Sinsinawa Gains Mystery Admirer

by Mary Paynter, OP

NewspaperA lengthy article titled “In and About Sinsinawa” appeared in the Jan. 4, 1896, edition of the Irish Standard, a weekly newspaper published in Minneapolis and primarily aimed at the Irish population of the Twin Cities area.

No author’s name is given, but it is clear that the writer has visited Sinsinawa and knows a lot about its history—going back to Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, and George Wallace Jones—as well as its current situation. The writer is particularly interested in the high quality of St. Clara Academy, emphasizing its excellence in education of young women. From the tone and details of the article, we know that the author has met and been deeply impressed by St. Clara faculty and students, and has a special regard for the leadership of Mother Emily Power, OP (1844–1909)—whom the author described:
The present flourishing condition of the academy and the excellent reputation which it enjoys as an educational institution is largely due to the superior, Miss Emily Power, Mother Emily, under whose direction the school has been since 1867. Innate qualities and an experience of almost 30 years unite in making her an ideal college president.

So, who is this writer? We know of Mother Emily’s close relationship with the Archbishop of St. Paul, John Ireland. His visits to Sinsinawa Mound and his friendship with Mother Emily are documented in our annals, and he was the homilist at her funeral. Could he be the anonymous writer? Not likely, for at that time, in the 1890s, the archbishop was struggling with the unraveling of the “Faribault-Stillwater Plan” among other complex social/political issues. But what of a protégé of Ireland—Thomas Edward Shields? Shields had first been brought to the Mound by the brother of our Sister Ruth Devlin, OP (1867–1947), and Archbishop Ireland had spoken highly of him to Mother Emily.

In 1895, Shields wrote to Mother Emily asking for a lecture engagement at the Sinsinawa Summer Institute, and she invited him. After making a favorable impression, he was invited back for successive summers. In 1896 when the article was written, Shields was teaching in the St. Paul diocesan seminary with easy access to the Irish Standard. Later, he moved to the faculty at Catholic University (Washington, DC) where, against many odds, he established the Sisters College in 1914—a project he had worked on for several years as an ardent supporter of higher education for women and especially for religious Sisters. The writer of the article “About Sinsinawa” particularly stressed the high quality of education offered to young women at St. Clara Academy by the Sisters who taught there.

Also, anyone who reads his delightful autobiography, The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard, will recognize the verve and style of the “In and About Sinsinawa” article. Without doubt, its author is Dr. Thomas Edward Shields.

Quotes from the article include the following:

  • “Eighteen new pianos furnish as many music rooms; the library is abundantly provided. Occupying the entire fifth floor of the west wing is the studio, the sanctuary of Fra Angelico’s devotees. The presiding genius here is Sister Catharine [Wall, OP (1867–1938)], a most refined young woman who upon a mere chance meeting conveys the impression of high culture and unusual talent.”
  • “The standard of admission for a woman into this [Dominican] Order was very high, and such a concentration of intellectual forces brought most beneficial results to the cause of women’s education.”
  • “In 1844 Gen. [George Wallace] Jones sold the estate to Rev. S. C. Mazzuchelli, a young gentleman of Milanese nobility, who belonged to the Order of St. Dominic, and in spite of his youth was vested with full missionary apostolic powers from Rome. He had become intimately acquainted with Gen. Jones, who found him a man of rare culture and noble purposes. . . . Gen. Jones has now reached the venerable age of 92. His deep interest in the academy is evinced by the fact that in spite of his age, he visits it once a year, and his appearance is hailed with the sincerest delight by all the members of the happy community.”
  • “Because of the close proximity, Dubuque claims the Mound as its own by sheer force of habit. But the people of Dubuque are somewhat reluctant to impart the information to a stranger that Sinsinawa is located in Wisconsin. As for Illinois, one need not be surprised to hear that Chicagoans claim Sinsinawa as a suburb.”
  • “The grounds are beautiful indeed; in front of the academy is the ‘pinery’ containing such magnificent specimens of Norway spruce as are seldom to be found in the Northwest. The carefully cultivated flower beds and the well-shaded walks of the ample grounds increase the appreciation of the beautiful view which Sinsinawa affords upon the Mississippi Valley.”

Click for Spectrum May 2022 Index

Follow Us