Mount St. Scholastica's French Refugees:
In Search Of Liberty

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Beginnings

The eight sisters came from the Abbaye de Saint Eustase in Flavigny-sur-Moselle, Lorraine, France. Sisters Mary Agnes Miessler, Mary Jane Weckerlin,3 St. John Toussaint, and Walburg Veser (choir sisters); Julia Miller, Francesca Schneider, Mecthilde Schmuker, and Odelia Schenk (lay sisters) made vows between 1886 and 1899.

The roots of the Flavigny community extended back to 966, when a new community was established in the village of Vergaville, diocese of Metz, in honor of Mary and all saints.4 Early in their history, the Vergaville sisters acquired the relics of Saint Eustase (d. 625),5 for whom the abbey was re-named. The nuns were forced out during the Revolution. Their abbess, Madame de la Marche, was on a cart headed toward execution until a friend recognized her and told the cart driver, "Why bother about an old woman who can not harm the Republic?"6

When the atmosphere had stabilized, the abbess and her surviving sisters opened a boarding school in Ménil, then moved it to Saint-Dié. In 1824, they installed themselves in the seventh-century abbey of Flavigny-sur-Moselle. They brought with them the relics of St. Eustase and a cherished statue of Notre Dame de Vergaville.

Most of the nineteenth century was a peaceful, prosperous time for the Flavigny community. In addition to their boarding school, the sisters ran a farm and a pastry business, and made vestments. Sister Jane Frances McAtee tells us: "At exhibitions, the vestments and the pastries from St. Eustase practically always won gold medals. In fact, the renown which their products gained them really was instrumental in the Sisters' ruin."7

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3Mount St. Scholastica Archives (hereafter MSSA).It was hard to find a consistent spelling for most of the sisters' names. Many of their names were Americanized ("Julia Miller" instead of "Julia Müller"; "Mary Jane" instead of "Marie Jeanne," and so on). I chose the spelling used most consistently for each in our archival records. return

4Early history about the Flavigny community is taken from a pamphlet, "Petit Histoire de notre Abbaye," prepared by the sisters at the Abbaye Notre-Dame Saint-Eustase. return

5Eustase was a disciple of Columbanus. He succeeded Columbanus as abbot of Luxeuil and became the second abbot of that historic community. return

6MSSA. From a paper entitled "Our French Refugee Sisters," p. 2, prepared in 1947 by Sister Jane Frances McAtee. return

7McAtee 7.return

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