"The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: the Hidden Secrets of a Nun's Life in a Convent Exposed" was first published in New York in 1836 and its aim is, as its title proclaims, to cast discredit on the Catholic Church and Catholics generally.
Immediately upon its publication Maria Monk's story met with unanimous condemnation from the Protestant press of Montreal, and, although the book is no longer taken seriously by fair-minded Protestants or any unbiased person, it still continues in circulation and has a considerable vogue, chiefly because of its sensational and unsavory character, and is appropriately on sale in shops that deal in improper books and pictures.
Its survival perhaps illustrates the Hitlerian recipe for successful mass propaganda: "The bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more likelihood there is of its being believed" believed, that is to say, by those who want to believe it or who have no interest in the truth that it assails. So strange are the aberrations of the human mind that people, otherwise normal and sensible and even pleasant companions, will be found ready to swallow Maria Monk and her Awful Disclosures without turning a hair. The ignorant mind that has blind spots about the pope and the Jesuits will accept Maria Monk with a certain gusto, but it must be admitted that Maria's chief appeal is to that distorted human appetite which has a disgusting relish for nastiness.
The actual facts of the case are simple. Maria Monk was never a nun; she was not even a Catholic, and, although she undoubtedly provided much of the material of the "revelations," she did not herself write the book that has done so much harm and made her name notorious.
We ask for a careful perusal and an attentive hearing of the evidence here submitted to show that The Awful Disclosures is a tissue of lies. The authoress confesses that she is afflicted with terrific dreams that she imagines herself to be pursued by enemies shut up again in the "black convent" present once more at the hideous scenes she describes about to be conveyed to the "secret place of interment" in the cellar that she hears "the shrieks of helpless females in the hands of atrocious men." Well, then, if she be subject to visions of this description, is it not just possible that some of them might have found their way into her book?
A glance at her early history, as it stands recorded by herself, will throw some further light upon her character. Her parents, she tells us, were both from Scotland and resided in Lower Canada. She was born at St. John's and has spent most of her life in Montreal. Her father was an officer under the British Government. He is dead, and her mother has a pension. The latter is a Protestant. When about six or seven years old, Maria went to a school kept by a Mr. Workman, a Protestant, who taught her to read and write and arithmetic as far as division. A number of girls of her acquaintance went to school (as day scholars) to the establishment of the Congregational Nunnery, or Sisters of Charity, as they are usually called.
When she was ten years old, being anxious to learn French, she obtained permission to attend the school of the Sisters of Charity. The "terrible Black Nunnery" is adjacent to that of the Sisters of Charity, being separated from it only by a wall. The Black Nunnery "professes to be a charitable institution for the care of the sick, and the supply of bread and medicines for the poor; and something is done in these departments of charity, although but an insignificant amount compared with the size of the buildings and the number of the inmates." This is the institution which Maria Monk and her confederates have thought fit to libel. It is called the "Black Nunnery" from the color of the dress worn by the inmates. "From all that appears to the public eye, the nuns of these convents are devoted to the charitable objects appropriate to each, the labor of making different articles known to be manufactured by them, and the religious observances which occupy a large portion of their time. They are regarded with much respect by the people at large; and now and then, when a novice takes the veil, she is supposed to retire from the temptations and troubles of this world into a state of holy seclusion, where, by prayer, self-mortification, and good deeds, she prepares herself for heaven."
Now here it is admitted that these establishments, which have existed at Montreal for upwards of half a century, are regarded with much respect by the people of that place, although we shall presently learn from the evidence of Maria Monk that one of them at least is the perpetual scene of every crime that can degrade religion and disgrace human nature.
While Maria was at the school of the Sisters of Charity priests regularly attended to instruct the pupils in the catechism. With a view to forward them in the essential part of Catholic education, a small catechism in common use among us was put into their hands. But, says Maria:
"The priests soon began to teach us a new set of answers which were not to be found in our books, from some of which I received new ideas and got, as I thought, important light on religious subjects, which confirmed me more and more in my belief in the Roman Catholic doctrines. These questions and answers I can still recall with tolerable accuracy, and some of them I will add here. I never have read them, as we were taught them only by word of mouth. Question: Why did not God make all the commandments? Answer: Because man is not strong enough to keep them. Question: Why are men not to read the New Testament? Answer: Because the mind of man is too limited and weak to understand what God has written. These questions and answers are not to be found in the common catechisms in use in Montreal and other places where I have been, but all the children in the Congregational Nunnery were taught them, and many more not in these books."
Well might Maria say that she had never read these questions and answers and that they are not to be found in the common catechism. The first question is an absurdity in itself, and the propriety of the second may be judged by those who take the trouble to look into the missal used by the Catholic laity, which they will find almost wholly composed of extracts from the New Testament.
