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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ethan Allen's Daughter

Surely, YOU, as a proud Vermonter, have heard of Ethan Allen?  Our Revolutionary War Hero and Founder of the Republic of Vermont, who, along with The Green Mountain Boys, captured Fort Ticonderoga with Benedict Arnold to prevent the British forces from marching onto Boston - taking control of Crown Point, New York.  

General Allen's venerated name is one we are all familiar and well acquainted; however, comparatively many people do not make an association with his daughter, Fanny, who forged her own path in Vermont history.

Sister Margaret "Fanny" Frances Allen portrait, Artist and date is unknown.
"Fanny" Allen was born on November 13, 1784 in Sunderland, Vermont.  Frances Margaret Allen was the youngest daughter of General Allen, and his second wife, Frances (Buchanan) Allen.  5 years later, Ethan Allen died and Frances married Dr. Jabez Penniman.
Up until the time Fanny turned 23 years of age, the family moved and lived in Colchester, Burlington, Westminster, and Swanton.  In 1807, Fanny sought the permission of her parents to study French in Montreal, at which time her parents put her in a select Convent school at the Congregation of Notre Dame where she became a boarder and soon after, urgently desired to seek admission into the Catholic Church.  She sought the necessary instruction to make her solemn abjuration and was baptized by Father L. Saulnier, and resolved to adopt a religious life.

Perhaps it was during this time in her life that she had recalled a vision which occurred to her along the banks of the Connecticut River in Westminster, where, after a traumatic event, she claimed that St. Joseph appeared to her to save her life.  

Another version of her chosen path is said to have come from visiting a chapel of Notre Dame where she was "overwhelmed by an experience from God."

Which ever story is true, and to her own amazement, Sister Allen began a path of complete devotion and steadfast resolve to immerse her life in the Divine.  What makes this so astonishing is that her biological father, as well as the parents who raised her, avoided the Church (Protestant and otherwise), and in early life, Fanny rejected the Catholic religion as fanatical and mysterious.

"At 19 years of age, Fanny became a pupil in the
convent boarding school of the Sisters of the
Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal and
was almost kicked-out for her irreverence of
Catholic forms and ceremonies until she had a
sudden change of heart. On the Feast of the
Nativity, September 9, 1807, Fanny asked to be
instructed in the faith." - fannyallen.org

When her parents got wind of her conversion, their reaction was explosive and disgraceful.  They demanded her immediate return. It is said that her resolve and stubbornness to remain in her new vocation, despite the fact that her parents tried every conceivable ploy to deter her, was much in the same spirit as her father.  Eventually, and with much opposition, she "inherited much of the energy and decision of her father's character, controlled by womanly gentleness."  

It should be noted that prior to her religious experience and announcement to become a Catholic nun, Fanny had graduated from the University of Vermont, and at that time was engaged to be married to a man by the name of Archibald Hyde.

"She broke off her engagement with Archibald Hyde and returned to Montreal to the convent.  Upon seeing a painting of St. Joseph and the Holy Family at Hotel-Dieu, she was reminded of a vision as a child and knew she must join the R.H.S.J. On March 18, 1811, reconciled with her mother, Frances Montresor Allen, and stepfather, Dr. Jabez Penniman who financed her convent expenses."  - fannyallen.org

Fanny Allen was described by Bishop de Geosbriand in his memoirs as:  "In person she was rather above than below medium height, and of uncommon beauty in form and feature.  Her complexion was fair, her eyes dark blue, with a singular depth and calmness of expression, while the dignity and ease of her manners gave quiet evidence to the refinement and loveliness of her character."

Fanny Allen returned to the City of Montreal (ironically the place where her father had been captive and held a prisoner of war), where she sought admission to the Convent of the Sisters (and Hospital) of St. Joseph through the respected Mother Superior, Mother de Celeron.  For a short time, admission was delayed, but on September 29, 1808, she became a Novice of the Congregation until May 18, 1811 when she professed in a ceremony at which many native Vermonters were present.  After this, hundreds of followers came to Montreal who mistakenly thought that she had shut herself away in a monastery.  She politely received all of the curious visitors and assured them that this was indeed the right path for her, and she had not become a recluse, but rather a servant of God.  

Hotel Dieu, 1865
Sister Allen worked as Hotel-Dieu's chemist (pharmacist) and spent the rest of her short life nursing the sick and indigent.  She cared for wounded soldiers from both sides during the War of 1812.  She contracted a disease of the lungs (called consumption at that time) and died of tuberculosis in 1819 at the very young age of just 35 years old.

Sister Margaret "Fanny" Frances Allen is frequently referred to as "The First Nun of New England."   This is not true.  Fanny Allen was the 5th (fifth) New Englander to dedicate her life to God in a Canadian Congregation.  BUT, she WAS the FIRST American of PURITAN stock to become a Nun.

In 1894 the Sisters of her order founded Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester in her memory. 

For more information about Fanny Allen's life, the book "Ethan Allen's Daughter", is considered an antiquarian (rare) book of her young life.  It was written by Sister Helen Morrissey whose subtitle description included: "The Beautiful American Nun," detailing a romance of Ms. Allen's life as the result of exhaustive research and interviews.  It was originally published in 1940, and has since been re-released.  It is available on line, and you can read it on Kindle.