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Sister M. Ancilla Kountz, OSU

C L A S S  O F  1 9 1 2 

My first recollection of Rev. Mother Irene goes back to the summer of 1908, when I was choosing a college. It happened that our Mother Caecilia, directress of St. Ursula Academy, Toledo, where I (as well as my mother, aunts, and sisters before me) had always attended school, was a dear friend of Mother Irene and had watched with keen interest the founding and growth of the first Ursuline college, established just four years previously, in New Rochelle. Accordingly negotiations were begun, with the result that I received a cordial letter of welcome from Mother Irene, offering me a scholarship to the College of St. Angela. Would that I had kept that letter! It was filled with the graciousness which both Mother Caecilia and I recall as one of Mother Irene’s most characteristic traits.

My next memory is of Founder’s Day, when the members of the freshman class, newly clad in cap and gown, were formally presented to the founder in the stately Castle parlors. I presume it was a faculty reception, but I recall only dear Mother Irene, and her gracious greeting. Her manner was retiring; she looked at us, each in turn, out of those kind brown eyes, not in a condescending nor in a merely friendly way, but as if she respected in us the presence of God. That was my first impression of her, and it never left me, but grew stronger, down the years.

During the happy days of college, we saw little, too little, of Mother Irene. True, she was the dean, but she was also the Superioress of the convent, and Provincial of the Ursuline Roman Union, over the whole northern section of the United States. So her relations with the students were not at all like those of a present-day dean. She was being apart; in fact we rarely laid eyes on her, except in the chapel. But I am quite confident that, after the Roman Union, the College was her dearest interest, nor do I doubt that in its administration, she was the power behind every move of even minor importance.

When it came to senior year, we, the Class of 1912, determined to dedicate our year-book to Mother Irene; and how proud we were of that dedication-page! Ours was only the second Annales; the Class of 1911, whose distinction it is to have published the first issue, had dedicated theirs to our beloved chaplain and professor of philosophy, Father Patrick Halpin, S.J. Deep as was our admiration for him, we felt that we were even more privileged in paying tribute to the Founder and Dean of our college.

It was towards the end of senior year that our personal regard for her inspired us to write into 1912’s college-song, “Give a Toast,” the line, “Here’s to our founder and her faith undaunted.”

For even then we had some faint realization that nothing but unbounded trust in Divine Providence could have sustained the intrepid Mother Irene, in the perilous venture of opening a college—may I saw it?—on  a shoe-string.

Thanks be to God, my relations with Mother Irene did not cease at graduation. Subsequent brief visits to the College (there have been four of them in forty years) catalogue my chats with her as the highlights. Once, in 1918, I remember feeling quite honored when she consulted me about engaging as an English instructor Edith Leeming, ’13 (God rest her beautiful soul!), who had recently received her M.A. from Columbia University. Needless to say, I was confident and happy in recommending her, and she gave the finest service until her marriage a few years later to Richard Gillow of Hale, Cheshire, England.

An incident which occurred sometime in the late 20’s seems worth recording. As Mother was in delicate health at the time, even a short visit was quite a concession. More and more, as the years passed by, I had become aware of the deep interior life which vitalized her every act, and on that occasion I ventured to ask her if there was any special principle which had served as a guiding force in her life as a nun. She replied with a question: had I ever read In Christ Jesus by Abbe Plus, S.J.? When I answered in the negative, she remarked, “I will see that you receive a copy.”

Shortly after my return to Toledo it came, and as I read and meditated on it, I realized how fully our Mother Irene had absorbed its message and spirit. Twenty-five years ago the age-old doctrine of the Mystical Body was not nearly so well-known as it is now. In Christ Jesus was one of the earlier expositions (in our day) of its theory and practice. Father Plus in the introduction calls it “an audacious doctrine,” but goes on to prove that it is the doctrine of Our Lord Himself, clearly stated by the Fathers of the Church, and more especially, by St. John and St. Paul. In the spiritual life of Mother Irene, the fact, the marvel, of man’s incorporation with Christ was definitely realized and radiated. Not that she read that book and then sought to live by it; rather, she must have recognized in its pages the truth she had long since taken into her very soul. After my own perusal of it, my first impression of our founder became explicable. To her, we young girls, her fellow-creatures, were not merely persons, we were Christ and in us she reverenced Him.

From the time I graduated until her death, I made it a point to write her on her feast day. Always there came back to me a gracious letter, usually enclosing a “holy picture” with an inscription like the following, “Keep this as a reminder to pray for Mother M. Irene.”  These little keepsakes still serve as markers in many a well-used book. My favorite is a sepia representation of Saint Angela in her later years; in it I fancy a resemblance to her faithful daughter, Mother Irene.

In 1929, through the generosity of my classmate Mary Doran, whose devotion to Mother was outstanding, Mother Caecilia and I were privileged to spend a few days at the College. That was around the time of Mother’s golden jubilee, and it was a wonderful visit, especially for my companion, who reveled in the precious hours of reminiscence about the days at “Henry Street” before Leland Castle was Ursuline, when she and Mother Irene were young nuns together—yes, and Mother Augustine and Ignatius and De Sales and other dear pioneers.

It was there, at the school on Henry Street, that Mother Caecilia, while studying music in New York, enjoyed the hospitality of the Ursulines and especially the discovery of a kindred spirit in Mother Irene. Indeed she can never say enough in praise of that valiant woman. Recently, trying to epitomize her outstanding qualities, she mentioned Mother’s humility, her graciousness, her true religious spirit, and her gay acceptance of the poverty and inconveniences inseparable from convent life especially in those early days.

And now for a last dear recollection. This time there must be two in the picture: for how can anyone who knew them separate in memory the two sisters, Mother Irene and Mother Augustine? Should I pause here to pay tribute to the latter, the fount of recollection would flow on and one; moreover, my assignment was to cover only the senior member of that gallant team. Be that as it may.

On my last stopover at New Rochelle, in the summer of 1933, the two dear nuns, both failing in health, outdid themselves in cordiality to Sister Mary David ’25 and me. Making our adieux there in the old Castle Hall near the nuns’ chapel, we all felt that this would be the last. I turned back at the door to stamp their picture on my memory as they stood against the crimson background of the Cardinal Hayes portrait, a little stooped and frail, smiling oh so sweetly, and waving God-speed. It was the last dear glimpse this side of Paradise.


O F F I C E  O F  C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
29 Castle Place, New Rochelle, NY 10805

info@cnr.edu



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