The Black Nunnery
We now begin to see a little of Maria's true character. Her first acquaintance with the Black Nunnery arose from a service it conferred upon her.
"In the Black Nunnery is a hospital for sick people from the city, and sometimes some of our boarders, such as were indisposed, were sent there to be cured. I was once taken ill myself and sent there, where I remained a few days. There were beds enough for a considerable number more. A physician attended it daily, and there is a number of the veiled nuns of the convent who spend most of their time there. These would also sometimes read lectures and repeat prayers to us."
Such are the practices attending the sick, reading lectures to them, repeating prayers with them, spending most of their time with them of the Black Nuns whom nevertheless we shall, by and by, find charged by this grateful patient with the perpetration of the most horrid crimes.
The only opportunity she appears ever to have had of becoming acquainted with the interior of the nunnery in question was that which she enjoyed on this occasion, and yet she had the audacity, as well as the ingratitude, to put forth as a test of the truth of her narrative the knowledge of the localities which she acquired during the period she received from the sisterhood the most kind, the most beneficial attentions. She proceeds:
"After I had been in the Congregational Nunnery about two years, I left it and attended several schools for a short time, but I soon became dissatisfied, having many and severe trials to endure at home which my feelings will not allow me to describe; and as my Catholic acquaintances had often spoken to me in favor of their faith, I was inclined to believe it true, although, as I have said, before I knew little of any religion. While out of the nunnery I saw nothing of religion. If I had, I believe I should never have thought of becoming a nun."
According to her own account, Maria was now about twelve or thirteen years old. Suddenly she takes it into her head to become a black nun; she was introduced, she says, by an old priest, to the Superior of the convent, to whom she explained her wishes; and accordingly, after a short delay, she says, "at length, on Saturday morning I called about 10 o'clock and was admitted into the Black Nunnery as a novice, much to my satisfaction." She states, and not incorrectly, that the usual period of the novitiate is about two years and a half, which is sometimes abridged, and yet we find her commencing her fourth chapter in these terms:
"After I had been a novice four or five years, that is, from the time I commenced school at the convent, one day I was treated by one of the nuns in a manner which displeased me and, because I expressed some resentment, was required to beg her pardon. Not being satisfied with this, although I complied with the command, nor with the coolness with which the Superior treated me, I determined to quit the convent at once, which I did without asking leave. There would have been no obstacle to my departure, I presume, novice as I then was, if I had asked permission; but I was too much displeased to wait for that and went home without speaking to anyone on the subject."
Therefore we find that, according to her own account, her novitiate was double the ordinary length of the period of probation, that she was admitted at the uncanonical age of thirteen, that from her thirteenth to her eighteenth year she spent in the "Black Nunnery" in the first instance, and that then she quitted it without asking leave of anybody.
We next find her, according to her own account, assistant teacher in a school at St. Denis. She then describes at some length how she became acquainted with a man of ill repute and her hasty marriage with him against the advice of her friends.
Here then we have a novice who ran away from her convent and married a man of bad character. Then having nothing else to do, she resolves again to become a nun, and, in order to shield herself from inquiry on that subject, deliberately fabricates a false statement, in which she gets another person to join her, and back she goes to the nunnery with this lie on her lips, concealing, too, the fact of her marriage, which, without a legal separation sanctioned by the Church, is utterly inconsistent with the vows into which a nun must enter. But this is not all. Having, as she asserts, obtained permission to take up her abode again in the convent as a novice, she proceeds to give us the following piece of information, which, even upon her own showing, would be enough to disqualify her as a witness in any court of justice in the world.
"The money usually required for the admission of novices had not been expected from me; I had been admitted the first time without any such requisition, but now I chose to pay for my readmission. I knew that she [the superioress] was able to dispense with such a demand as well in this as in the former case, and she knew that I was not in possession of anything like the sum she required. But I was bent on paying to the nunnery, and accustomed to receive the doctrine, often repeated to me before that time, that when the advantage of the Church was consulted, the steps taken were justifiable, let them be what they would; I therefore resolved to obtain money on false pretenses, confident that if all were known, I should be far from displeasing the Superior. "I went to the Brigade Major and asked him to give me the money payable to my mother from her pension, which amounted to about thirty dollars, and, without questioning my authority to receive it in her name, he gave me it. From several of her friends I obtained small sums under the name of loans, so that altogether I had soon raised a number of pounds, with which I hastened to the nunnery and deposited a part in the hands of the Superior. She received the money with evident satisfaction, though she must have known that I could not have obtained it honestly; and I was at once readmitted as a novice."
