|On the left: Superior General Marie -Therese de Lescure, RSCJ|
bidding goodbye to Rev. Mother Celeste Thompson, RSCJ
(Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL - circa 1953)
On January 24, 1896, the Decatur Illinois newspaper The Daily Republic headline read:
RENOUNCES THE WORLD
Miss Celeste Thompson, of St. Louis Takes Sacred Heart Vows
"Miss Celeste Thompson, one of St. Louis' wealthiest heiress and most accomplished young women, has taken the vows of the order of the Sacred Heart and dedicated her life and fortune to religious work. She will be known as Mme. Celeste, and on account of the wealth she brings to the order will be given a position of authority at once. Miss Thompson was graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart only two years ago and immediately thereafter made her debut in society, where she at once became a favorite. Her family have known of her disposition to renounce the world for some time but the step came as a great surprise to society. Miss Thompson is a daughter of Marklot Thompson and is related to the Choteaus and Maffits."
The youngest of five children (four girls and one boy) Celeste was the daughter of Macklot Thompson and Celeste de Laureal. Her father was born in Maryland and her mother in West India. Celeste was very proud of her cultural heritage and was most influenced by her mother. In 1889, Celeste entered Maryville where two of her sisters, Zelina and Augustian had preceded her. Both her mother and sister Zelina were artists. Her father died when Celeste was very young and her mother supported the family by giving painting lessons.
From the Society's archives. "In 1920 she was named Mistress General and for twenty-one years filled this employment at Menlo, Pine Grove (Chicago), and St. Joseph, Missouri. It was at St. Joseph that she "flowered". Her years there -- fifteen as Mistress General and nine as Superior -- were among the happiest of her life. As Mistress General, in the words of one of her co-workers, she "met every child in a spirit of strong faith. Justice, impartiality, strict discipline made the High School in St. Joseph under her direction a joy for teachers and pupils. She asked a strict account of each child. Her influence was understanding, maternal and, above all, supernatural. She implanted in the student a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Mater that was outstanding and enduring. There were many solid vocations during these years, both for our Society and for other religious orders."
It should be duly noted that the alumnae of St. Joseph, Missouri aka "Hilltop" annually host a reunion on or around Mater's Feast on October 20th.
Further from the archives, ..."these were difficult years for the academy in St. Joseph. Closed in 1916, it had been reopened in 1920 at the insistence of the Alumnae, but its financial situation remained precarious. The house was poor and manual labor abounded. Mother Thompson was the first to appear when help was needed in the garden or in the house. She was ingenious, also, in devising means to add to the house's income. The Labor Day Fair at the Convent, which was organized, became an annual event, prepared for, patronized and loved by the Alumnae and indeed by the city of St. Joseph. In these years also, the two schools -- the Academy and the parochial school -- were united at Hilltop. Mother Thompson's tact and sympathetic understanding carried through to success this difficult and delicate enterprise. An excellent spirit was the result."
"In 1941 Mother Thompson was named superior of the house in St. Joseph. this appointment enlarged her sphere of influence, while her charm, zeal and enthusiasm drew many to the convent and to the Heart of Our Lord. Her zeal gave strong direction to the E. de M. and the interest taken in each one (shown by a personal telephone call in case of an absence) gathered 'incredible numbers' for the monthly meeting. This same interest and zeal extended to the Alumnae, the parents of the children and the families of the religious. Everywhere she spread a spirit of joy and confidence that lifted hearts and gave courage."
In 1950 Mother Thompson left St. Joseph where she had found such love and also heavy burdens, to go to Chicago as Superior of the more prosperous academy o Sheridan Road. there again love and understanding won friends and supporters within and without the community. How widespread that had become was evidenced in the glorious Golden Jubilee Profession, celebrated on July 22, 1953. The spiritual riches of that day were crowned by the visit of V. R. M. Therese de Lescure to Chicago in the fall when Mother Thompson had the joy of welcoming her in her loved French language."
At age 79 years, Mother Thompson went west to San Diego where she would live out the remaining years of her life. She was welcomed by Rev. Mother Rosalie Hill. As the years passed Mother Thompson would eventually suffer from a loss of hearing and almost complete blindness. Despite her failing health Mother Thompson continued a correspondence with hundreds of alumnae. After her death many of these alums wrote that it was "her strong advise, cheery confidence and loving interest" that they appreciated most. Reverend Mother Celeste Thompson passed away peacefully at age 95 years and her long life was celebrated at El Cajon with many fellow religious in attendance. "Her spirit of joy permeated all".
Editor's Note: My sincere appreciation to the U.S. Province Archives for sending me the photo and bio of Mother Thompson. And a special thanks to Marie Johannes Lederer alumna of "Hilltop" for sending me her lovely note and remembrances of Reverend Mother Celeste Thompson which inspired me to research further this remarkable RSCJ.