Quote of the day, 31 May: Mother Bernardina Matthews, O.C.D.

The final leg of the foundresses’ journey to America

At Santa Cruz [de Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands] the captain had an opportunity of supplying his ship with fresh provisions; but he was too stingy to do so, although his crew threatened to leave the vessel if he did not provide better for them. He took on board only one barrel of poor flour, and a quarter or two of tough beef and two old sheep. They weighed anchor on the evening of Thursday, May 27th, and resumed their journey. 

After leaving the Island, the captain put his men on rations; for the scarcity of provisions was such that had they been detained by rough weather, they would have been in danger of perishing for want of food. But an ever-watchful Providence was with them; they arrived safely in the course of the trade winds, and with the exception of one or two slight storms, they had fair weather all the way. 

When Mr. Neale said Mass in Santa Cruz, he had consecrated Hosts, sufficient to administer Holy Communion to his little company during the rest of the voyage, foreseeing that he might not again have the happiness of offering up the Holy Sacrifice. 

On the 30th, Trinity Sunday, they arose at 5 o’clock and prepared a little altar. Mr. Neale then administered the Holy Communion to Mr. Plunkett and the four Sisters and afterward received it himself from the hands of his brother-priest. The steward being the only Catholic on board the vessel, the matter was kept a perfect secret. 

During the passage, the Sisters worked in their little cabin, so that their fellow passenger, Mrs. Ramsen, visiting them one day, said the place looked like a sewing school. 

On April 3rd all received Holy Communion again. Of course, as may easily be supposed, the Sisters wore secular clothing. Mother Dickenson in her journal laughingly says that on April 3rd she was dressed in a fine silk petticoat and chintz jacket that had been given her in alms. It made her look so extraordinarily fine, she adds, that all her companions were jealous of her. Mother Bernardina and her nieces went by the names of Mrs. Matthews, Miss Matthews, and Miss Nellie. 

The four Sisters generally supped in their room, whenever, as Mother Dickenson says, they could get anything to sup on. Poor Mr. Neale suffered much from rheumatism, which he jocosely said was a punishment for the Sisters’ vanity. The monotony of the voyage was frequently interrupted by little amusing incidents; thus it happened once that the goat and the dog fell down into the cabin, another time it was the hog that alighted on the table in the Sisters’ room.

On June 19th, while the weather was calm, they met a vessel bound to the West Indies. The captain boarded it and returned with a small bag of brown biscuits. On the 21st they performed their devotions in honor of St. Aloysius to obtain a safe arrival at their destination. 

On the 23rd the fore-top-mast, steering sails, main braces, etc., were carried away in a squall. The ship, almost stripped of her sails, appeared in a very distressed condition. Provisions had all the while been getting very scarce so that even the captain began to grow anxious. When, however, they passed a Scotch brig, instead of providing himself with all that was necessary, which he could have done, he took only one bag of bread and a small quantity of cheese. From the 26th to the 30th the weather was very rough. On the 30th they sighted land, and about 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening a pilot came on board. 

On this voyage, Mother Bernardina gave evidence of her knowledge of distant events. One of her companions happening [sic] to remark that she would soon see her brother, Father Ignatius Matthews; she replied: “No, I shall never see him; he died last night.” The event proved the truth of her words, for when they arrived at their destination they heard the news of his death, and found that it had taken place at the very time mentioned by Mother Bernardina. He died on May 11th. 

After a passage of two months, they arrived at New York on the 2nd of July, Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They had left Europe under the auspices of Mary on the first day of the month consecrated to her honor, and arrived in America on one of her feast days. The Order of Carmel had thus begun its voyage to America with its glorious Queen, with her it continued it, and brought it happily to a close.

Charles W. Currier

Chapter VII, The Voyage (excerpts)

Thanks to Josh Zumbrun, genealogist for the Zumbrun family, whose research has brought to light this image of the ship called Brothers (1750), which is possibly a similar vessel to one of the same name that carried our Discalced Carmelite foundresses in 1790 from Texel, Netherlands to New York.
Photo credit: Josh Zumbrun (Some rights reserved)

Currier, C 1890, Carmel in America: a centennial history of the Discalced Carmelites in the United States, J. Murphy, Baltimore.

Featured image: Merchant ships carried freight and passengers in the golden age of sailing; here, we see a fine oil on canvas artwork from John Clinton Ogilvie (British, 1838–1900) that depicts the Ship ‘British Merchant’ Leaving Aberdeen. Ogilvie executed this painting in 1857 and it is a grand memorial to a ship that suffered a sad fate, as the gallery label explains.

Just two years after being built at Aberdeen, the sailing ship, ‘British Merchant’ was destroyed in a fire in Australia. The local newspapers gave a full account:

The clipper ship ‘British Merchant’, of 900 tons, was totally destroyed by fire at Sydney on morning of 2nd inst. Captain Duthie states that at about 3.00am he was awoke by a crash. He felt stupefied from a suffocating sensation, but contrived to get the cabin window down and saw flames coming up the quarter-hatch.

Photo credit: Aberdeen Maritime Museum (Some rights reserved)

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