We shall add only one more trait of this woman's character, as described by herself:
"The day on which I received Confirmation was a distressing one to me. I believed the doctrine of the Roman Catholics and, according to them, I was guilty of three mortal sins: concealing something at confession; sacrilege in putting the Body of Christ in the sacrament under my feet and by receiving it while not in a state of grace; and now, I had been led into all these sins in consequence of my marriage, which I never had acknowledged, as it would have cut me off from being admitted as a nun."
It was about a year after this period that Maria (as she says) became a nun, by taking the veil, having still concealed the circumstances of her marriage. No sooner did she take the veil than she was at once initiated into all the crimes which she says the nuns are in the habit of committing. "From that moment," she declares, "I was required to act like the most abandoned of beings"; then for the first time she heard that "all her future associates were habitually guilty of the most heinous and detestable crimes."
We need not go through the dark catalogue of offenses which she imputes to the sisters. There is one alleged crime, however, which we cannot pass unnoticed. It is told with much circumstance and involves a deliberate murder, in which she says that she herself took a part and of which, if there was one tittle of foundation for her story, the authorities of Montreal would have easily disposed, by having the alleged murderers brought to public trial.
She brings a charge of deliberate murder against the Bishop of Montreal, the superioress of the convent, and five priests, three of whom are named Fathers Bonin, Richards, and Savage. The facts are as follows: A certain nun called "Saint Frances," because she would not take part in the alleged criminal acts of the sisters, is hurried up before the five priests and the Bishop, sentenced to death, and immediately is bound and gagged, tied face upwards to a bedstead and mattress, other beds are thrown upon her, and all the five priests with the nuns jump upon the bed and literally crush the "poor victim" to death. She is then unbound and buried in quicklime in a cellar, where in a very short time all vestiges of this alleged murder are destroyed.
The person who records this deed says that she cannot even think of it now without shuddering. She has no kindly feelings toward the parties who, she says, were guilty of this murder. There were other witnesses of it besides herself. Why then did she not, at least after quitting the convent, of which she asserts she was at one time an inmate, go before the King's Attorney General and denounce the murderers? Simply because she knew that the whole scene is a fabrication of her own brain or of some other brain more steeped in falsehood than her own. We need not pursue this narrative any further. It will be sufficient to add that Maria confesses that even after she had taken the veil, she twice quitted the convent, and that eventually the necessity she was under of preparing for her own accouchement, as she confesses, obliged her to run away altogether. She found refuge, as she informs us, in an almshouse at New York.
Such is the story of this abandoned woman, as told by herself, or at least by others with her sanction. We ask any reasonable being, is it a story that deserves the slightest credit? We might leave the work to its fate upon the evidence we have brought against the alleged author out of her own pages, but fortunately for the cause of our religion and of truth we happen to have in our hands the means of proving that it is from beginning to end a tissue of the most unalloyed falsehoods ever penned or uttered.
The sources whence we derive our evidence of the utter falsehood of the book are the universal testimony of the Protestant press at Montreal and the affidavits of individuals of character residing at Montreal, and, among the rest, that of Maria Monk's own mother and also the testimony of her daughter, Mrs. St. John Eckel, in her autobiography, entitled Maria Monk's Daughter.
The Protestant Vindicator
This calumny against the priesthood and nuns of Montreal first appeared in a New York paper called the Protestant Vindicator, dated October 14, 1835, three months previous to the appearance of the book; it reached Montreal four or five days later and was met by immediate and unanimous contradiction from the whole of the Protestant press of the Province. The contradictions are of the most unqualified character, and as the parties from whom they emanated were, for the most part, politically opposed to the section of the population to which the priests belong, they are at once honorable to the good feelings of the witnesses themselves and of course the more valuable as evidence.
We shall begin with the evidence of the Montreal Herald, in favor of the unimpeachable character of the calumniated persons. After a paragraph which it is not necessary to quote, the Herald (in its issue of October 20, 1835) proceeds as follows:
"The first editorial article is entitled 'Nunneries' end is intended to be an exposure of debauchery and murder said to have taken place in the Hotel Dieu in this city. We will not disgrace our columns nor disgust our readers by copying the false, the abominably false article. Though of a different religious persuasion from the priests and nuns, we have had too many opportunities of witnessing their unwearied assiduity and watchfulness and Christian charity during two seasons of pestilence, and can bear witness to the hitherto unimpeached and unimpeachable rectitude of their conduct, to be in the slightest degree swayed in our opinion by a newspaper slander; but we would respectfully inform the conductors of the Protestant Vindicator that there never existed a class of men who are more highly respected and more universally esteemed by individuals of all persuasions than the Roman Catholic priests of Montreal.
"The 'Sisters of Charity' are equally respected and are the means of effecting important services to the community. They practice Christianity by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting the orphan, and ministering to the sick, the afflicted, and the dying 'pursuing the noiseless tenor of their way,' courting no popular applause, and seeking their sole reward in 'conscience void of offense toward God and man.'
