Frances McDonell (Sister Marie Celestine)

Frances McDonell (Sister Marie Celestine)

I’ve found the following about my gt gt gt gt aunt Frances John Baptist-MacDonell, from Rita MacDonalds genealogy pages. She was the 7th child of Angus MacDonell and Christina MacNab, and sister of my gt gt gt grandmother Christina Mary ‘Theresa’. Frances was born 25/26 August in Keppoch House -Lochaber Scotland 1848 baptised on 29th and consecrated by her devout mother to John and Baptist. She was only 8 years old when her youngest sister Alice was born. She was one of 12 children.

According to Rita MacDonald‘s pages on Rootsweb she had a happy childhood and went to London with her sister Theresa for the season. Educated at a boarding school with Religious of Notre Dame at Northampton. She entered the convent in Spring l872. She became celebrated in Spain, Belgium and France.

Here are some of notes about her Keppoch House home:

“Our old home where we passed our infancy and youth was a large simple country house, built after the war of Prince Charles Edward Stuart to replace the 2nd castle of Keppoch, burned to its foundations by the Hanoverian armies. The Roy, a rapid and rocky torrent with wooded banks wound around it, and joined its waters with those of the Spean below one of the large lawns, brightened up with beds of flowers which stretched in front of the house. A flight of granite steps gave access to the front door, and it was on the steps where we sat around our mother Anne that we passed our evenings during the beautiful nights of June and the beginning of July, when there is no darkness at all; delightful evenings when, in an air perfumed by all scents, we could contemplate, on the opposite bank of the Spean, the magnificent charm of the Grampians, in their various colours; taste the rising of the moon behind the mountains; and lend our ears to the feeble cry of the owl in the woods of the park. On looking back, it seems to me that we lived in a little paradise of happiness sheltered from all worry or sorrow”

The following notes were given to Rita MacDonald by Dovie, member of the Sisters of Assumption.

Frances became Mother Celestine du Bon Pasteur. Second Mother General of the Congratation of the Sisters of Assumption. She was born at Keppoch House on 26 August 1848. She knew the Assumption at Kensington Square and entered as a postulant there. After her noviciate at Auteuil in Paris, she returned to England and made her Last Vows at Kensington on 29th September l876. The “Word” in her ring of profession was ”

When the Foundress was ailing she became her “Vicar” in l894 and four years later she succeeded her as the second Superior General of the Congregation. This is interesting because the Sisters were mostly French or Spanish , though there were many English and Irish vocations; the co-foundress, Mother Theresa Emmanuel was from Limerick.

Most of her time as Superior General was taken up with the very difficult questions of the Persecutions of Religious Orders in France, from l895 till 1906 when the French Government finally ‘dissolved’ the congregation. Pope Leo XIII when asked what attitude she should take with regard to these interventions of the State into the affairs of the congregation said: “Resist, my daughter, resist” and resist she did.

Things reached a climax in 1904 when a campaign in the French press tried to raise a scandal about the Assumption. They said that a young Chilean Sister had been poisoned, so that the Nuns might profit from her heritage! Mother Celestine was offered the choice of ending the affair on the condition of paying a large sum. She refused. Truth would triumph, she maintained. The police went through all her papers at Auteuil and found nothing. Our big house and school there were on the list to be liquidated. By 1911 the dozen or so Assumption schools in France had been closed. At Auteuil, some lay people kept the Petit Couvent open.

That year, the community was ‘evacuated’ to Belgium where a former Cistercian monastery, Val Notre Dame, near Huy, Namur, had already been bought. From 1907 it became the Headquarters of the Congregation till l953 and a flourishing school was opened.

In 1907 Pope Pius X asked us among many other religious foundations to do all we could to save Christian education in France….. This meant in most cases, where lay people were helping to maintain the schools, that sisters in lay-dress were part of the staff and formed their own community. This state of affairs lasted until the Petain regime; a question of one man’s meat indeed!

