LOREtto: Eulalia Flaget and the Bishop’s Crucifix
By Katie Santa Ana
In the museum collection of the Loretto Heritage Center, we have a small, unassuming crucifix with an interesting egg shaped wooden case. In now fading white ink, “Rev. Flaget’s Rosary given to Loretto 1925” is written along the juncture where the two halves of the case twist together. For over ninety years this unassuming item has been treasured in our collections. But why was the rosary of Benedict Joseph Flaget (1763–1850), former Bishop of the Diocese of Bardstown and the new Diocese of Louisville, given to the Loretto Community?
The name “Flaget” graces many institutions in the Bardstown and Louisville areas, from hospitals to high schools. However, few know that this larger than life Bishop also had a larger than life niece, Eulalia Flaget. Her unusual story was pieced together by one of our early archivists, Sister M. Antonella Hardy. Born February 12, 1798 at Billom in Auvergne, France, from a young age Eulalia adored her uncle and wanted to join him in America. While initially her mother was resistant, eventually Eulalia got her way and joined the Bardstown based Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 1821 at the age of 23. However, Eulalia left the Sisters of Charity in 1833 and joined Bishop Flaget on a trip to France not long after.
While in France, Eulalia had the formative experience of visiting the Daughters of Wisdom and learning their techniques for teaching the deaf. When Eulalia was ready to return to the Sisters of Charity, she was not accepted back, and instead joined the Sisters of Loretto around 1839 or 1840. Through the support of her uncle and using what she learned from the Daughters of Wisdom in France, the “Loretto Deaf and Dumb Asylum” was created at Loretto in 1840. For unknown reasons, this new endeavor did not last long, and the school was closed just a few years later. In 1842, Eulalia was among the group of Sisters who founded St. Benedict’s Academy at Cedar Grove in Louisville, Kentucky. However, Eulalia’s time with the Sisters of Loretto was not to last. Around 1848, her uncle’s health began to fail, and she left the community to take care of him during his illness. Shortly before his death on February 11, 1850, Bishop Flaget gave Eulalia his personal crucifix.
It is unclear whether or not Eulalia tried to return to Loretto after her uncle’s death. Archivist Antonella Hardy did leave a research note with a possible explanation: “It is stated by some of the older members that Sister Eulalia’s desire to retain as her own, her Uncle’s crozier and the Society’s objection to her doing so, was why she left the society.” Whatever the reason for not returning to Loretto, Eulalia was on her way back to France yet again, when she stopped and paid a visit to the Society of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, New York. Here she had a change of heart, and decided to enter the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1851.
On January 9, 1879 from her home with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Sault-au-Récollet in Montreal, Sister Eulalia wrote to a former St. Benedict’s Academy, Cedar Grove student, Josephine Maryman (nee Villier) the following:
“Since the death of my venerable Uncle, I have kept for you, dear Josephine, the beads which he used for the last time the eve of his death. On Sunday your mama went to see him; he asked for news of you and blessed you with all his heart. In the night he asked me for his rosary; he said it, then gave is to me. He said to me, ‘Keep it.’ I have destined it for you, dear Josephine, and, as you are the last person whom he blessed, you shall have the last rosary upon which he prayed.”
This letter and one other, originally written in French to Josephine, were given to Loretto in 1925 when Josephine decided to donate the crucifix. Sister Eulalia Flaget RSCJ died at Sault-au-Récollet on June 8, 1882. After the donation of the crucifix, archivist Antonella Hardy gathered together her notes and research on Eulalia’s extraordinary life and published it in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia in June 1925 as the article “Loretto, Bishop Flaget and Sister Eulalie Flaget.” This blog post would not have been possible without her careful research.