"We do not pretend to be defenders of the Roman Catholic religion or of any of its particular institutions. We are Protestants and glory in being so, but we will not so far forget the precepts of Our Divine Master as to connive at traducing the character of individuals who are exemplary members of society, although they are of a different religious persuasion from ourselves."
These general testimonies in favor of the Catholic clergy and religious women of Montreal, and in refutation of the sweeping accusations in the paper already named, produced no retraction or apology on the part of the editor of the Protestant Vindicator. On the contrary, in a subsequent number of that paper, dated November 4, 1835, the calumnies were reiterated and insisted upon, in the violent and bitter language of ignorant fanaticism, on the sole authority of Maria Monk. In the meantime some of the Protestant inhabitants of Montreal had voluntarily instituted an inquiry into the origin of the accusations, and the result was to show Maria Monk to be what is known to psychologists as a pathological liar.
Dr. Robertson's affidavit
The first piece of evidence we shall offer is the sworn affidavit of Dr. Robertson, a physician and a Justice of the Peace. It is not the first in chronological order, but it is the first in importance, as it gives a connected history of Maria Monk for a considerable time previously. The document we give entire, inviting the reader's special attention to the passages which we have printed in italics:
"William Robertson, of Montreal, doctor in medicine, being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists, deposeth and saith as follows: On the ninth of November, 1834, three men came up to my house, having a young female in company with them, who they said was observed, that forenoon, on the bank of the canal, near the extremity of the St. Joseph's suburbs, acting in a manner which induced some people who saw her to think that she intended to drown herself. They took her into a house in the neighborhood, where, after being there some hours, and interrogated as to who she was, etc., she said she was the daughter of Dr. Robertson.
"On receiving this information they brought her to my house. Being from home when they came to the door, and learning from Mrs. Robertson that she denied them, they conveyed her to the watch-house.
"Upon hearing this story, in company with G. Auldjo Esq., of this city, I went to the watch-house to inquire into the affair. We found the young female, whom I have since ascertained to be Maria Monk, daughter of W. Monk of this city, in custody.
"She said that, although she was not my daughter, she was the child of respectable parents, in or very near Montreal, who from some light conduct of hers (arising from temporary insanity, to which she was at times subject from her infancy) had kept her confined and chained in a cellar for the last four years. Upon examination no mark or appearance indicated the wearing of manacles or any other mode of restraint. She said, on my observing this, that her mother always took care to cover the irons with soft clothes, to prevent them from injuring her skin. From the appearance of her hands she evidently had not been used to work.
"To remove her from the watch-house, where she was confined with some of the most profligate women of the town, taken up for inebriety and disorderly conduct in the streets, as she could not give a satisfactory account of herself, I, as Justice of the Peace, sent her to jail as a vagrant. The following morning I went to the jail, for the purpose of ascertaining if possible who she was. After considerable persuasion, she promised to divulge her story to the Rev. J. Esson, one of the clergymen of the Church of Scotland, to whose congregation she said that her parents belonged. That gentleman did call at the jail and ascertain who she was.
"In the course of a few days she was released, and I did not see her again until the month of August last, when Mr. Johnson, of Griffin-town, joiner, and Mr. Cooley, of the St. Ann suburbs, merchant, called upon me about ten o'clock at night, and, after some prefatory remarks, mentioned that the object of their visit was to ask me as a magistrate to institute an inquiry into some very serious charges which had been made against some of the Roman Catholic priests of the place, and the nuns of the General Hospital, by a female who had been a nun in that institution for four years and who had divulged the most horrible secrets of that establishment, such as the illicit and criminal intercourse between the nuns and the priests, stating such particulars of depravity of conduct, on the part of these people in this respect, and their murdering the offspring of these criminal connections as soon as they were born, to the number of from thirty to forty every year.
"I instantly stated that I did not believe a word of what they told me, and they must have been imposed upon by some evil-disposed and designing person. Upon inquiry who this nun, their informant, was, I discovered that she answered exactly the description of Maria Monk, whom I had so much trouble about last year, and mentioned to these individuals my suspicion and what I knew of that unfortunate girl. Mr. Cooley said to Mr. Johnson, 'Let us go home; we are hoaxed.' They told me that she was then at Mr. Johnson's house and requested me to call there and hear her story.
"The next day, or the day following, I did call and saw Maria Monk at Mr. Johnson's house. She repeated in my presence the substance of what was mentioned to me before, relating to her having been in the nunnery for four years, having taken the black veil, the crimes committed there, and a variety of other circumstances concerning the conduct of priests and nuns. A Mr. Hoyte was introduced to me and was present during the whole of the time that I was in the house. He was represented as one of the persons who had come in from New York with this young woman for the purpose of investigating into this mysterious affair.
