In the early morning of February, 9, 1908, the SS Cedric was vibrating with excitement. Eleven days after sailing from Naples, Italy, the passengers were eager to get a first glimpse of New York City.

The most populated city in the world was a place of contrasts. Hip and modern, glittering with incandescent lights, it was an exciting place for entrepreneurs, entertainers and old-money families.ragpicker 2  At the same time, it was a grim, hard place for destitute immigrants. Between 1850 and 1900 almost a quarter of a million Italians arrived in New York. Most of them were men who hoped to make some good money and return home to start a little business or buy a piece of land. Most worked digging tunnels, building bridges and laying gas lines. Many were lodgers who paid five cents a night to sleep in bunk beds in overcrowded rooms. Those with families lived in poorly lit, ill ventilated, cramped tenement houses which sometimes lacked indoor plumbing. Women and children did piecework or scavenged as ragpickers through garbage in search of bones, tin cans, or any piece of cloth which they could wash and sell.

Countess Annie Leary, a prominent New York figure, aware of these terrible conditions, dedicated herself to fund the education of immigrant Italian children and to the protection of their mothers. Her friend and secretary, Margaret Dewey Brady, had met our sisters while visiting Florence. Both Margaret and Annie were attracted by the blend of contemplation and ministry which characterized the lives of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix.  The Countess, in consultation with Archbishop Farley, invited the congregation to New York. She provided temporary housing for Sisters Marie de Sainte Véronique Giuliani and Marie of Saint Matthieu at 49 Charlton Street in Greenwich Village on the northwest border of Little Italy. After having assessed their immigrant neighbors’ needs, Véronique and Matthieu provided a prayer space open to all, gave religious instruction, and taught sewing to young and old alike. The opportunity to sing in a choir attracted both children and parents. Soon new hymns were being hummed in unexpected places!Matthieu 2

Marie of Saint Matthieu, née Marie Antoinette Canny, was born in Dublin, Ireland.  She was 46 when she arrived in New York. Not much is known about her pre-NYC life but during her 16 years in Manhattan she was an inspired and gentle innovator.

Keep checking for more about Saint Matthieu, the Countess, and other interesting characters.