Sunday, May 6, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Maiden Aunt, part 3




The third maiden aunt to be considered is Alice Josephine Connery. Alice, named after her mother, was the fourth child and third daughter of Michael and Alice Fleming Connery. She was born on March 29, 1899.

Like her older sisters, Mary and Kathy, Alice attended boarding school in Adrian, Michigan. Although the 1910 census shows that for some time she was living in Victor, Colorado with her Aunt and Uncle Mary and Gus Heisen.[i] Uncle Gus was a miner in a gold mine. On Friday nights Uncle Gus, a Lutheran, would drill her on her catechism lessons before her Saturday classes.  Years later Alice would reminisce about running down the hill to meet Uncle Gus on his way home from work. It is possible that Alice was in Colorado for allergies, since in later years she went to the North Woods during the “hay fever season” in the Midwest.

Alice graduated from St Joseph Academy on June 16, 1918 and then worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad until February 14, 1919 when she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St Dominic in Adrian, Michigan. During her postulate she taught elementary grades at St Joseph Academy. After receiving the habit on August 22, 1919 along with the name Sister Marie Camilla, she was sent to teach junior high for a year at Our Lady of Sorrows in Detroit, MI. Her canonical year was difficult due to a succession of five novice mistresses but she made her first profession of vows on August 10, 1921.

Now her teaching career would begin in earnest. Her first appointment was to teach middle grades and freshman year of high school at Visitation School in Detroit for five years, then it was on to Queen of Angels School in Chicago as a junior high teacher. In the 1930’s she taught high school at Mount St Mary Academy in St Charles, IL. During her tenure at Mt St Mary’s her youngest sister Betty was one of her students. The story is told that she was known as “Sister Mary Pussyfoot” because she always caught her rosary on something, breaking it, and wore rubber heels on her shoes, so nobody could hear her coming!

Mixed with her teaching career, Sister Marie Camilla studied during the summers at Detroit Teachers College, De Paul University in Chicago and St John University in Toledo, Ohio. In 1929, she received her BS degree from St John.

She accepted an appointment to St Killian in Chicago as principal/superior but found that the position was not for her, so she returned to Mt St Mary, where she helped in the library as well as taught. During the summers, she continued her education earning a M Ed from De Paul University in 1942, and a BA in Library Science from Rosary College in River Forest, IL. She also took a summer class in theology taught by Dominican Fathers, adding a certificate to her collection of degrees.

In 1950 and again in 1956 she made a pilgrimage to Rome with her Mother and sisters. They had a private audience with the Pope and visited family in Ireland.

The late 1960s and early 1970s brought change to the Church and religious life. It was a time when nuns could choose whether to wear the traditional habit or not, a time when they could choose to return to their original names and a time when many were encouraged to accept employment outside of their order. Sister Marie Camilla retained her habit, although a modified one, and the religious name but she did accept the librarianship at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, Fl a coed school. After 40 years in all-girls schools it was quite a change. She spent 2 years there.

In 1974, at 75 years old, she “retired” to St Helen in Vero Beach, FL where she spent her time doing volunteer work. She even took a behind the counter position at the St Vincent de Paul Store, which she declared “one of the most interesting experiences of my life.”

In 1985 Sister Marie Camilla moved into Maria Hall at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse where she would remain until her death April 16, 1995 having served 74 years as a religious sister. She is buried in the congregation cemetery in Adrian.[ii]

She is remembered as a graceful always happy woman who was a lover of nature. She was a gentle artistic woman who loved fine and delicate things.  I am very glad that she was my aunt.



[i] 1910 US Federal Census; Census Place: Victor Ward 3, Teller, Colorado; Roll: T624_125; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0187; FHL microfilm: 1374138
[ii] Most biographical material taken from her autobiography written in 1978 and on file in the Adrian Dominican Archives