"I was asked to take her deposition, on her oath, as to the truth of what she had stated. I declined doing so, giving as a reason that, from my knowledge of her character, I considered her assertions upon oath were not entitled to more credit than her bare assertion and that I did not believe either, intimating at the same time my willingness to take the necessary steps for a full investigation, if they could get any other person to corroborate any part of her solemn testimony or if a direct charge were made against any particular individual of a criminal nature.
"During the first interview with Messrs. Johnson and Cooley, they mentioned that Maria Monk had been found in New York, in a very destitute situation, by some charitable friends, who administered to her necessities, being very sick. She expressed a wish to see a clergyman, as she had a dreadful secret which she wished to divulge before she died; a clergyman visiting her, she related to him the alleged crimes of the priests and the nuns of the General Hospital at Montreal.
"After her recovery, she was visited and examined by the Mayor and some lawyers at New York, afterward at Troy, in the State of New York, on the subject, and I understood them to say that Mr. Hoyte and two other gentlemen, one of them a lawyer, were sent to Montreal with her, for the purpose of examining into the truth of the accusations thus made.
"Although incredulous as to the truth of Maria Monk's story, I thought it incumbent on me to make some inquiry concerning it, and have ascertained where she (Maria Monk) has been residing a great part of the time she states having been an inmate of the nunnery. During the summer of 1832 she was at service at William Henry; the winter of 1832-3 she passed in this neighborhood of St. Ours and St. Denis. The accounts given of her conduct that season corroborate the opinions I had before entertained on her character.
"Sworn before me, at Montreal, this fourteenth day of November, 1835.
"Justice of the Peace"
So strong is the evidence of Dr. Robertson in proof of the mingled insanity and depravity of Maria Monk that we might safely rest upon it the case of the clergy and nuns. In the first place she represented herself as the daughter of Dr. Robertson. Finding from the personal attendance of Dr. Robertson that this story could not be maintained, she substituted for it a statement to the effect that her parents resided near Montreal and that they kept her chained in a cellar for the last four years.
At a subsequent period she gives up the cellar story for one which seemed likely to become more profitable, and she then represented herself as having been an inmate of the Hotel Dieu during the very four years that she had previously said she had been chained in a cellar by her parents.
But although each of these stories contradicts the other, and all of them completely destroy the general credibility of the witness, we have further the direct testimony of Dr. Robertson that during the four years in question she was neither chained in a cellar nor outraged in a nunnery. In 1832 she was at William Henry, a town about forty-five miles below Montreal, and in the winter of 1832-3 she was living in the same neighborhood, namely, at St. Ours or St. Denis, two villages lying south and inland of the town just named.
What Maria Monk's mother had to say
We now come to the affidavit of the mother of Maria Monk. It is of great length and contains many minor details which do not materially strengthen the evidence, though they would do so were that evidence of a less decided character. Many of those details we shall therefore omit, giving only the most important passages.
The affidavit was sworn on October 24, 1835, before Dr. Robertson, whose own evidence the reader has just perused. Mrs. Monk declares in this affidavit "that, wishing to guard the public against the deception which has lately been practiced in Montreal by designing men, who have taken advantage of the occasional mental derangement of her daughter, to make scandalous accusations against the priests and nuns in Montreal, and afterwards to make her pass herself for a nun who had left the convent."
She proceeded to state that in August 1835 a man named Hoyte, who stated himself to be a minister of New York, called upon her and informed her "that he had lately come to Montreal with a young woman and a child of five weeks old; that the woman had absconded from him at Goodenough's Tavern, where they were lodging, and left him with the child. He gave me a description of the woman; I unfortunately discovered that the description answered my daughter; and the reflection that this stranger had called upon Mr. Esson, our pastor, and inquiring for my brother, I suspected that this was planned; I asked for the child and said that I would place it in a nunnery; to that, Mr. Hoyte started every objection, in abusive language, against the nuns."
Subsequently the child was delivered to her. Mrs. Monk then sent an acquaintance, a Mrs. Tarbert, to seek for her daughter, who was found, but she refused to go to her mother's house. The only fact of importance in this portion of the affidavit is "that Maria Monk had borrowed a bonnet and shawl, to assist her to escape from that Mr. Hoyte at the hotel," and she requested Mrs. Tarbert to return them to the owner. We now proceed to quote a further portion of Mrs. Monk's affidavit:
"Early in the afternoon of the same day Mr. Hoyte came to my house with the same old man, wishing me to make all my efforts to find the girl, in the meantime speaking very bitterly against the Catholics, the priests, and the nuns; mentioned that my daughter had been in a nunnery, where she had been ill-treated. I denied that my daughter had ever been in a nunnery, that when she was about eight years of age she went to a day-school.
