The history of the Visitation Monastery of Philadelphia in North America was put into a privately published book, Twice Called, and the following is a very abridged history based on that book.
In 1898, Sisters from the Visitation Monastery in Mobile, Alabama went to Mexico as they had been asked to found a Visitation Monastery there. The appointed Superior was Mother Mary Stanislaus Campbell, accompanied by her assistant, Sister Mary Philomena Connolly, and four other Sisters, one a Novice. On December 8, 1898, with the celebration of Mass the Mexican foundation became “School of the Visitation of Holy Mary of Guadalupe,” though there was no school yet, nor finished monastery, but there were six Mexican postulants to go with the six American Sisters....
In 1901, because the intended monastery was half-built and structurally unsound, and because of the remote location, the founding Sisters moved, now with five Novices and eight Postulants, to a new location in Mexico. In November 1904, the Sisters were finally able to take possession of their new Monastery. A small school opened in 1905. In 1911, Sister Mary Stanislaus (Sister Philomena was now Superior), died in Mobile, having gone back there after a stroke. Mother Margaret Mary Semple (formerly of Mobile) was elected by the Mexican community, as Mother Mary Philomena had completed her six years.
On 1912, the violent death of Francisco I. Madero meant the end of the peace and security of the Sisters. There was lawlessness and the Sisters need the protection of soldiers at night because of robbers. However this was too disturbing to the pupils so the Sisters had to close the school and move.
Because of concerns for their safety, ecclesiastical authorities ordered the community to disperse, so that friends and families sheltered the Sisters and their belongings, even at risk to themselves. One serious problem after another followed.
In 1926, the government decreed that all religious property was to be confiscated, and religious not wear religious garb, among other things. The American Sisters were ordered out of the country. The Mexican Sisters wanted to remain with them as a community so they all left for Mobile, March 26, 1926.
Though the Mobile Visitation was quite hospitable, the number of Sisters made it seem wise to find a new location in America.
Once, in the past, 1848, there had been Visitation Sisters from Georgetown, D.C. (the first Visitation Monastery in the U.S.) who had opened a school in Philadelphia which lasted until 1852 which was at a time of much anti-Catholic demonstration and national financial problems, so now-saint, Bishop John Neumann reluctantly had to see the Sisters leave, though he prayed that “the daughters of St. Francis de Sales will one day return to Philadelphia.” And now they were returning—twice called to the same city.
On October 16, 1926 the last group of the Sisters arrived from Mobile in time for the eve of the feast of the recently–canonized St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
There was not to be a school, however, as Cardinal Dougherty had stipulated that the Sisters be strictly contemplative. Besides, only three or four Sisters knew English. The Sisters were well-talented with needle-work and painting, and became known for their exquisite work which provided monetary resources in lieu of a school.
However, Camac Street was a very unhealthy area and Sisters began dying of tuberculosis. Of the original 44, they were down to 28. One day, the concerned Cardinal Dougherty informed the current Mother Louis Francis Mitjans that the property next to his residence on City Ave, was for sale. Despite a recent inheritance, and their savings, the Sisters didn’t have sufficient funds, but the good Cardinal knew he would be receiving large donations for the occasion of his jubilee that year, and he offered to contribute some of them. The Sisters moved to their current location. (The Cardinal’s residence now belongs to the Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s University whose campus more or less surrounds the Monastery.)
In the vestibule of our chapel is the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe accompanied by paintings of one of the Mexican Sisters, Sister Guadalupe Teresa Rizo.
Here is an excerpt of her life:
Our dear Sister Guadalupe Teresa Rizo, baptized Maria de los Angeles Rizo, was born in a town of Guadalajara, state of Jalisco, Mexico, on October 7, 1910 to J. Trinidad Rizo, mayor of the town, and Maria de los Angeles Lopez.
Her charming manner and delightful wit belied the fact that she had lived during some of the most harrowing days of the Mexican Revolution. In fact, she had seen her family house consumed in flames, two of her uncles hanged, and her father kidnapped and thought killed by the revolutionaries, all while she was still only seven years old. She actually remembered going with her mother to examine the corpses that lay on the ground near her house to see if any was her father. Providentially, although her father had been kidnapped in retaliation for having rescued a girl from the revolutionaries, and had been taken to a remote mountain retreat, a former devoted servant of his, who had joined the revolutionaries, lent him a horse with which he made his escape.
Since Catholic schools were banned, at that time, a former Religious of the Sacred Heart tutored some of the children, among them our Sister. It was she who gave Sister private painting lessons, which later resulted in some of the paintings which still grace our monastery: first and foremost, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to St. Juan Diego which adorns the vestibule of our chapel, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our sanctuary, the Visitation above the superior’s stall in the choir, and the apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, the latter two, copies of masterpieces, and the Sacred Heart giving the Rule to our Holy Founders, which is in our community room.