Amazing story of Sister Agnes McKeon, First MMM Postulant in the USA
First Days in Winchester
The Winchester Star of 16 May 1952, carried the following item.
“Former Downs Estate Sold: The sale of the former Downs Estate, built as a residence by the late Jere Downs at the corner of Cambridge and Arlington Streets, opposite the Winchester Country Club, was announced this week. The transfer was made by the Armstrong Knitting Mills, of Hyde Park, of which the late Robert W. Armstrong was head, to the Medical Missionaries of Mary, a Catholic medical organization, and will be used as a private residence for members of the mission while pursuing their advanced studies. Transfer of the property has been effected and the residence will be open for use this coming Monday. Murray and Gillett were the brokers.
“Description of the Estate: The estate overlooks distant views of Cambridge and Boston and is graced with spacious and rolling lawns, distinctively landscaped. The main house, designed by Chapman E. Fraser, has 14 large rooms. It is built in English Tudor style.”
What the Star omitted to say did not escape the record, thanks to Sister Julie Urban’s indelible memories of those days. “The Winchester property had been vacant for five years before we came, and so the grounds had been a safe haven for numerous birds and small animals. It was not unusual to go out on the grounds in the early morning, while waiting to go to Mass, and find squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and pheasants peacefully roaming nearby.
“The house itself needed plenty of cleaning, etc., and so the first few weeks were spent in scrubbing and re-scrubbing the floors and walls. Recreations were mostly spent in clearing the underbrush and the grounds of five years’ accumulation.
“Behind the original house there was a tea House, which came in very handy for classes in the warm weather.
“Some of the functions that helped us financially during those early years were whist drives, lawn parties and bazaars.
“On Saturday, May 24, our first Mass at One Arlington Street was celebrated by Father O’Riordan, pastor of Saint Mary’s Church, at 7 a.m. He brought along two altar boys for the occasion. After Mass he recited a beautiful Act of Consecration to Mary for the MMM.
“The following day, Archbishop Cushing gave Solemn Benediction to the girls of the Tekakwitha Club, when over one hundred people were present. On June 7, the house was once again crowded, when over one hundred members and Captains of the Guild were out for a farewell party for Mother Mary. On Sunday June 8, approximately five hundred people were here to wish Mother a Bon Voyage and to see around the house and grounds. Tea was served out of doors. At 5 p.m. there was Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“On June 11, it was a family affair when, according to the diary, we had dinner all together at the long table in the sun-parlor, for the last time with Mother Mary. We had set up for tea in the community room (it was raining – no tea outdoors) for Mother, but she had company and could not attend. We were hoping she would tell us the story of the Congregation, and God answered our prayers. At 5 p.m. Mother appeared to tell us, in her unforgettable way, of her days previous to the conclusion of Visitation… We had supper again in the parlor, and Mother was telling us that a week from now, if everything goes off as planned she would be in Italy, after a stop-over in New York and London.”
The following day Mother Mary left Winchester, and on June 16 returned to Europe from New York.
Much had to be done to prepare for the official opening of the new novitiate, and time passed quickly. July 16 saw the Stations of the Cross being erected outside the grass plot from the terrace to the garage to the summer house.
On Sunday, 20 July, the day of the official opening, the first visitors began to arrive at 8.30 a.m. and from then on the people kept coming. By 2 p.m. about one thousand people had assembled. The opening had been announced at all the Masses in Winchester, Woburn, etc., and it was in all the Boston and local papers, and announced over the radio. The diary says, “They sent special police from Arlington and Cambridge as the streets were lined with cars for about two miles. The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) from Woburn put up a loudspeaker system for us and helped with the chairs, etc.
“The altar, vestments and altar linens were loaned from Saint Clement’s, Somerville. We had had a collection there, and a Mr. Hamilton, who had given the Sisters breakfast, later came to visit Winchester and offered to provide the portable altar for the day of the opening.
“Archbishop Cushing arrived at 3 p.m. and said he had never seen such a crowd for a like occasion. He told the people of his meeting with the foundress of MMM, Mother Mary, who had expressed a desire to have a foundation in the USA, and upon his invitation a group of Irish sisters had come to Boston a year later.
“The Archbishop also said that lay people, rather than priests and nuns, are responsible for the majority of vocations. It is the influence, zeal and enthusiasm of the lay people, which is responsible for the hundreds of young persons joining orders such as this, he said.
“At Benediction, the Archbishop was assisted by Rt. Rev. J.F. McGlinchy, pastor of Saint Mary’s, Lynn; Rev. J.P. O’Riordan, pastor of Saint Mary’s, Winchester; and Revs. Charles E. Anador, J. McCall, and J. Grant, all of Saint Mary’s, Winchester. After the ceremony, the Archbishop talked and walked in the grounds with the people who kept coming until 9 o’clock to see the house and grounds.”
Other events of the first months in Winchester included the final profession of Sister M. Consilio on September 8, when once again many friends were present. The next day the novitiate diary records: “We were told to get the table in the long parlor ready for supper in honor of Sister M. St. John: candy, nuts, candles, etc. We had a beautiful supper with pastries, ham salad, ice cream cones, and a cake with roses for decorations and the message ‘A Happy Voyage’… At 8.30 a.m. next day we were called out to the entrance to say good-bye, or rather au revoir, as Sister M. St. John said she would have the kettle boiling, ready to greet us in the not-so-far-away future… She was very happy and I’m sure we all thought of the day we would be leaving for the missions.”