmother's husband was sick unto death, not a priest could be found in the neighborhood to minister to his needs. In desperation, the poor man made his confession to his wife requesting her to repeat the same to a priest as soon as possible. She and Sister's mother, who was a small child [at the time], at once started on their errand. The walked for days and finally stopped at a farm house. They told of their quest but [were ?] offered no encouragement, saying that it might be weeks before they could accomplish what they had undertaken. The old lady was on the point of turning back and going elsewhere later, when her limbs from her knees downward grew deathly cold and she had to remain where she was. That night, her husband came to her and bade her continue the journey. She continued her journey as ordered and reached Pottsville, Penna where she made like confession as promised to the resident priest and returned home. Of course, the writer observes, we know an act of perfect contrition would have settled matters from the dying man but I have written this to show the faith of his wife under difficult circumstances.
Note; This is a somewhat mysterious story. It seems to apply to the mother and grandmother of Sister Joseph, that is, to Carolyn Lefever and HER mother. If so, why not just refer to the grandmother's husband as Carolyn Lefever's father or Sister Joseph's grandfather? There may be a stepfather involved.
Caroline received the religious habit March 19, 1864 and was named after Sr. Joseph to whom she had great devotion. Owing to difficulties with their ecclesiastical superiors in England, regarding [life ?]reception & professions of novices, she was not professed until Jan 29, 1867.

**
On September 9, 2001, Tom Gerber wrote to the Bradford County Genealogical Web page the following comment, which refers to the vocation of another Thall child: "We have been researching our LEFEBVRE and THALL ancestors and recently ran across an entry in a history book that says: This includes two daughters of Caroline Lefebvre Thall. It says: The first vocation to the Sisterhoods from the parish is Miss Mary Thall. She is the first postulant received by the Sister of the Holy Child in America (Towanda). In religion, her name was Sister Mary Joseph. She made her vows in 1864 - Died in 1893. Sister Mary Joseph's sister, Anna Thall, became a Franciscan, Sister Mary Anacleta. She entered the Convent at St. Mary's Hospital, Philadelphia, in 1877 - was professed August 12, 1879. She died in Tacoma, Washington, February 3, 1928."

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