Sister Helen Theresa Ferriter

Helen Theresa Ferriter was born in 1870 to immigrant parents from the Dingle Peninsula area of Ireland.  She was the tenth child of Nicholas and Mary Ann (Sullivan) Ferriter.  Her oldest brother, Michael James Ferriter, was 17 and working in the coal mines along with his father.  Her youngest sibling was John Joseph Ferriter, age 5.  Four of the nine children born before her had not survived childhood, with one dying as an infant and three dying as toddlers. 

Barclay Village no longer exists. At one time, it was a very busy community that sprouted up in 1850 around the coal mines and the rail lines in the area.  Nicholas and his family were living there between 1870 and 1880 at a time when coal mining there was at its peak.  Later in the 1880's the mines started to dry up as most of the coal had been taken from them. The mines  shut down one after another, and a small pox epidemic left only a ghost town on Barclay Mountain by the early 1900's.  Barclay Mountain consists of about 21,000 acres originally bought by Robert Barclay of London.  The community of Barclay Township on this mountain had been carved out of Franklin Township, PA.  When the population deserted the area, the land was returned to Franklin Township. Now, the area has also been returned to nature  as well --with only a bit of rubble and a cemetery left standing.  The history of Barclay lives on, however, in websites dedicated to preserving the memory of this coal-mining area and the nearby communities. One can search for Franklin Township for example (not the city or county of Franklin!), in Bradford County (not the city of Bradford!), PA, and see some cemetery photos that were once in Barclay and are now either in or near state owned game lands in Franklin Township.

Helen most likely attended one of a number of one room schoolhouse in or near Barclay Village.  She had two younger sisters and she very likely attended classes with them and also with her brother, John. That is, until John was old enough to work in the coal mines.  By 1880, the census reveals that John is working in the mines at age 16. But the patriarch of the family, Nicholas, and the oldest son, Michael James, are absent from the census for Barclay Village for that year!  Much research revealed that these men show up in the 1880 census for Leadville, Colorado.  Leadville had a 'silver boom' and a community of nearly 40,000 settled there in this so called  'two-mile-high city' to work in the silver mines or supporting jobs.  No doubt, Nicholas and Michael had gone there to find better work.  Nicholas was a laborer and Michael was a bartendar in the Julius H. Stockdorf's concert hall.  These were the days of Buffalo Bill, and touring performers of all sorts. Oscar Wilde toured there when we know that Michael was still living there (in 1882).  There was a level of lawlessness in this land then as well.  Doc Holiday lived here.  Meanwhile, the family back in Barclay was getting by --but it couldn't have been a very easy life.  Soon after this period of living apart, most of the family moved to Richmond, Virginia, where they lived very much together.   Various related Ferriter families lived right next door to each other.  Richmond had a strong draw for the family as it was a place where other Ferriter cousins lived and it was also where this family had chosen to  live for a few years prior to the Civil War.  There were jobs in Richmond as tobacco, railroad work, and Tredegar Ironworks continued to need workers.  We know that Helen's brother, Maurice, was in Richmond by 1885 as he married there in that year.  We know that the Helen's oldest sister, Johanna, moved with her family to New York before coming to Richmond by 1990.  Her sister, Kate, went somewhere else also before coming to Richmond. Michael (or Mike), the bartender at Stockdorf's, settled down in Richmond and married there in 1995.  Perhaps Mary Ann did not want to move to Leadville.  Perhaps there is more to the story that can't be known. For whatever reason, the family ultimately converged in Richmond once again.

All except for Helen.  There is no evidence that she ever lived in Richmond, but if she did, she did not stay there for long.  Helen had grown up knowing only Pennsylvania.  And her passion was for something else, someplace else.  Helen joined the order of nuns called the Daughters of Charity on December 21,1888 in Emmitsburg, MD>  She then became known as 'Sister Theresa'.  Emmitsburg, MD, is just south of the border with Pennsylvania.  It is highly likely that Helen had some contact with the Daughters of Charity during her young life either through school or church.  Once committed to this religious order,  Helen was assigned to teach at various schools over time.  She taught in schools in Baltimore, MD, Gettysburg, PA, Washington DC, and Portsmouth, VA.  She also taught at St. Joseph's College in Emmitsburg, MD.  St. Joseph's College had started out as an academy for girls run by the Daughters of Charity in 1809 when Elizabeth Seton (later canonized as Saint Seton) came to the area and began a school for the poor.  This school later transformed into a four year liberal arts college for over 600 women.  The teachers were sisters belonging to the Daughters of Charity and in turn for their duties, they received only room and board. Tuition was kept affordable due to this arrangement.  Later on, however, as the number of women joining Catholic orders began to shrink, the financial dynamics changed dramatically.  The college ultimately closed entirely by 1973.  The buildings now house the National Emergency Training Center.  One can search for information about this school and easily find photos and information of historic interest.   

The Daughters of Charity are known for their work in the areas of education, helping the poor, and also for serving as nurses. They have also been known for their conspicuous 'cornette' headpiece. This very large, white, starched, linen headpiece is what comes to mind when one imagines the most iconic image for a nun.  The Daughters of Charity wore these headpieces until the practice was formally discontinued in 1964.  The rationale behind the original design had to do with separating the individual from the world and reducing peripheral vision so as to provide a sense of solitude and a prayerful state.   The starched linen forms grew more impractical over time and looked like giant white wings.  They were seen as being quite uncomfortable and time intensive as well as somewhat costly.  Eventually a much simpler and subtle veil over the hair was adopted instead.  As part of this order, Helen must have worn one of these headpieces as shown in the sketch above.

Helen died on November 17, 1945 at the age of 75.  She was a patient at St. Agnes Hospital at the time.  She is buried in the New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore, MD. No letters from Helen have been passed on to family members as far as I am aware.  No photos exist either as fare as we know. Helen's  youngest sister, Agnes, had become a policewoman in Lancaster, PA, which is not too far from Emmitsburg, MD.  Perhaps they saw each other on rare occasion.  There was enough contact with Ferriter family members so that her grand nephew, Leo Massei, was able to put down some of the facts about her life on paper.  And I was often told I had a 'Sister Theresa' in my Ferriter family.  But I was never told more than that.  I've had some difficulty finding Helen in census data between the years of 1880 and 1930.  Of course, she may have simply been listed as 'Sister Theresa' and then, there is the problem of having to spell Ferriter four thousand different ways to completely search all databases.  Please contribute information if any of you have details to share.  The research is always ongoing. 
Margaret Ellen Ferriter Campbell

Sources for this story include the following:

  1. Leo Massei's verbal stories as told to me before his passing.
  2. The Family Bible --now owned by Joe Massei.
  3. Census for Barclay Village, Barclay Township, Bradford County, PA, in 1880.
  4. Census for Emmitsburg, Frederick County, MD, for 1930

Sister Helen Theresa Ferriter

Sister Helen Theresa Ferriter

Birthplace: Barclay Village, Barclay Township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania

b. October 8, 1870
d. November 17, 1945
father: Nicholas C. Ferriter
mother: Mary Ann (Sullivan) Ferriter

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