Devoted heart

Daily Reading for May 7 • Harriet Starr Cannon, Religious, 1896

In that cemetery at St. Gabriel’s, on the 9th day of April, 1896, it being the Thursday in Easter week, there was committed to the ground the mortal body of one of the noblest and most remarkable women of our day; a body once the earthly tabernacle of a vigorous mind, a clear intellect, a resolute will, and a great heart full of love to God and man. The world knows little of her and cares less; her life work was not that which this generation applauds; the object for which she lived makes no appeal to the restless spirits of our day; but if ever God’s work has been done well and faithfully it was so done by that active brain, that devoted heart, those hands that never tired, those feet which trod for forty years the path of close and closer walk with the Lord. As, if by His special and most gracious mandate, she was called out of this world on Easter Day; at half-past three in the afternoon the exodus was made; four days later the precious body was committed to the ground, in the midst of those nearest and dearest to her on the earth, a great number of sisters, associates, priests, and devoted friends assisting at the solemn action. After the due performance of the Rites of the Church, in long procession, carried on the shoulders of four priests, followed by her spiritual children, and by many clergy from our own and distant dioceses, she was borne to the grave. It was remarked, and none could fail to notice, that the season, which had been backward, seemed to have changed suddenly; the voice of the springtide and the first prophecy of summer were in the air; the sun shone brilliantly on the little procession; light breezes stirred the trees; and, for the first time that year, the birds began to sing, as if joyfully praising the Lord. Unseen forms must have been also in attendance; visitants from another realm, to whose presence may have been due some of that impression of awe and wonder with which we withdrew from the scene.

And now that all is over on this side, and now that she has been received out of our sight, it has been felt that some memorial, some written record, should be prepared of greater length than those which have already appeared in the journals of the day, commemorative of that life. This seems desirable for many reasons; as a tribute to the woman who was with us once as a burning and a shining light; as a statement of the motives of her action during a long and memorable life; as a record of the results of the indomitable energy with which she wrought, and the reward of patience and faith conceded to her loving service; as a history of the varied experience, through which, in evil report and good report, in reproaches, misunderstandings, and opposition, she steadily pursued her way; as a gift to those of the Community founded by her, which may serve for reminder, encouragement, and warning, as they carry on the work which throve so wonderfully under wise and strong leadership, and now devolves on them the weight of an unspeakably grave responsibility. Such purposes might a memoir serve which was all that it should be; therefore the writer could wish that the task of preparing it had been laid on some one more worthy than he. There are men and women in the Church far better fitted for this undertaking, though in one point he yields to none of them; in his devotion to that blessed memory, his appreciation of that mission of which she was the apostle, his profound reverence for the manner in which her work was accomplished, his earnest desire that every thought of hers respecting it may be fulfilled. It is nearly a quarter of a century since, as Pastor of the Sisterhood of St. Mary, he knew, in the sacred intimacy of the priestly office, all that its Superior was planning, desiring, suffering. Others, since that distant day, have done the work which he was compelled to lay down, but the afterglow is bright on the skies behind us, and through that light it may be given him to write down something apt to help and teach, to remind those who were then her companions, to help those who shall come after.

From the Prelude to Harriet Starr Cannon: First Mother Superior of the Sisterhood of St. Mary,a memoir by Morgan Dix (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1896). Found at

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