"At that time came in two other persons, whom Mr. Hoyte introduced; one was the Rev. Mr. Brewster; I do not recollect the other reverence's name. They all requested me, in the most pressing terms, to try to make it out that my daughter had been in the nunnery and that she had some connection with the priests of the seminary, of which nunneries and priests she spoke in the most outrageous terms; said that should I make that out, myself my daughter, and child would be protected for life.
"I expected to get rid of their importunities in relating the melancholy circumstances by which my daughter was frequently deranged in her head and told them that when at the age of about seven years she broke a slate pencil in her head; that since that time her mental faculties were deranged, and by times much more than other times, but that she was far from being an idiot; that she could make the most ridiculous but most plausible stories; and that as to the history that she had been in a nunnery, it was a fabrication, for she was never in a nunnery; that at one time I wished to obtain a place in a nunnery for her, that I had employed the influence of Mrs. De Montenach, of Dr. Nelson, and of our pastor, the Rev. Mr. Esson, but without success....
"After many more solicitations to the same effect, three of them retired, but Mr. Hoyte remained, adding to the other solicitations; he was stopped, a person having rapped at the door; it was then candle-light. I opened the door and I found Dr. McDonald, who told me that my daughter Maria was at his house in the most distressing situation; that she wished him to come and make her peace with me; I went with the doctor to his house in McGill Street. She came with me to near my house, but would not come in, notwithstanding I assured her that she would be kindly treated and that I would give her her child; she crossed the parade ground, and I went into the house and returned for her; Mr. Hoyte followed me. She was leaning on the west railing of the parade; we went to her. Mr. Hoyte told her: 'My dear Mary, I am sorry you have treated yourself and me in this manner; I hope you have not exposed what has passed between us. Nevertheless I will treat you the same as ever,' and spoke to her in the most affectionate terms; took her in his arms; she at first spoke to him very cross, and refused to go with him, but at last consented and went away with him, absolutely refusing to come to my house. Soon after Mr. Hoyte came and demanded the child; I gave it to him.
"Next morning Mr. Hoyte returned and was more pressing than ever in his former solicitations and requested me to say that my daughter had been in the nunnery, that should I say so, it would be better than one hundred pounds to me, that I would be protected for life, and that I should leave Montreal, and that I would be better provided for elsewhere. I answered that thousands of pounds would not induce me to perjure myself. Then he got saucy and abusive to the utmost; he said he came to Montreal to detect the infamy of the priests and the nuns."
What follows is not important, except that Mrs. Monk heard, a few days after, that her daughter was at one Mr. Johnson's, a joiner at Griffin-town (a suburb of Montreal) with Mr. Hoyte, that he passed her for a nun who had escaped from the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, and on further inquiry she found that her daughter had subsequently gone off with the said Hoyte.
To the above ample testimony we shall add only the most material portion of the evidence of Mrs. Tarbert, the female who was requested by Mrs. Monk to seek out her daughter:
"I know the said Maria Monk; last spring she told me that the father of the child she was then carrying was burned in Mr. Owsten's house. She often went away in the country, and at the request of her mother I accompanied her across the river. Last summer she came back to my lodgings and told me that she had made out the father of the child and that very night left me and went away. The next morning I found that she was in a house of bad fame, where I went for her and told the woman keeping that house that she ought not to allow that girl to remain there, for she was a girl of good and honest family. Maria Monk then told me that she would not go to him (alluding, as I understood, to the father of the child), for that he wanted her to swear an oath that would lose her soul forever, but jestingly said would make her a lady forever. I then told her: do not lose your soul for money."
Here, then, not only have we abundant proof of the utter falsehood of Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures, but the whole character of this abominable conspiracy is unfolded. It is quite clear that Maria Monk had been living in a state of concubinage with Hoyte, and there is every reason to believe that he was the father of her child.
The evidence of Colonel Stone
A thorough investigation of the whole affair was made by Col. W. L. Stone, editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser. This gentleman, a Protestant and previously an ardent believer in the veracity of Maria Monk's story, went over to Montreal, fully determined to search the convent in question in confirmation of his belief, and afterward to publish for the benefit of the public whatever result might come from his visit. He was accompanied by Mr. A. Frothington, President of the Bank of Montreal, and Mr. Duncan Fisher, another Protestant gentleman of the same city.
They obtained permission from the bishop visited the convent together and searched it from garret to cellar. Every hole and corner, every cellar and passage, was explored by them. They interviewed the nuns and questioned them, but none of them even knew of such a person as Maria Monk as ever having been a member of that sisterhood. They never heard of such an individual as Jane Ray, though Maria Monk's book contains such pathetic and gloomy stories concerning the "awful sufferings" of this same person. We shall see afterwards of what institution Jane Ray was an inmate. They knew not any nun called Sister "Frances Partridge" or "Sister Frances."
