Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Family History Writing Challenge - The Adrian Connection

Adrian, Michigan weaves in and out of our family story.  My dad and grandfather worked there on occasion, mom’s sisters went to school there, and her uncle was a priest there.  I spent the first winter of my life there.  What was the pull of Adrian?

Adrian is the county seat of Lenawee County, Michigan.  It was founded in 1826 by Addison Comstock a promoter for the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad.  Originally called Logan, the name was changed in 1828 by Mrs. Comstock to Adrian in honor of Hadrian of the Roman Empire.[i]

In 1853 three sisters from Holy Cross Convent, Regensburg (Ratisbon), Bavaria were sent to New York to provide religious education to the children of German immigrants.  In 1879 sisters were sent from the congregation in Newburgh, New York to St Mary’s parish and in 1880 to St Joseph’s parish in Adrian.  In 1884 they were joined by sisters sent to establish a hospital for injured railroad workers.  Adrian became a province of Newburgh and Mother Camilla Madden became a provincial.  Mother Camilla opened St Joseph Academy in 1896 and St Joseph College (now Sienna Heights University) in 1919.[ii]
Ratisbon House has served many purposes over the years: rectory for priest chaplains, the Formation House, and the home of the Friends of God Dominican Ashram. It currently serves as the home for a community of Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Fr Michael, Fleming, SJ

         This may have been the rectory when Fr Michael Fleming was stationed at St Joseph’s.       

St Joseph Cemetery final resting place of Fr Michael Fleming, SJ, Sr Michael Joseph Connery, OP and Sr Marie Camilla Connery, OP.

  It was to St Joseph Academy that MJ and Alice sent their daughters for school.  This appears to be somewhat of a family tradition as the daughters of Alice’s sister Mary Fleming Walsh traveled from their Port Huron home to attend St Joseph.  Beginning in 1900 Fr Michael Fleming, a Jesuit priest and brother of Alice Connery  and Mary Walsh was stationed at St Joseph Academy.  This is probably why St Joseph’s was chosen for the girls education.  Two of Alice and MJ’s daughters chose to become Dominican sisters and joined the convent in Adrian.
 Mary Elizabeth Connery became Sister Michael Joseph,
Sr Michael Joseph, OP  1919

Sr Marie Camilla, MJ, Alice, and Sr Michael Joseph
 and Alice Josephine Connery became Sister Marie Camilla.    She was very strongly influenced by Mother Camilla Madden. 
Mt St Mary Academy 1907
In 1907, the Adrian Dominicans purchased the old Farnsworth Mansion in St Charles, Illinois and opened Mount St Mary Aacademy, a private school for girls.  This was both a boarding and day school providing education for kindergarten through high school.  By the 1940s the school was a high school only and closed its doors in 1972.[iii]  It was to the “Mount” that Betty Connery was sent as a sixth grade student where she remained until her high school graduation.  After Betty began her education, most of her nieces also attended the “Mount”.  A total of seven students between the 1940s and 1960 attended the school from the family.
Adrian remained a part of our family story because of the strong ties to the Dominican order and the Connery association with St Joseph Academy.  Somewhere in my files I still have the program from the joint Jubilee celebration held for Sr Michael Joseph and Sr Marie Camilla in the mid-80s.  The last time I was in Adrian was in 1993.  My husband and I had returned to Illinois for our daughter’s wedding.  After the wedding my sister Suzanne and I took a trip to Adrian to visit with Sr Marie Camilla who was in retirement at Maria Hall.  Sr Marie Camilla, the last of her family died 16 April 1995.


[i] Wikipedia
[ii] http://www.adriandominicans.org/WhoWeAre/CongregationInformation/History.aspx
[iii] http://www.listphile.com/StCharles_LocalHistory/Farnsworth_Mansion_Mount_St_Mary_Academy


  1. What a lovely post, Donna! Interesting how a place is part of your ancestors' lives, and why. Beautiful photos, as well.

  2. Thanks for reading Celia. I appreciate the support.