Celebrating the 55th Anniversary of the Momentous 1966 Move from Villa Maria, West Chester to Villa Maria House of Studies, Immaculata (PART II – A Continuation!)

If you missed Part I, please refer the Archives Section of the IHM Website

In this Part II, we focus on September 7, 1966, the day that the last group of IHM Sisters left Villa Maria, West Chester for Villa Maria House of Studies.

We draw on three sources:

The Annals of Villa Maria House of Studies by the Sisters who had already moved into the new Motherhouse

The hand-recorded annals of the last sisters to live at Villa Maria, West Chester

A reflection of one novice who was part of the last group to leave Villa Maria, West Chester on that September 7, 1966.

From the new Villa Maria House of Studies Motherhouse Annals we read:

September 7, 1966      An ending and a beginning!  Today the last sisters left West Chester with sadness.  In the morning Sister Maria and Sister Stella Maris arrived.  The final group of sisters came at approximately 7:15 pm.  After securing the locks on all doors of the West Chester property, the small group remaining had a light supper in the courtyard, provided very thoughtfully and generously by Mother Regina Anne of Sacred Heart, Manoa, who had with her Sister Helen Loretta.  Then the little group, with tears in their eyes, left for the House of Studies.  Included were Mothers Mary Hubert, Claudia, Carmen Rosa, and Sisters Marie Genevieve, Celestino, Margaret Francis, Sacre Coeur, and Sister Clare Immaculate.

From the hand-recorded Annals of the last sisters to live at Villa Maria, West Chester, we read:

September 7, 1966      Today marked another milestone in the foundation of our new Villa Maria House of Studies — the remainder of our community living at Villa Maria, West Chester, moved in today.  In the morning, Sister Maria and Sister Stella Maris arrived.  They were followed in the afternoon by a group of novices.  The final group to arrive at Immaculata came at approximately 7:15.  A cavalcade of four cars and two buses brought Mother Mary Hubert, Sister Marie Genevieve, Mother M. Claudia, Mother Carmen Rosa, Sister M. Celestino, and Sister James Dolores.  Several novices accompanied them.

Mother Carmen Rosa carried with her a statue of St. Michael; Sister Celestino carried with her a statue of her patron, St. Joseph.

When the remainder of the community arrived at 7:15, Mother General (Mother Pacis) was on hand to greet them. Today also, many large statues arrived from West Chester, including the statues of St. Alphonsus, St. Teresa, St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother from Chapel, and the statue of the Sacred Heart from the Conservatory.

A Reflection on this momentous day by one of the Novices who was part of the last group to leave Villa Maria, West Chester On the evening of September 7, 1966.

That morning of September 7, 1966 dawned with a mixture of excitement and deep gratitude.  After Morning Prayer, Mass, and breakfast we packed up the last sets of dishes and utensils in the dining room and helped wherever needed. Mother Carmen Rosa asked us to have our bags,ready after lunch, as we would be moving to the new motherhouse then.  As the afternoon group of sisters started to fill the cars, several of us novices were asked to wait until the evening group was leaving and go with them.  That was the very moment when I realized that we would be with last sisters to leave West Chester.  As a newly received novice, I felt humbled and blessed at the same time. Again, we helped where needed.

Since there was hardly any food left in the old kitchen, Mother Regina Anne and Sister Helen Loretta from Manoa brought hoagies, and we ate our last supper on the old green benches in the  grove.  Someone remembered that some ice cream bricks were still in the kitchen freezer, so we novices gathered them in our aprons (there were no more trays left) and served them.  After supper, Mother Carmen Rosa asked two of us novices to go on lock-up. As a young sister, I momentarily wondered why we would do lock-up since we were leaving, but reality struck quickly.  The quick trip through the house gave me an opportunity to see places I had never seen, having lived on the postulate side until we moved.

When we returned from lock-up, the entire mood had changed.  I will never forget the sight that greeted us on the bricks in Mother General’s courtyard.  There, in total silence, stood the remaining sisters.  This was another moment of stark realization of the momentous occasion that was about to unfold.  Mother Carmen Rosa came out a door and asked us to hand Sister Celestino her statue of St. Joseph.  Mother said that Sister Celestino would like to carry St. Joseph into the new building.   Mother Mary Hubert asked us all to sing the “Salve Regina”, as we stood on the bricks…our last time to sing that beloved hymn in West Chester. With tears in eyes and quiet voices, the Salve Regina rang out over the holy ground of Villa Maria, West Chester.

The drivers had lined up the remaining cars in the circle.  Somehow, in my memory, they were all matching and it seemed like joining a funeral procession. I remember the sisters in our car sitting in total silence, other than praying our traditional prayer, “Our Lady of the Highway”.  God and His Blessed Mother, as well as all our holy patrons accompanied us on our brief journey.

Arriving on King Road the mood lightened and almost became joyous, as we approached Villa Maria House of Studies, Immaculata.  For some of us, this was the very first time to see it!  The joy of Mother Maria Pacis and the sisters waiting to welcome us very quickly transformed the sadness into excitement, as they drew us into the wonder and awe of God’s countless blessings upon our IHM Congregation!  Truly we could sing in our hearts, “…All down the years, O Lord with love  unfailing: guiding, protecting, you have been our stay…Praise, Love, Thanksgiving, Our God to Thee!”

Contributions to this article from the Staff of the IHM Archives, Villa Maria House of Studies, Malvern, PA. September1, 2021.