In 1914 and for the duration of the War, Val Notre Dame survived under the protection of the Spanish flag. The Noviciate left in l916 for Segries in the Basses Alpes where it stayed for 3 years.

All this made tremendous demands on M. Celestine. Into the bargain, the process brought by the State against Auteuil was going on. Finally, owing to the good services of an Italian lawyer, M. Pacelli, the Assumption won the case; Mother Celestine could rest assured that she would be recognised as the lawful owner of this great property, where the Assumption had taken root in l866, twenty-six years after its foundation in the Vime arrondissement in l839.

From 1917 Mother Celestine had been suffering from (the record I have simply refers to operations and crises…..was it cancer or tuberculosis?) For the last 4 years of her life she suffered a great deal and died on ll April l921.

She left the memory of a great and holy religious, full of the love of God, very demanding in regard to religious perfection from her subjects. She was a practical person, and her chapters – weekly talks given to the community reveal the quality of her soul.

Her foundations were: 1902 Val Notre Dame 1908 Copenhagen
1903 Santa Cruz de Tenerife * 1910 Iloilo*
1904 San Dalmazzo (closed) 1911 Rio de Janiero*
1904 Alton (closed) 1919 Colmar
1907 Bordighera (closed) 1919 Philadelphia*
1907 Mons (closed) 1916 Montpellier * (reopening of the house and school, the Sisters in secular dress)
1907 Gihon* 1919 Lyons (closed)

Val Notre Dame was the first Foundation in Belgium and though the school was closed in l986, it was the source from which several other houses in Belgium were founded.

* denotes that these houses still exist, though not necessarily on the same site.

FAREWELL TO HER HOME KEPPOCH – written my Mother Marie Celestine of the Good Shepherd, taken from the notes of Sr.  Jacquelin Mary of the Passion Val Notre Dame – 15 March 1933

My mother and my sisters dear,
Grieve not that we must part,
Ah! Dry away that falling tear
Take not my loss to heart.

For many, many happy years,
We’ve lived a life of love,
And though we part with blinding tears,
We’ll meet in bliss above.

Ah, See how short our life will be,
It’s passing swift away,
How soon will come eternity,
That bright undying day.

The brightest life is full of grief,
Our crosses come each hour,
Our happy days, how very brief,
How low the dark clouds lour.

Then who would seek for pleasure here,
Where all must fade and die,
Look up, the sky is bright and clear,
Our home of love is nigh.

Ah hear my fond, my last adieu,
To my dear highland home,
I loved it with a love so true,
And better love has come.

The river where I wandered oft,
I never more will hear,
Its murmuring with a voice so soft,
In memories longing ear.

Each flower, each stream, each walk and tree
Tho from them I depart,
Their image, Oh! Twill ever be,
Imprimed upon my heart.

But joyfully I leave them all,
To follow Him I love,
Oh! Could he slight the tender call,
Which comes from that sweet love!

And yet this pure weak human heart,
Will feel a bitter pain,
Thus from you all, so loved, to part,
When, when to meet again.

But, said I not this life was brief,
How quick our sorrows fade,
And those who hear the greatest grief,
Shall be the highest paid.

Our soul is like a vessel cast,
Upon a troubled sea,
Each storm is greater than the last,
Our struggle brave must be.

I cannot trust to my own sail,
To bear me safe across,
My guide is one who cannot fail,
To save my bark from loss.

Then fare thee well, my sweet ones dear,
Farewell all those I love,
We were not made for pleasures here,
Joy waits for us above.

Oh! My God’s grace attend us here,
And bear us safe through life,
To His blest will our heads we bow,
He’ll help us through our strife.

Adieu! adieu! Once more adieu!
Oh! breathe one prayer for me,
We’ll meet with love so fond and true,
In bright eternity.


The first months at Auteuil were very painful; ignorant of French – surrounded by strange faces , Sister Marie Celestine suffered much from isolation (loneliness) which seemed to her ever harder, because she had left a family which was numerous, and very united. But she found consolation in the Chapel, in the joy of saying to our Lord “For you alone Lord I can stand it………….”

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