"My mother was the
first daughter of an alumna to graduate from The College of New
Rochelle, and Jean’s daughter, Carolyn Harnett Spitz ’64, was the first
granddaughter to graduate. Another cousin, Margie O’Connor, graduated
in 1966, and I graduated in 1967. Nowadays CNR continues to have many
Associate Professor & Archivist
The College of New Rochelle
Sr. Martha, describe
your connections with The College of New Rochelle?
My connection to The College
of New Rochelle begins with my great grandfather, William Brosmith, and
the College’s foundress Mother Irene Gill, whom he knew when she was at
Henry Street in New York City. Since 1873, the Ursulines of St.
Teresa’s parish had staffed the girls department of the parish school,
and also ran a private academy. In 1883, the Ursulines opened a normal
school at St. Teresa’s addressing the need for trained teachers as new
immigrant populations brought hundreds of thousands of children into
the public and parochial schools of New York City. It is generally
believed that the success of the St. Teresa’s teacher training classes
inspired Mother Irene to found The College of New Rochelle in 1904.
Mother Irene and some of her
community came to New Rochelle in 1896, and bought the Castle in 1897.
Lower Manhattan, where St. Teresa’s Academy was located, was a changing
neighborhood, and Catholic families were leaving the city for the
suburbs and moving uptown. She wanted to found a school in “the
salubrious air” of the suburbs, one of many fine features that the
village of New Rochelle offered.
When CNR was founded William
Brosmith had prospered, studying law and passing the bar, and he and
his wife and family were living in Hartford and he heard about the new
college from Mother Irene. His mother and sisters were still living in
My great Aunt Polly (later,
Mother Elizabeth Brosmith, OSU) and her sister, Dorothy, came together
to CNR from Hartford in 1907 and graduated in 1911. My grandmother,
Dorothy, had a brownie camera and she donated her photo album to CNR
years ago—they are among the earliest photos of the College. My great
aunt entered the Ursulines after graduation, and my grandmother missed
her so much that she moved to New Rochelle soon after she was married
to be near her.
My mother (Dorothy Anne
McEvoy, ‘37) and her sisters, Jean (’38), Peggy (-40), Betty, Mary
Lou, [Betty and Mary Lou did not attend CNR] and even the youngest and
only boy, Bill, attended the Merici School on campus, however, he
refused to continue after first grade, when it moved to North Avenue.
My mother was the first
daughter of an alumna to graduate from The College of New Rochelle, and
Jean’s daughter, Carolyn Harnett Spitz ’64, was the first granddaughter
to graduate. Another cousin, Margie O’Connor, graduated in 1966, and I
graduated in 1967. Nowadays CNR continues to have many
Martha Counihan, 1967 Annales
Besides your life here, where else have you lived and worked?
I entered the Ursulines after
graduation from CNR with a major in art. I did my masters in art
history at the University of Delaware, and I taught art in Wilmington,
Delaware. After I completed my master’s thesis on Leland Castle, I
taught art and humanities at the St. Joseph’s Ursuline Academy in
Malone, New York.
As a CNR student, I had
participated in a student volunteer program in Mexico City, so I always
retained a great bond with Mexico and returned there numerous times to
work as volunteer with other Ursulines. I also spent several vacations
and a year working with a pastoral team of Ursulines, Sisters of St.
Joseph, Jesuits, and lay people in rural Tabasco, Mexico.
I liked the simple life and
ministry of establishing basic Christian communities, and it was an
exciting time in the post-Vatican II church to work with this community
I returned to CNR in
1976 as archivist for the College and got my masters in librarianship
at Columbia University.
My Latin American fascination
continued, of course, and in 1987 I went to Peru where I lived in Lima
and worked with the Maryknoll Sisters who ran a women’s center and
social work library. I then spent several happy years working in
pastoral ministry in an immense rural parish in the Andes. Again, our
aims were to prepare local men and women for pastoral ministry.
