In October 1875, Sr. Mary Magdalen Bentivoglio and her sister Constance, with whom she had entered the Poor Clares, sailed from Italy to New York to establish the first contemplative community in the United States. They had departed with the personal blessings of Pope Piux IX, who urged them to offer “a silent sermon accompanied by prayer and union with God, to make known to many that true happiness is not to be found in things temporal and material.”
Unfortunately, they had departed with no assurance of a welcome. Not knowing a word of English, they were left to beg and rely on charity for most of a year while seeking a bishop who would accept them. The bishop of New York told them that a contemplative enclosure was out of character with the American spirit; the need was for teaching sisters. After fruitless efforts in other cities, the two sisters were finally welcomed by the Bishop of Omaha, and they made their home in that diocese.
For years, they suffered cold and hunger. As Mother Mary Magdalen wrote,
“It is certain that on the one hand we do not want pamper anyone, but on the other hand we do not want to kill anyone.”
But new postulants did arrive, and in time Mother Mary Magdalen traveled to establish a new foundation in Evansville, Indiana, where she lived until her death on August 18, 1905.