By Laurel Wilson
For today’s LOREtto blog post, I’d like to highlight the life of Sister Agnesetta Reid SL, whose personal papers I recently processed in the Archives. Though Agnesetta’s life was short and often full of suffering, she was an inspiration to many, and her legacy lives on today.
Agnesetta was born Agnes Veronica Reid on Nov. 11, 1891, in St. Louis. Two of her cousins were Sisters of Loretto, and she attended high school where one of them was stationed, at St. Vincent Academy in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Upon graduating from St. Vincent in 1910, Agnesetta went through alternating periods of illness and health, often suffering from debilitating arthritis. One way she attempted to get well was by bathing in the waters of Hot Springs, Ark. When her older sister Ann Rose Reid became a Sister of Loretto, Agnesetta decided that if God allowed her to recover from her illness, she would join the order also. After being well for an entire year, she was accepted into the Novitiate and took her vows on Dec. 8, 1914.
In 1916, Agnesetta was assigned to teach at the newly opened Loretto College Academy in Webster Groves, Mo., a school for girls on the grounds of what is now Webster University. She first taught in the elementary school and later in the high school mathematics department. From time to time, she was still plagued by arthritis in her hands, and in 1922, the pain became so debilitating that she had to stop teaching. Though her hands became gnarled into fists and she was confined to a wheelchair and later a bed, she would always greet her friends and family with a beautiful smile. When they marveled at how she could smile in her condition, she told them, “Oh, but my face isn’t sick.” She lived for 20 years at the Lafayette Infirmary in St. Louis, where she died on Aug. 3, 1942.
However, Agnesetta’s story continues beyond her life. Her radiant smile, cheerfulness and deeply-held faith in God’s will despite her years of suffering inspired her family and friends so much that after her death they began praying to her for heavenly favors and hoped to canonize her someday. Several articles and biographical sketches were written about her to spread her story, and thousands of copies of a poem she wrote entitled “The Only Solace” were distributed all over the world to comfort patients facing long-term illnesses. In addition, the Little Flower Burse fund that Agnesetta started to develop a home for ill and aging members of Loretto went toward completing the Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary.
Materials in the Loretto Motherhouse Archives about Agnesetta have an interesting origin story as well. Whereas the personal papers of most Sisters come to the Archives directly from the Sister’s own belongings, that was not the case with Agnesetta’s papers. She hadn’t kept many of her letters or personal items, but after her death, those close to her sought to beatify her and began collecting letters she had sent to her friends, as well as the poems she wrote and handmade cards she drew. They also gathered people’s memories of Agnesetta and stories of the heavenly favors performed by her, with the hopes of writing a book about her someday. Though a full-length biography of Agnesetta was never written, there are a few shorter biographical pieces written about her in our collection.