Thursday, 14 July 2011

Thankful Thursday: Finding Grandad's Sister the Sister

Back at the end of May, I wrote about "Looking for Julia Moynihan, Grandad's Sister the Sister."  I think Julia pulled some strings from heaven and now I've found her.

As you may remember, all we really knew was that Julia had become a nun in Boston.  Dad said her religious name was Sister Mary Josephine.  That's it.  We didn't know which order, and there were quite a few of them in Boston at the time.

Since my first post, I was able to find the detailed ship's manifest that showed Julia arriving in Boston in May 1907 to join her widowed aunt Hannah (aka Annie) Harnedy in Andover.  I later found her brother Jeremiah joining her in Andover in 1908.  I couldn't find Julia in the 1910 or later censuses with family, but there was a Julia Moynihan with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur first in Waltham and then Boston, Massachusetts.  There are several Orders called Sisters of Notre Dame around the world.  But the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur seem to be all over the Greater Boston area, including in Andover, just a half-hour north of Boston.

In my previous post, I shared an obituary I had found on RootsWeb:

Lowell Sun Lowell, MA April 3, 1945

Tyngsboro - Rev. Sr. Mary Josephine, stationed for the past twelve years at the Academy of Notre Dame, died yesterday at the academy, aged 60 years, following an illness of one week's duration.

The former Julia Moynihan, Sr. Mary Josephine was a native of Ireland, and had been for 35 years in the order of Notre Dame de Namur. During her years  at the academy she was in  charge of the sacristy.
Tyngsboro is a small town outside Lowell, just west of Andover.  I mentioned in the previous post that I had emailed the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to ask if this was my aunt Julia.  I was told it wasn't.  But the story doesn't end there.  Remember, Julia was helping from heaven.

I emailed a number of other orders to see if Julia joined them.  One Order suggested that I check Census records.  I felt a little foolish realizing that I'd assumed the Census records would record only the Sisters' religious names.  That's not necessarily so.  In fact, when I looked for Julia Moynihans in Massachusetts I found a Julia who was a novice with the Notre Dame Training School in 1910 in Waltham and then in Boston in 1920 and 1930 at the Notre Dame Academy there.  While the birth year, arrival year and even parentage varied across these three Julias, they sure seemed like the same woman.  So I got back in touch with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, where unfortunately the Sisters responsible for the records have been ill.  I was told I should be realistic, that there may not be records to prove one way or another where my Aunt Julia went.

This is where things get interesting.  My Sweetie wanted our summer vacation to be in a big city with lots to see.  I wanted to find dead relatives.  Going to Boston and Andover was our compromise.  As it turns out, I have living relatives in Andover and we arranged to meet.  Would you believe that one of my cousins attended high school at the Notre Dame Academy at Tyngsboro?  Over dinner, she mentioned that there was a cemetery on the school grounds, down near the soccer field.  For teenage girls, it was a place to be avoided.  For me, I couldn't resist.

So we drove over to Tyngsboro to the school grounds.  Uh-oh.  "Private Property."  We should have called ahead.  We drove up to the front door and found that the reception had closed for the day.  Darn.  Exiting the property, we saw a fellow working and asked him permission to visit the cemetery.  He agreed and told us where to find it.  Thank you! Thank you!  It was a beautiful spot, nestled among old, old pines.  There, I found a new aspect to the mystery.  There were three Sisters with similar names:
  • Sister Mary Josephina, died April 2, 1945 (the one from the Lowell Sun article);
  • Sister Josephine Marie, died June 18, 1953;
  • Sister Marie Josephine, died November 6, 1964.
I sent photos of the three headstones to my cousins, one of whom asked a family friend in the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur if she could help us with our search.  This morning, Sister Mary wrote me back to confirm that, without a doubt, Sister Mary Josephina was our Julia Moynihan.  The Order's records confirm her birthdate (within a week or two), her parents' names and that she'd joined from Andover.
Sister Mary Josephina entered the convent at Waltham on January 6, 1910.  She entered the Novitiate on June 26, 1910 and made her vows on July 25, 1912 -- almost 99 years ago.  And she died at Tyngsboro on April 2, 1945.
She is buried in the pretty and peaceful cemetery on the grounds of the Notre Dame Academy in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.  And I was able to pay my respects at her grave.

I am a grateful girl today.  Thanks to Sister Mary and my cousins.  Thanks Aunt Julia for helping us find you.

I'll say another prayer tonight for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, for their work, and for the recovery of the Sisters responsible for their archives.


  1. Loved this heartwarming and well-written post. Great memories of nuns, parochial school, singing requiem masses, and serving in the sacristy. I came across an old photo of my grandfather in his Knights of Columbus suit, taken inside our local church, which, of course, has been "updated/remodeled" since the photo --- will post that with some memories when I finally get to start blogging on Geneabloggers;)

  2. Thank you, ladies.

    Sharon, I look forward to blog post with your grandfather's picture.

  3. So glad you were able to find the solution to your mystery. I love how you shared all of its twists and turns.

  4. what a great story.

  5. This is a great story, and I'm so glad your search was successful! Also, this is one of my favorite lines I've read in a while: "My Sweetie wanted our summer vacation to be in a big city with lots to see. I wanted to find dead relatives."