The Civil War affected everyone, and St. Catherine Convent and
Academy was no exception. The Union army appropriated convent
property. Dead and dying men covered the grounds after the Battle
of Helena. The school lost most of its students. When it was forced
to close in 1868, one sister wrote: "We lost everything and were
broken hearted when forced to leave Helena."
The Union Army Seizes Convent Property
The sisters were charged by their founder with the relief of
the suffering, but they apparently drew the line at having
their property seized to house some of the 2,000 fugitive
slaves who followed the Union army into Helena in July
The Mother Superior voiced her objections in a terse yet
polite note to the Union commander: "The Sisters of Mercy
are compelled to solicit once more the kindness of Major
Gen. Curtis for the preservation of their property, a portion
of which is being destroyed by the Negroes, who say they
have been sent to their barn by order of Gen. Curtis..." The
general's reply is unknown, but one suspects that the
Freedom Seekers remained.
Bringing Relief to the Wounded
After the July 1863, Battle of Helena, dead and wounded
soldiers lay here on the ground all around you—the St.
Catherine Academy grounds. Sister Gabriel wrote: "When
realized that we were doomed by the awful battle, we
turned our house, out-houses and grounds into the very
best emergency hospital that could be done under the
circumstances. We boiled our white apparel as a means of
sterilizing them for bandages. Mother Teresa was very gifted
in knowing how to help the wounded and those ill from
exposure. Many a wounded soldier of both sides, found
relief under her care.
"We lost everything"
Bottom left: St. Catherine Academy, topped by the cupola, is visible on the hill behind the house in the foreground. This Civil War photograph was taken about 1864.