Jan 27, 2024

Trouble Descends on the Sisters

Five commissioners and their stenographers descended upon the orphanage in Dobbs Ferry, New York, early in the morning. It was a surprise visit.

The Advisory Committee to the New York Commissioner of Public Charities, John Kingsbury, had been tasked with investigating child care institutions, and it had decidedly political – and anti-Catholic – motivations.

The Sisters Get a Grilling

The commissioners dispersed throughout the facility. One headed to the dormitory, another to the dining hall, one to the kitchen, another to the storeroom. The fifth commissioner examined the record books in the office. His questions bordered on the bizarre.

“How many clubs are there in this home?” he demanded.
Clubs? In an orphanage? The puzzled Missionary Sister thought quickly, and replied, “Three.” The Holy Angels, the societies of Mary, and a group of aspirants counted, didn’t they?
“But where are the roll books of the members?”
“We do not have any.”
“Do you have minutes of the meetings?”

And on it went. Did the girls have dancing lessons? Organized societies for young artists? Who taught them drama? (When the answer was, “The Sisters,” the commissioner broke out in derisive laughter.) The questioning went on for three days.

A Biased Report Card

A few weeks later a long report arrived. Page after page of deficiencies were cited: There were no pictures of fruit and birds on the walls. Children weren’t allowed to serve themselves (the Sisters gave an equal portion to all). The girls wore uniforms and therefore were dressed like prisoners.

The evaluation had nothing to do with whether the children were happy, safe, well cared-for, or decently educated.

The Missionary Sisters pored over the report. Mother Cabrini had taught them to be resourceful, wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). Although she wasn’t with them in person, they knew what she expected:

Stay calm: “How good and helpful it is to enter a situation prepared to do the will of our Lord,” she wrote.

Trust Jesus: “Leaning on you, enclosed in your heart, I hope to do everything. ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13)”

Take courage: “…keep in mind that it is the Sacred Heart who directs all, not the directress; therefore we do not have to do anything but help Him place loving hands on painful wounds.”

Mother Cabrini’s guidance pointed the Sisters in the right direction.

A Cheerful Transformation

Within two weeks the Missionary Sisters had completely overhauled Sacred Heart School to address the arbitrary complaints. Round tables and chairs took the place of rectangular tables and benches in the dining hall. Additional gymnastics equipment joined the seesaw on the playground. Volumes of fine literature were carefully interspersed with books of the lives of the saints in the library. And best of all there was an abundance of record books and files.

Then the superior at Dobbs Ferry requested a second visit from the commissioner’s Advisory Committee. They wisely invited a delegate from the Archbishop of New York’s office to come along as well.

The five investigators compared the drastically altered surroundings to their reports. “But this is a different school altogether,” one inspector muttered. They passed through the buildings and grounds, saying nothing. Whether they’d intended to or not, they had to admit that Sacred Heart School was a first-class establishment. Out of 38 child care institutions investigated, it was one of only 12 they did not find to be substandard.

Thanks to St. Frances Cabrini Shrine NYC

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