The result of Col. Stone's inspection of the convent was the firm conviction and, in fact, the certain knowledge that the whole account of Maria Monk's Disclosures was a pure fiction and Maria Monk herself an arrant impostor. The whole of this Protestant gentleman's experience was published many years ago in a little book entitled Refutation of the Fabulous History of the Arch-Impostor Maria Monk, from which our account of Col. Stone's investigation has been taken.
Not only were no such persons as are mentioned in Maria's book known to the sisters, but the very description given so minutely by her of the convent and the passages and doors she asserts that she passed through to make her second escape, the very position of the convent, the alleged underground passages leading from the seminary to the convent all these were found to have no existence nor ever at any time to have existed.
Another Protestant gentleman named Mr. W. Perkins, of Montreal, had also obtained episcopal sanction and visited this convent, searching it all over and with a like result. (This also is recorded in Col. Stone's book.) These gentlemen determined to shame Maria Monk by publicly confronting her. Several public interviews took place between Col. Stone and Maria Monk. The result was in each case that she made some glaring blunders regarding the convent and its inmates which Col. Stone and his friends from their actual experience were able to contradict on the spot. Maria Monk's friends made another effort to save her "reputation." They introduced for the first time a certain so-called "nun" who asserted she had been since Maria Monk's time an inmate of the "Black Nunnery."
The supporters of Maria Monk looked upon the advent of this new confederate as a godsend, and a godsend it really proved itself to be, but for the other side. "In ten minutes," writes Col. Stone, "in the presence of half a dozen other friends, clerical and laical, was the imposture unmasked." Frances Partridge forgot herself completely, and in describing the convent located it on the wrong side of a very large block of buildings, quite in a different direction from its actual position, giving an entrance leading to it which completely contradicted the one given by Maria Monk, her prompter, as well as the actual one seen by Col. Stone with his own eyes in visiting the convent.
This was no lapsus linguae, writes the Colonel, for time was given Frances to recover herself; Maria Monk gave her a "hint" or two, which she did not "take." Three times she repeated the same fatal mistake, so that Col. Stone exposed her and denounced her face to face with Maria Monk as an arrant fraud.
What Mrs. McDonnell knew
There stood at the same time as the Hotel Dieu Convent another institution for the reclaiming of prostitutes to a life of virtue, known as the "Magdalen Asylum" and kept by Mrs. McDonnell. This lady has sworn an affidavit before a public notary at Montreal that Maria Monk was never a nun at all, but had always led the life of a prostitute. She states that the names of "Fougnee," mentioned in the Awful Disclosures, were in reality the names of the Misses Fournier, her assistant directresses in the Magdalen Asylum, and that "Howard, Jane McCoy, Jane Ray, and Reed," introduced into the same narrative, so far from ever having been nuns, were reclaimed prostitutes living in the Asylum at the very time Maria Monk was under probation for an amendment of her wicked and infamous career. Moreover, Mrs. McDonnell states that the description given of the Hotel Dieu Convent is alone applicable to the Magdalen Asylum. The following is the affidavit:
"Province of Lower Canada, district of Montreal.
"Before me, Adam L. MacNider, one of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the district of Montreal, appeared Agatha Henrietta Huguet Latour, widow of the late Duncan Cameron McDonnell, who after making an oath on the holy Evangelists, declared that for six years past she had conducted and managed an institution in the city of Montreal, commonly known and distinguished as the Magdalen Asylum; that about the close of the month of November, 1834, Maria Monk, daughter of Mrs. W. Monk, housekeeper of the Government House in the city of Montreal, entered the Asylum and became an inmate thereof; and she understood that the said Maria had for many years led the life of a stroller and prostitute, and that she received her into the Asylum with the hope of effecting her reformation; that in the progress of her acquaintance with the character of the said Maria, she found her to be very uncertain and grossly deceitful, but that she nevertheless did persevere in her efforts to reclaim her to the paths of virtue and morality.
"And deponent further declared that, having been informed that the said Maria held conversation with a man who had reached the yard of the Asylum by scaling the enclosures, she sent for the said Maria and severely reprimanded her, pointing out that her conduct in holding such conversation was in direct violation of the rules of the institution and did moreover indicate a disposition to relapse into her former vicious courses; that the said Maria was not touched by the remonstrances addressed to her, but became more indecorous in her conduct every day, and that finally deponent was obliged to dismiss her from the Asylum; that the said Maria before her dismissal did appear discontented with her residence there, but deponent would not consent to her withdrawal without the consent of the said Mrs. Monk, who was accordingly informed of her daughter's conduct and her desire to withdraw from the Asylum. And deponent further declared that she had reason to believe that the man with whom the said Maria communicated during her stay at the Asylum was [name omitted] having been informed thus by the said Maria herself.
