(Sister Paschal Maria Fernicola was baptized Theresa and, after entering the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, had a lifelong interest in the story of the first SCN, Teresa Carrico. Sister Paschal, as we lovingly call her, did the research and shared the writing of this story with Sister Maria Vincent Brocato. Although there are no personal letters or writings of Teresa Carrico, we have annals and other writings about her. These were left by various authors during the years after she answered God’s call in 1812 and became the first SCN. Teresa Carrico was also baptized Theresa but, upon becoming a Sister, changed the spelling of her name to Teresa in honor of her patron, St. Teresa of Avila. A researcher will find her name spelled both ways.)
Teresa Carrico was born in Washington County, Kentucky in 1790, the daughter of Basil Carrico, mother’s name unknown. Her Italian ancestors had emigrated from Carrico Village in the Piedmont Region of northern Italy. Different branches of the family emigrated to France, Scotland and England. Teresa’s family was from the Carricos who eventually migrated from England to Maryland in the United States. It was Teresa’s grandfather, Peter Carrico and his brother Abel, who arrived in the colony of Maryland in the early 1700’s. Teresa’s father Basil was one of Peter’s five sons. Sometime between 1794 and 1806, Basil migrated to Washington County, Kentucky. Teresa grew up there with her seven siblings. Later records give all their names: Josiah, Aloysius, Benjamin, Wilford James, Theresa (Teresa), Augustus, Rebecca and Thomas Ignatius.
(Proudly claiming their Italian American heritage, Sisters Paschal and Maria Vincent were delighted to learn Teresa Carrico’s family origin.)
In response to Father John Baptist David’s plea, given on his mission rounds, for young women to come and teach children, especially girls, Teresa, probably twenty two years old, presented herself at St. Thomas Farm in Nelson County. “From an account by Sister Augustine (Last name not given), Teresa Carrico must have felt very shy, this young girl, for all her valiant courage, when she modestly presented herself, alone, at the episcopal cabin in answer to Father David…”
At this time St. Thomas was the location of the residence and diocesan church of Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget. A cathedral, a seminary and a community of religious women were hoped for goals for the young Diocese of Bardstown.
Betsy Wells came shortly after Teresa Carrico, and December 1, 1812, is considered SCN Foundation Day. Neither woman was wealthy in material goods but were very desirous of giving themselves in service to God and the needs of the young frontier Church. They were overjoyed when Catherine Spalding joined them in January 1813.
After the arrival of Catherine Spalding, Father David gave the little group a provisional rule and a schedule to guide their days. Betsy Wells, the eldest of the three, thought to be thirty seven, was appointed superior until an election could be held. That took place in June 1813 after three more members made their number six. It was Teresa who, as they approached the episcopal log house and put on the shoes they carried to help save them for future use, had a prediction. “I know who our Mother will be. It will be Catherine.” And it was. Catherine’s gifts of leadership were easily recognized and appreciated. She and Teresa would become lifelong friends with Teresa’s warmth, fidelity, deep spirituality and practical domestic skills always a support to Catherine and the many challenges she faced in her frequent calls to leadership.
The small pioneer group had all lived on the Kentucky frontier and knew hardship but the stark conditions of this endeavor surely tested their mettle. None had formal education for the task of teaching. God would provide the education needed for them to be teachers in the person of the talented Ellen O’Connell, educated by her father in Baltimore. She joined the little community in 1814.
Teresa Carrico never became a teacher although her influence on the young religious community became vital for its future. In the beginning days her domestic tasks were daunting. It is not hard to imagine the strong young woman preparing a home in the rough log cabin and scraping up something to cook. The water for cooking and washing had to be carried from the spring located on the property near the log house. Father David gave them a frying pan to boil water for sage tea, and to make middling, a thick gravy made of browned flour or cornmeal with bits of bacon, congealed, then sliced and fried. Betsy Wells had brought a knife, two spoons and a few other household items. They visited the sick and busied themselves with spinning, weaving, making clothing for the seminarians and the elderly in the neighborhood, which provided a little income. After the arrival of Ellen O’Connell, a school was established, and the SCN ministry of education had its small but important beginning.
There was joy as new members came but sorrow when two of the early members died, Mary Gwynn in 1818, and Martha Gough in 1820. (It seems significant for the spirituality of the SCN Community that the bodies of Mary and Martha were brought to “new Nazareth” and are buried in the same grave. An early message for the SCN Community….contemplation and action must be one in all that the Sisters will choose to do.)
Teresa had much to do in the early days of the building up of the small community of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Besides the growing of their food, and the preparing and cooking of their very simple meals, she helped to scrimp and save in order to help build the school that was expanding. She must have been shocked and dismayed when the Community realized that they could never own the land at St. Thomas for which they had all sacrificed to build. It was so much a part of Teresa’s deep trust in Divine Providence that she animated her companions not to mope and groan too much. In The Life of the Right Reverend John Baptist Mary David by Sister Columba Fox, p. 103 reads, “The example of the two Mothers [Catherine and Frances Gardiner] and of Teresa Carrico spurred them to cease repining, and to realize that God had willed another place should harbor them, should be the Mother House of Nazareth.”
Teresa, now in her thirties, needed to put all her physical and spiritual strength into helping to build the “new Nazareth” where they had moved in 1822. There were happy times in which Teresa would have been greatly involved: the opening of Nazareth Academy, “mothering” new boarders from the South, preparing foods for the celebrations of the new Cathedral in Bardstown, the consecration of their beloved Bishop David, the first school graduation in 1825. Sister Teresa became a wisdom figure for the young Sisters as they grew in religious life while assisting her in the care of the Motherhouse and Academy.
