General Grant Visits Sinsinawa

The Stone building at Sinsinawa Mound

The Stone building at Sinsinawa Mound

by Mary Paynter, OP

It’s not every day a former President of the United States visits Sinsinawa Mound. In 1878, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa gladly received a visit to St. Clara Convent by Ulysses S. Grant, who served as President from 1869 to 1877. In her book, Five Decades: A History of the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary, Sinsinawa, Wisconsin 1849–1899, Paschala O’Connor, OP (1882–1955), detailed the exciting occasion.

“From a reminiscence of Angelico Dolan, OP (1860–1947) in 1940: ‘Perhaps it was during my third year at the Mound, 1878, that General Grant visited St. Clara. At least it was after he had returned to Galena where the people had built a splendid house for their Civil War hero. It was on an Easter Monday when he came to the Mound. The day was a holiday for us girls, and we were enjoying the usual boxes of goodies sent from our homes for Easter. Several of us had secured permission from Sister Hilary Cox to go up to the observatory and have a party.

‘We had been there only a short time when a message was brought that we should come down the stairs immediately, first leaving the room in perfect order [because] General Grant had come and would be going up to the observatory [accompanied by the Ryans of Galena]! (We learned that he had told the Sisters that often on the battlefield he used to think of the Mound, and he wished that he then had a similar eminence from which he could have better directed his army.)

‘Sister Alberta Duffy, always impressive in presence, reserved, and in every way equal to the occasion, accompanied him and the others up the stairs to our favorite retreat. As they entered, our brooms were still in brisk action, and the dust was flying. We were caught! However, the guests seemed to enjoy the situation. General Grant shook hands with each of us, saying, ‘Now you can tell your friends that you shook hands with General Grant.’ . . . A few more minutes passed and then the guests left, the General addressing us with cheery goodbyes—after which we finished the cleaning and enjoyed our party without further interruptions.

‘This was the most thrilling experience of our young lives. We had been studying American history. In our textbook was a picture of General Grant in battle action. It represented his face as mole-pock-marked, and as we looked up at him that day we saw the reason for that true-to-life picture.’”