As the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) continue to mark the 150th Anniversary of their arrival in the U.S. this year, several Sisters journeyed to Towanda, PA to explore the area where the first Sisters to come to America settled in August 1862 and began two schools. Jeanne Adams, SHCJ (M. John Bosco), who lived in Towanda from 2004-2007, served as the group’s tour guide.
Sister Jeanne pointed out where C.L. Ward’s house had been and the Riverside Cemetery where he and the members of the Weston family are buried. Mr. Ward was the land agent for the Duchess of Leeds, who provided land to Cornelia Connelly, the Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, in Towanda. The Weston family’s connection to the Society is quite fascinating.
The SHCJ know that Margaret Christian was a postulant or volunteer teacher (records are unclear) who had trained as a teacher at St. Leonard’s-on-Sea in England, which the SHCJ founded and ran. Ms. Christian came to America with the second group of Holy Child Sisters in the summer of 1863. Dr. Henry Weston came to the Sisters’ school in Towanda to help some of the Sisters build a stage for a play. As Margaret Christian, who was teaching at the school, and Dr. Weston got to know each other they fell in love and eventually, married.
The couple moved to Philadelphia and had six children. By the time the couple’s daughters were entering high school, the Sisters of the Holy Child had opened Holy Child Academy in Sharon Hill, PA, which the Weston’s daughters all attended. Upon graduating from the school, the couple’s youngest daughter, Lucy Ignatia Weston, entered the Society of the Holy Child and became a Holy Child Sister. She took the religious name of Mother Mary Magdalen.
Sister Jeanne also led the group to the site of the first convent, now gone, where the Sisters remembered the icy winters which the first Sisters were unprepared to face. The visiting SHCJ were experiencing a steamy Towanda summer, and they wondered how those Sisters managed with their heavy woolen habits.
Some other sites visited during the Sisters’ journey to Towanda included:
- Weston Farm, now owed by Doris and Bill Madill, who are related to Mother Mary Magdalen Weston.
- Dushore where the first American Holy Child Sister, Sister Joseph Thall, SHCJ, lived.
- Standing Stone Cemetery where the parents of Sister Hilda Lynch, SHCJ, another vocation from Towanda, are buried.
- Historical Society Museum in Towanda where Henry Farley, present day archivist, showed the Sisters treasures, among them, a doll dressed as a Holy Child Sister.
- The house where Mother St. Michael Dunn, another vocation from Towanda, was born.
All these sites were of great interest but the best part of the trip was getting to know the generous people who hosted the Sisters:
- Ronnie and John Moulthrop (Ronnie baked five coffee cakes and three cakes and hosted eight sisters for two tours)
- Sandy Kasenga, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
- Jackie and Bob Pyznar
- Gerry Smith
- Sheila and Edwin Kraus
- Dan and Sylvia Martin
- Bill and Doris Madill
- Father Edward Michelini, the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church, who gave the Sisters the church hall to use as their home base during their visit.
- School principal Kathy DeWan helped in many hidden ways such as by preparing the Wednesday buffet and helping Sister Jeanne do the shopping.
The Sisters and many of their hosts also enjoyed dinner at the Weigh Station Café, which overlooks the Susquehanna River. It was indeed a trip to savor the past and to appreciate the kindness of the current citizens of Towanda and the surrounding areas of Sayre, Wysox, Ulster, and Burlington.
The visitors thanked God for the first six sisters who came to American. They were also grateful to Sister Jeanne Adams for her knowledge of the area and for the hospitality of her many friends in the Towanda area.