Anna Blanche McGill in her book, The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, recounts this of Teresa. “A young Sister had heard that for many years Sister Teresa had had so much to do in the kitchen that she could not leave her duties to make her meditation, and that on Communion days she could go to the chapel only at the beginning of Mass, leaving at the close, without longer time for thanksgiving. ‘Did you not find it hard to do these things, Sister?’ asked the younger religious, ‘to miss so many exercises?’ ‘Why no, child,’ was the artless answer, ‘I never missed any exercises at all. Whenever I could go with the Community, it was a joy to me and I was at my place and when I could not, I did the most I could where I was. Father David used to tell us that is the way to do, that God would make up for our spiritual exercises if we left them only for love of Him…our work becomes a prayer… And how God did make up for it all!’”
Anna Blanche McGill has this further conversation from Teresa, ”Why, I don’t believe I ever made a better meditation, or more fervent preparation and thanksgiving for Communion than when standing by the fire in the old kitchen. I never could get anything out of books; [but found it easy to meditate on the teachings of God when standing before the kitchen fire]. And then I had so much to thank God for. Just to think that a poor miserable creature like this old Teresa was allowed to live in His house, receive Him so often, and serve Him all the day long! And then He was blessing our little community so visibly! We had been so poor that many a time I did not know what I could get to put in the kettle; but something always came; then abundance came; and now, you young Sisters can scarcely imagine how it used to be. We must never forget to be grateful to God for all this!”
After the move to “new Nazareth” there were some early griefs. In 1824 there were two deaths: the sudden and unexpected death of Mother Agnes Higdon and the death of the young Academy music teacher, Sister Columba Tarleton. It was the latter of whom the story is told that, as she was dying, said to Teresa that she thought she might be able to eat partridge. Miraculously, Teresa saw a partridge come to the doorstep and so was able to prepare a meal Sister Columba could eat.
McGill quotes an early biographer of Sister Teresa’s (she doesn’t say who this biographer was, possibly our dear Sister Marie Menard), “The secret of Sister Teresa’s life was… she made of it an unbroken prayer. Whatever she did, her soul was ever united with the will of God… she walked in humility and simplicity before God. Her manner of observing silence was particularly striking… She… scarcely ever spoke an unnecessary word, but she greeted everyone she met with a kind smile. And that smile was always sure to greet the Sister whose heart was heavy. It came like a ray of sunshine… She could not bear to hear fault found nor any criticism of her superiors’. [When hearing such unkindness she would offer a] gentle sufficient rebuke.”
“Sister Teresa was particularly fond of the young Sisters, in whose society she was generally found during recreation hours. They, in turn, loved and revered her. There was nothing austere in her words and ways. She was always cheerful, prompt to see what good there was in everyone, ready to sympathize with others in their little trials, to encourage them and say how she once had perhaps the same trials: then always came her favorite words: ‘My child, be obedient, and love God with all your heart, and everything will go right with you.’”
In Pioneer Spirit, p.182, Sister Mary Ellen Doyle quotes Mother Frances Gardiner, “‘The elderly Teresa’…stayed ‘up over the washroom…always mending…, Mother Catherine’s old blue bed screen around her to make a cell…And many a holy prayer, no doubt, does she send up to God during the day.’ There Catherine would find her when in need of her prayers, her reassuring faith, and her unfailing friendship.”
In her last years, although rheumatism badly afflicted her, she continued, whenever possible to attend all community exercises. Sick or well, she never failed to rise at the first bell in the morning. If she felt too ill to continue dressing, she went to bed again, but not before she had made that first effort. Teresa was not yet seventy but her hard, rugged life had taken its toll on her. A great blow to her was Catherine’s death in March 1858. As Catherine’s remains were brought into St. Vincent Church, Teresa was there bent and trembling… She was seen kneeling in prayer beside the loved remains, her face expressive of grief and resignation. Community lore tells that Teresa would painfully make it out to the cemetery to visit Catherine’s grave but only a month later Teresa followed her dear friend into eternity. The Jesuit priest who preached Teresa’s funeral said to the Sisters, “You have parted with a saint.”
Although the SCN Community had not entertained any thought of formal canonization of Teresa Carrico, the idea came from another direction. Mr. Ed Marolla, editor of The Horicon Reporter in Horicon, Wisconsin, wrote several letters of inquiry to Sister Agnes Geraldine McGann, SCN Archivist, about Sister Teresa Carrico and the topic of canonization proceedings. The first letter is dated December 1,1978 and other correspondence followed during 1979.
Mr. Marolla was preparing to write a short biography of Teresa Carrico for an Italian American history and wanted more information about her life and the SCN Community. He mentioned that Teresa had been referenced in the Catholic Builders of America and in an old St. Paul, Minnesota newspaper. Further, he inquired about the progress of her cause for canonization, which he understood had been promulgated by the Diocese of Louisville. In the correspondence between Mr. Marolla and Sister Agnes Geraldine, it is clear that the SCN Community had not initiated such a process nor had the Diocese done so. Although Teresa Carrico’s saintly life was never in question, in the letters that followed between Sister Agnes Geraldine and Mr. Marolla, Sister clarified that there was no canonization process for Sister Teresa Carrico. Sister Agnes Geraldine also sent archival material, pamphlets and pictures which assisted him in the writing of the article he had in mind. The entire correspondence, as well as additional quotes about Sister Teresa, can be found in the appendix at the link below.
(For those SCNs with Italian American ancestry, it is a joy to learn of Teresa Carrico’s lineage and the Italian American hope that she would be considered for formal canonization. She can be “Saint” to them, as well as to us all. The SCN Community rejoices in the life of this holy woman whose humble faith and courage has grounded the Community and served as a shining example of service to others for over two hundred years.)
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