"And deponent further declared that she had reason to believe that the said Maria was in a state of pregnancy at the time she entered the Asylum; and deponent further declared that the said Maria was dismissed from the Asylum at the beginning of the month of March 1835 and withdrew, as this deponent has been informed, to her mother's house. And deponent further declared that she had read the pamphlet entitled Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk and that deponent was thereby informed for the first time that the said Maria had been at any time the inmate of a convent; that the said Maria, at the time she was in the Magdalen Asylum, did never pretend to deponent or anyone else, according to the information and belief of the deponent, that she had been an inmate of the Hotel Dieu Convent or of any convent whatever, but that deponent had always understood and believed that she had for many years led the life of a vagrant and disorderly person.
"And deponent further declared that she had reason to believe that the name 'Fougnee,' mentioned in the said Disclosures, is misspelt for 'Fournier.' that at the same time the said Maria was at the Asylum, Miss Hypolite Fournier and Miss Clothilde Fournier, two sisters, were assistants to deponent in the management of the Asylum, and that deponent believed them to be identical with the persons mentioned in the Disclosures as the two Misses 'Fougnee.'
"And the deponent further stated that she had reason to believe that the person named 'Miss Howard' in the Disclosures to be identical with a person bearing that name who lived in the Asylum contemporaneously with the said Maria, and deponent further declared that she had reason to believe, and therefore did believe, that the person named 'Jane McCoy' in the said Disclosures to be identical with a person bearing that name who lived contemporaneously with the said Maria, and deponent further declared that she had reason to believe and did believe that the person designated in the said Disclosures as 'one of my cousins who lived at Lachine named Reed' to be identical with a person bearing that name who lived contemporaneously with the said Maria, and deponent further declared that many of the rules and habits of conventual life were in use and practice before, since, and at the time the said Maria Monk was an inmate thereof and that she had reason to believe and did believe that the description given in the said Disclosures of the interior of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery is an incorrect description of the apartments of the said Asylum of which the said Maria was for some time as inmate, as in hereinbefore mentioned; and further deponent declareth not.
Agatha Henrietta Huguet Latour
Widow of D. C. McDonnell
Sworn before me, the twenty-seventh day of July,
Adam L. MacNider "Justice of the Peace"
Evidence of Maria Monk's daughter
A daughter of Maria Monk's has written a lengthy autobiography in which we learn that Maria married a Mr. St. John and lived with him until her intemperate and sordid life drove him to take his little children and find a home for himself and them away from her. In her preface Mrs. St. John Eckel asserts that "duty and religion alike compel me to expose the injustice and calumny that my mother heaped upon the Roman Catholic Church and her religious orders."
Although she eventually became a Catholic, Mrs. Eckel, in her pre-Catholic days, was filled with anti-Catholic prejudice. She describes how one day she was abusing Catholics in conversation with her sister when, to her surprise, the sister seemed inclined to defend them. "I asked her how it was possible for her to think well of them after all our mother had said against them. She replied: 'But do you not know that that book of our mother was all a lie?' Said I: 'I believe every word in Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures.' My sister was quite irritated and said emphatically: 'I know that the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk are all lies; she herself told me so.' Said I: 'Why did she write it, then?' 'In order to make money,' my sister replied; 'some men put her up to it, but she never received one cent of the proceeds of the book, for these men kept it all for themselves.'"
Mrs. Eckel writes, "My mother did not write her book; in fact, the book itself admits that she did not. She only gave certain facts which were dressed up by the men who afterwards helped to cheat her out of the proceeds of her crime." A reviewer, who writes a notice of Mrs. St. John Eckel's autobiography in the Dublin Review, October 1880, vouches for the bona-fide character of her story.
Maria Monk's death
Maria Monk furnishes a dreadful illustration of the saying, "As we live, so we die." She found her way several times into jail. At length, when arrested for the last time on a charge of stealing from a wretched paramour of hers and cast into prison, she ended there her miserable career.
The account of her death may be found in Dolman's Register of October 9, 1849. "Two months ago or more, the police book recorded the arrest of the notorious but unfortunate Maria Monk, whose book of Awful Disclosures created such excitement in the religious world some years since. She was charged with picking the pocket of a paramour in a den near the Five Points. She was tried, found guilty, and sent to prison, where she lived up to Friday last, when death removed her from the scene of her sufferings and disgrace. What a moral is here, indeed!"
J. Bernard Delany, O.P. "The Real Maria Monk." Catholic Truth Society (1940s).
This essay was published in booklet form by the London-based Catholic Truth Society in the 1940s. Maria Monk's story, though long ago discredited, still is used by a few Fundamentalist opponents of the faith, who argue that there must be some truth to it, even if some of the purported facts are incorrect.
The AuthorCopyright © J. Bernard Delany, O.P.
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