Irish nun in an 1878 earthquake: ‘The whole house resounded with prayers’

‘It would be profitable to have such shocks once in a while,’ Mary Reilly wrote home

‘The Infirmary’ in Los Angeles, which the Daughters of Charity had established to care for the sick and indigent, many of whom were Irish

‘The Infirmary’ in Los Angeles, which the Daughters of Charity had established to care for the sick and indigent, many of whom were Irish

 

A grand-aunt of mine, Mary Reilly, who was born on October 28th, 1850, in Newtownmountkennedy in the parish of Kilquade, Co Wicklow, entered the religious life as a sister of the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1873, and travelled subsequently – in 1875 – to “The Infirmary” in Los Angeles, which the Daughters of Charity had established to care for the sick and indigent, many of whom were Irish. The following is an extract from one of only two letters from her that have survived:

Los Angeles, California

July 4th, 1878

My dear Father and Mother,

I find that over five months have transpired since I last wrote to you and I should not have delayed so long but time steals so swiftly and silently away that it frequently leaves me behind.

Towards the end of May I got a very severe cold, accompanied with a little intermittent fever but it only lasted a few days. The weather is delightful just now, in the early part of summer we had unusually heavy fogs and before they dispersed we had a terrible earthquake – they are not uncommon on the coast but all say they did not have one so alarming for years. It occurred during the night which served to increase the terror. I was not so much aroused from sleep by the shock though I heard the noise and felt the shaking as by the commotion the patients and Sisters raised. The whole house resounded with prayers mingled with the noise of the shocks.

[At] the first alarm all who were able and were conscious of the danger arose. Some went out of doors lest the house should fall, others took refuge with us in the Chapel. I should not say us, for not knowing the extent of the danger I did not think of leaving my room till the Sisters hastened one after the other to see if I were dead or alive or if I knew what was going on. They were amused at my expense and told me to remain in bed if not too much afraid of being alone and they would pray. In the City the people remained on the street all night, many on their knees. If attended with no worse result it would be profitable to have such shocks once in a while, more so perhaps than a sermon on the last day, only as a rule it is those who have the most reason to fear are the most daring on such occasions, and if the rule suffered no exception I must be one of them ...

I will now conclude with much love to all at home and abroad hoping all are well and wishing you every happiness.

And again begging your prayers and blessing

I remain my dear Father and Mother

Your dutiful daughter

Mary Annina

Sr Mary Annina Reilly died on September 21st, 1880, from TB, which she contracted from the patients she cared for.

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