We Remember: Sister Mary Monica Corrigan, CSJ
Anna Jane Taggart was born on October 31, 1843, in Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada to Catherine and Charles Taggart. A convert to Catholicism, she entered the novitiate at Carondelet at age 24 after the death of her husband, John Corrigan, and her two children, who all died of diphtheria in 1866 in Kansas City.
Three years later she was one of seven intrepid sisters making a dangerous trip across desert and mountain to their new mission in Tucson, Arizona. Sister Monica kept a diary of the trip and her account of the trek from San Diego to Tucson matches the best dramatic fiction of the Wild West. The human interest value of the diary is evidenced by the fact that it has been the basis for television shows, plays, and stories in leading magazines. Among the television programs were the CBS version of the diary presented Christmas night in 1955, and the hour and one-half show “Four Women in Black” starring Helen Hayes on Playhouse 90 on April 25, 1957.
While the original adventure was being experienced there was not the happy-ending certainty of a romantic story. Sister Monica described the sisters’ exhaustion when on May 9, 1870 they reached the mountains beyond which lay the American Desert. The sisters had to go on foot up the mountain which reached an elevation of 4,000 feet.
We were compelled to stop here to breathe. Some of the sisters lay down on the roadside being unable to proceed further. Besides this terrible fatigue, we suffered still more from thirst….After a moment’s rest we commenced to descend. We were so much fatigued that it seemed as if our limbs were dislocated. We had yet two miles to descend on foot, the greater part being very steep….The sides of the road were covered with teams of horses, oxen, and cattle that had dropped dead trying to ascend.
The following day they began the trip across the American Desert, a desolate stretch made dangerous by frequent sand storms. The month before, a stagecoach with seven passengers had been lost. In one place they passed a drove of horned cattle said to contain 1,000 head which all died of heat the same day.
The sisters had more than the elements to contend with on the trip. At different ranches where they stopped for the night, there were some ranchers who earnestly asked the sisters to stay and marry them, since they would never get to Tucson anyway, because they would be massacred by the Apaches. At one ranch there were more than twenty men who were intoxicated. The Sisters were very fearful of them. One night a proprietor offered them the barroom to sleep in, but they said they preferred the stable. Even though there were forty men already there, the exhausted sisters made their way to the stable.
The most dangerous part of the journey was the passing of Picacho Peak where the Apaches often attacked passengers. Sister Monica writes: “Whip and spur were given to the horses – we went like lightning – the men yelling like so many fiends, in order to frighten the savages. The novelty of the scene kept us from being afraid.”
The sisters arrived at Tucson about 6:00 p.m. on Ascension Thursday, May 26, 1870 accompanied by fireworks and the pealing of bells.
Besides being with the first group of pioneer sisters to the “Arizona Territory, Sister Monica spent many years collecting historical information for the writing of a history of the Congregation. Her notes are preserved in the Archives and were used by Sister Lucida Savage when she wrote The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1923.
Sister Monica died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City on December 22, 1929 after 63 years as a Sister of St. Joseph. She is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kansas City.
Jewels from Jane
Relive the Trek of the Seven Sisters to Tucson with Archivist Jane Behlmann as she sends a daily entry from Sister Monica's diary in her Jewels from Jane email,now through May 26.
To sign up to receive these historic entries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.