The First American Nun

Lydia Longley was a young Puritan from Groton, Massachusetts.  She was twenty years old in 1684 when her village was attacked by Native Americans and her entire family killed.  Taken away to Montreal as prisoner, Lydia was ransomed by a French family and saved, both physically and spiritually.  She not only converted to Catholicism, but entered the Congregation of Notre Dame.  Lydia died in 1758, serving as a faithful religious sister for seventy years, and earning the title, "The First American Nun."

Her story may have been known by John Adams, Founding Father and Second President of the United States, who was raised in Braintree, Massachusetts, about an hour from Longley's home.  Adams, likewise a Puritan, did respect Catholicism.  King Louis XVI of France, a Catholic, loaned the army and navy that helped defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.  The King's picture, in fact, was on the presider's desk in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  Adams also was aware King Charles I of England, who founded Maryland and Carolina, was himself a Catholic. And Adams, when he walked into a Catholic Church for the first time ever to give thanks to God, so struck by the beauty of the Catholic liturgy and architecture, remarked: "Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear and imagination." 

Adams never converted away from Puritanism, but already, perhaps, he was beginning to see the flaws of the stark simplicity and strict rigidity of the Puritan tradition.  It was a flaw also seen by one of his late contemporaries, Nathaniel Hawthorne, also a Puritan from Massachusetts.  The great American writer's daughter, Rose Hawthorne, did herself convert to Catholicism and, in 1900, entered the Dominican Convent, becoming Mother Alphonsa and later declared a Servant of God.  Thus we see complete the great Puritan-Catholic circle.


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