Sunday, January 6, 2019


Image result for Sisters of St.JosephTucson, AZ
In the closing days of 2018 news stories out of Southern California told of two nuns of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet stand accused of embezzlement of educational funds to the tune of $500,000.

Image result for Sisters of St.JosephTucson, AZ

Very different stories are told of the order in 19th century Tucson and form an important part in my book HUACHUCA WOMAN.  I have extracted and edited parts of the story and hope you find it “newsworthy.” Josephine, Violet and Maggie are fictional characters whose depression, loss and physical ailments take them to Tucson in the mid-1920’s where they learn life-sustaining lessons from the Sisters. Asthmatic Thelma and Sister Bernadette are also fictional.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have their origins in 17th century LePuy, France. By the late 19th century, the order had expanded in Europe and across the Atlantic. In 868. Bishop Jean Baptiste Salpointe of Tucson began his campaign to bring sisters from Carondelet, Missouri to administer educational and medical services to residents, including 
Image result for Sisters of St.Joseph Tucson, AZ       Bishop Salpointe

By a northern, very long route it wasn’t until March 1870 that the Seven Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet arrived in San Diego to continue in May nearly 200 miles to the village of Tucson. Therein lies a tale of stress, hardship and humor.

The seven sisters were primarily from France and had unusual names: Mother Emmerentia Bonnefoy, sisters Euphrasia Suchet, Maxine Croissat, Ambrosia Arnichaud, Martha  Peters from Ireland and Canadian widow Monica Corrigan.

Related image

In HUACHUCA WOMAN, after a day of toil, the guest residents and one of the sisters gather in the library for mediation and quiet time.
+ + + + +
“I’ve found the most wonderful little treasure,” Thelma announced to the evening gathering. “It’s the journal of Sister Monica, one of the original Seven Sisters.”
            Sister Bernadette looked up from her missal. “That was some trip of misery and hardship but also of wonder.”

Image result for Sisters of St.Joseph Tucson, AZRe-enactment, San Diego, 2006?

            “Oh, you’ve read it then.” Thelma was downright disappointed. She thought she’d found a long forgotten manuscript hidden in the looming shelves.
            “Every novitiate reads the diary in the first weeks in convent. We nurture respect and honor for the Seven. And the diary reminds us that our lot in life is blessed because of the pain they cut ahead of us.”
            By now, Maggie, Violet and I (Josephine) were very interested. “What happened to them?” asked Violet.
            Thelma looked to Sister who nodded to her to tell. She said, all in a gush, “They traveled with only one guide and a wagon across hot desert lands and later traveled mostly at night. They had to deal with the proposals of drunkards and lonely ranchers, thousands of dead cattle and sheep along the trail, want of water, blistering heat and near naked Pima Indians and threatening Apaches. They had only one blanket between them in the earliest stage of their trip and, often, some of them slept under the wagon or in the brush or on rocks heated by the day’s sun.”
+ + + +
            Thelma moved to the long table and, as we crowded around to look at the manuscript, we saw someone had made pencil drawings of their journey. Sister Bernadette said they were the work of Sister Martha, another of the Seven.
+ + + +
“Do you have a favorite tale?” I asked Sister.
“There are so many and I’ve always wished to know more details. But there is the story of how, on their third night, piercing howls came from Sister Martha and the driver. Sister wanted to add more logs to the fire and lifted a likely log from a pile of leaves only it wasn’t a log. It was the driver’s leg. He’d covered himself with leaves from the cottonwoods nearby to ward off the cold and they’d given each other a mighty scare.”           
“That’s a good one,” laughed Violet. “Tell us another, Sister.”
“Their crossing of the Colorado River was harrowing. The Good Lord was looking out for them that day. The sisters remained in the carriage as it loaded onto the raft but, when the raft went one direction, the carriage shifted in the other. The sisters were left dangling over that icy turbulence with only the weight of a fallen horse keeping them from going down. Just imagine their fear and bravery.”
“And there’s the time Mother Emmerentia took the wrong fork in the road and had to be tracked down,” said Thelma. “The only problem was that when the driver chased her, she didn’t recognize him and ran faster. The priest who had joined the party at the Arizona border and Sister Martha had to retrieve her.”
“Even Mother Superiors aren’t always in the right!” came from Sister Bernadette. We chatted on for another little while before saying our goodnights and heading to our rooms along the gallery. Sweet jasmine met us at the door and nighttime crickets chirped out in the garden. A frog resounded from near the well. I hoped he wasn’t down it. The skies were heavy with glittering stars gathering in the deepening blue. I sighed at the peace and beauty of nature and friendships.
+ + + +
Image result for Starry skies Tucson, AZ                                                  

Sister Monica Corrigan, Trek of the Seven Sisters, Carondolet Publications
Jeff Smith, Nuns On The Run, article in the San Diego Record, July 6, 2006
 Photos by Google Images

Arletta Dawdy writes from Northern California with a focus on Arizona and California History.


  1. There were many of the 'sisters' from the various sects who helped settle the West. Thank you for reminding us of them. Doris

  2. I fell in love with the Seven and had to create a way to tell their story in my first book. Can't imagine traveling across the desert in such primitive conditions wearing heavy woolen habits! Glad you enjoyed it, Doris!

  3. They were remarkably courageous women. You tell their story well, Arletta. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Caroline. I'm happy if you and others enjoy it~


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!