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The Eventful Lives of the Brown Sisters

Posted on October 25, 2018, by Loretto Community

By Leslee Moore

Even after 12 years of working in the Loretto Archives and Heritage Center, assistant and docent Marcia Mohin still can be surprised.  As she processes files of Loretto Community members past and present, she finds stories that beg to be shared with a wider audience.

While researching a list of Loretto Sisters who taught in Catholic schools in and around Sterling, Ill., Marcia came across the files of Sister M. Frances Lorraine Brown SL (born Consuelo Artless Brown) and her younger sister, Sister M. Consilia Brown SL (born Hazel Lorraine Brown).  The sisters, a year apart in age, entered the Loretto convent a year apart as well, in 1917 and 1918, respectively.  But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Hazel Lorraine Brown, left, and Consuelo Artless Brown in 1919.

Clara Mabel Marshall and her parents moved temporarily to Las Vegas, N.M., when Mr. Marshall’s doctor recommended the desert air for his breathing difficulties.  The wealthy businessman packed up his family and left Haverhill, Mass., for the high desert in the late 1890s. That was where, in the spring of 1898, Mabel met and fell in love with Harry William Brown. Mabel was 18 and Harry was 20 when they decided to marry on June 21,  1898, after a courtship that last only a few weeks. Ten months later, Consuelo was born, and Lorraine followed in April 1900.

Over the next 10 years, a seismic shift would change the course of the little girls’ lives forever. By the time of the 1910 federal census, their grandfather had died; their grandmother had moved back to Massachusetts; Harry and Clara were both dead, the girls believed; and 11-year-old Consuelo and 10-year-old Lorraine were living in a boarding house in what was now called East Las Vegas. Was there a connection between the girls and boarding house owners Simon and Mary Warner or any of the other lodgers? We may never know; but, we do know that the decision was made for the girls to move a short time later to St. Vincent Sanitarium, an orphanage in Santa Fe run by the Sisters of Charity.

Once at St. Vincent’s, the girls were baptized, received their First Communion and were confirmed. And they were enrolled in the Loretto’s Academy of Our Lady of Light. Upon completing their studies there, Consuelo and Lorraine entered the Loretto convent. Sister Frances Lorraine suffered from poor health for many years prior to her death in 1940.  Sister M. Consilia, who reverted to her baptismal name of Lorraine in 1966, lived until 1992.

Sister M. Consilia Brown in 1948

As Marcia would say, “Every time you think there can’t be anything more, you find something else!”  And, this story has two “something elses.”  The first was the death of Sylvia V. Marshall,  the girls’ grandmother, sometime around 1910 in Haverhill. Mrs. Marshall left the bulk of her sizable estate to Consuelo and Lorraine, to be held in trust for them until they each attained their 21st birthday. This would set in motion years of wrangling, with other members of family contesting the terms of the will, as well as the logistics of dealing with the sale of property in Massachusetts and New Mexico. In the midst of all those dealings, Mr. Edward Davies, the attorney for the sisters, was murdered by another client who was dissatisfied with the way he handled the settling of an estate for that client. (It should be noted that Mr. Davies may or may not have “misplaced” some of the money due the sisters.) Eventually, all was settled, and the Sisters of Loretto received several thousand dollars through the sisters.

The second “something else” involves Clara Mabel Brown, the sisters’ mother, who they believed to have died when they were toddlers. On Mother’s Day, 1956, the now Mrs. Mabel Danforth visited her daughter Lorraine for the first time since leaving her daughters decades earlier. As Marcia pointed out, things may not have gone well at that meeting as there is no evidence of any further communication between the two women.

Lorraine, in her later years, wrote to P.J. Manion that “her life has been uneventful.”  It leads one to wonder how she would have defined an eventful one!

Sister Frances Lorraine Brown in an undated photo

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