We Ursulines lived in the church sacristy, most of the time without
At the time, Fred Smith, the
periodicals librarian at Gill Library, used to send me donated
paperbacks that Gill could not use, and I read them by candlelight
wrapped in a poncho in the cold nights of those high mountains. I also
spent time in Bolivia and in the altiplano of Peru doing pastoral
ministry, in rural and very impoverished areas.
When I returned to the United
States in 1993, I used my skills as a certified chaplain to do
chaplaincy work for six years in hospitals and at Casa Promesa in the
Bronx, a long-term care health facility for persons with AIDS.
I returned again to CNR in
2000 and to work with the College’s Archives. In all my work overseas,
I have learned how to sweep a dirt floor, take apart and clean a
kerosene stove, and I know that wringing out wet sheets keep ones arms
from getting flabby, but the greatest challenge I have had has been
learning new computer skills. I left CNR when we were doing dial up
DIALOG searches in the library and returned to find everything at the
College computerized. It has been an amazing (and educational!) journey.
Tell us a little bit about
your research on the Castle.
I did a masters in art
history and wrote my thesis on Leland Castle at a point when the
Ursulines were selling it to the College. I had always been interested
in it and knew Leland Castle was a ripe topic for a thesis since no one
had done much research on the Castle, and there were many myths and
truths to discovered and uncovered. A story that several old nuns told
me was of my mother’s visit to her aunt, Mother Elizabeth, soon after
my twin and I were born. She carried us in a large basket, and as she
was leaving, Mary began to wail and I just looked around. The nuns all
joked that this time, Martha had “chosen the better part”. I like to
think I was just checking out the Castle.
I continue to research the
Castle and Simeon Leland, its original owner. Leland was the Donald
Trump of his time. He and his brothers ran a number of successful
hotels all over the United States in the 19th and early 20th century.
One of my greatest discoveries was an “unidentified” collection of
drawings at the Avery Fine Arts Library at Columbia by a Henry
Youngling. Youngling was one of the decorative painters who had worked
on the Castle and I was able to identify at least one site where he had
worked, Leland Castle. Several years later when the “Blue Library”
(color of wall hangings in Castle Library) was to be re-papered, the
original decorative painting with Leland’s coat of arms emerged.
A generous donor to CNR, Oliver Smalley, paid to have the library
walls restored and Avery Library was happy to know of one extant
example of Youngling’s work.
is the most fascinating fact that you uncovered
in your research of the
It would have to be the
Youngling Collection at Columbia and the link to The College of New
Rochelle. A more concise “factoid” was debunking two myths: 1) that the
Prince of Wales visited the Castle. He attended a fancy dress ball at
Leland’s Metropolitan Hotel on an 1860 visit, but there is no mention
in the New York press that he came to New Rochelle. 2) that Charles
Dickens also visited the Castle. Dickens came to America in 1842 and
his first visit preceded the building of the Castle, and the detailed
itinerary of his 1872 visit makes no mention of a stop in New Rochelle.
In 1872, Simeon Leland was bankrupt and dying.
the Archivist and the Special Collections Librarian,
what items in Gill
Library have the most value?
Some items are of monetary value (some Special
Collections—rare books), some of administrative value and historical
value. Personally, I think the Ursuline Collection is the most
important. It is a unique collection of over 500 titles of books about
the Ursulines’ history and their key persons. It is important since it
is used a lot by individual researchers, by our own people, and by me
and is the only collection of its kind in the world (to my knowledge).
As interest in women’s history and education has grown over the past
thirty years, more and more researchers use the Ursuline Collection for
dissertations and publications.
In your research, what projects for the College
has been particularly
satisfying for you?
particularly happy to help in preparing information for the College’s
Centennial. At the moment, I am completing a
history of the Eastern Province to commemorate the 150 years since
Ursulines came to New York City, the origin of what is now the Eastern
Province of the Ursulines of the Roman Union. I have been able to
uncover some interesting information about Mother Irene’s family and
the founding Ursulines. My most thrilling moment was finding online the
1870 US Census listing of Mother Irene’s family including her
father—debunking the myth that he had been separated from the family
and died in Australia; I have since discovered that he is buried in