Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Family Mystery - the O'Brien girls

According to a story told to me by my grandfather Keith D. Jones, John O’Brien sent his daughters to a convent. In the 1860 US Census, six O’Brien girls appear in a convent in LaSalle County, Illinois. It is unclear if they are all related. I am still researching the O'Brien girls in this census record and looking for more information that might connect them to John O'Brien.

Mary Virginia Joyce – Superior of Convent, 30, born in New York
Martina Conley [Martina Connolly] – Sister of Charity, 25, Massachusetts
Mary Uda (or Ada) – Sister of Charity, 36, England
Mary Hough – Sister of Charity, 29, Ireland
Eliza Sanderson – Pupil, 22, Scotland
Margaret Sullivan – Pupil, 20, England
Bridget Woods – Pupil, 13, IL
Catherine O’Brien – Pupil, 14, IL
Alice O’Brien – Pupil, 8, IL
Mary O’Brien – Pupil, 12, IL
Ann Corcoran – Pupil, 19, IL
Anna Maria O’Brien – Pupil, 8, IL
Isabella O’Brien – Pupil, 7, IL
Agnes O’Brien – Pupil, 2, IL
Additional pupils listed

Using the information from the 1860 US Census, I wrote to the LaSalle County Genealogy Guild ( Ms. Jobst of the LSCGG provided me with information on the convent:

            Dear Patrick,

I think the convent was connected to St. Patrick’s Church. In the 1870 Census Martenas Conly age 36 Sisters of Charity was at St. Aments Asylum. The Sisters of Charity came to LaSalle in 1855 and opened a grade school. It closed in 2001. You might want to write to St. Patrick’s Church in LaSalle and see if they have any records. I hope this helps.


            Jean Jobst
           Corresponding Secretary

Ms. Jobst also provided me with a news clipping from The Catholic Post dated 7 April 2002 on St. Patrick’s Church in LaSalle:

St. Patrick’s, LaSalle
Founded: 1838; Families: 531; Pastor: Father M. Duane LeClercq

One of the oldest parishes in the diocese, St. Patrick’s was the first permanent Catholic parish established at LaSalle. Organized in 1838 by Vincentian Fathers, the parish also has the distinction of a church building that is 150 years old.

At the time of its organization, the priests of St. Patrick’s attended the Catholics of practically one-third of the state of Illinois, and many out-missions were formed from the parish. Later congregations were formed and temporary churches built at such towns as Virginia, Beardstown, Springfield, Peoria and Dixon.

The original St. Patrick’s Church, built of logs, was placed on Third Street. In 1846 the cornerstone of the present church was laid. Work was finished in the spring of 1851 and the church was consecrated in April 1853.

As the Catholic population increased around LaSalle and more parishes were founded, the activities of the priests at St. Patrick’s were gradually restricted. The grade school in LaSalle was opened by Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1855 and members of that order staffed the school until last year [2001].
             Following the revision of their mission assignments, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (based in Evansville, Ind.) ended 146 years of service to the parish at the conclusion of the 2000-2001 school year.

In 2006, I wrote to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, in the hopes of locating something on the O’Brien girls and the convent at St. Patrick’s Church. The Communications Director at the Daughters of Charity forwarded my inquiry to the Archives Department. Carol Will of the Archives Department replied that they had no records on individual students from the school, and she suggested I try the diocese in Peoria. The diocese was unable to locate records.

I did find a death record for Sister Martina Connolly in the Cook County, Illinois Death Records on She died on 22 October 1908 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago.

Of the O’Brien girls listed in the 1860 Census, I have been able to locate information on Anna Maria O’Brien. In the 1870 Census, she appears as a domestic servant in the household of wealthy farmer William Longworth in Dimmick, LaSalle, Illinois. She appears as 16 years old, born in Illinois (both parents of foreign birth).

In the 1880 US Census, Anna O’Brien appears in Chicago, living with her sister Kate O’Brien (age 35). Both are listed as dress makers.

Anna Maria O’Brien died on 10 February 1914 in Chicago, Illinois. Her death certificate from the City of Chicago Department of Health states that she was approximately 55 years old and single.

The local Shelbyville newspaper included a brief obituary on Anna O’Brien on 11 Feb 1914:

            Sister is Dead

            John O’Brien Receives Message of Demise of Anna O’Brien

John O’Brien of this city received a message Wednesday morning telling him of the death of his sister, Miss Anna O’Brien, which occurred at the home of her half brother, Mike Dooner, in Chicago. Death came suddenly. Mr. O’Brien and his son, Henry O’Brien, left Wednesday forenoon for Chicago, and Mrs. Anna Stretch and Miss Rose O’Brien will leave for Chicago tonight to attend the funeral. Miss O’Brien was well-known here, where she has visited.
Anna O’Brien was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery on 13 Feb 1914.  

Some open research areas are to explore the relationship with Mike Dooner, and see if I can find them in the 1900 and 1910 Census. 



    The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of Emmitsburg, MD helped open LaSalle St. Patrick's Academy for Girls on June 25, 1855 in a brick house on 2nd Street. This all-girls' institution accepted both day and boarding students, mixing cultural and useful (or practical, every-day) subjects in its curriculum from the beginning. A two-story building was built and opened in 1891 when the school's enrollment reached 200.

    This home was my grandparent's home....Thank you for adding to the story I will continue to pass on about the amazing things that took place there and the wonderful people who have called it home for over 163 years.

    1. Hi Trish, thanks for your note! I had given up on more information being available about the school. If you come across anything more about the early years of the school I would be interested.


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