Atlantis Lore and Civil War

donnelly

How is SFDS parish connected with the lost city of Atlantis?

Admittedly a tenuous link, it comes to us through Eleanor C. Donnelly, the donor of our Blessed Mother altar, who was born in Philadelphia in 1838. The sixth child in a large literary family, she credited her brother Ignatius with teaching her to write verse when she was age nine, and she published her first book during the American Civil War.

By the early 1900s, Eleanor was “The Poet Laureate of the Catholic Church” in America and her religious poems were read at many public events. Her published works comprised “almost fifty volumes” of short stories, poems, and  biographies – including a biography of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace, head nurse of the local  Civil War Satterlee Hospital (its location marked by the Gettysburg stone in Clark Park), filled with interesting details of hospital life. Another poetry volume, Lyrics and Legends of Ancient Youth , published in 1906, is notable as all proceeds from its sale went to “the building fund of the new church of St. Francis de Sales, Forty seventh street, West Philadelphia, of which the Rev. M.J. Crane is the Rector.”

Eleanor was a prolific letter writer: the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC) archives and the Minnesota Historical Society contain many letters to and from prominent people, including correspondence with her favorite big brother Ignatius. This is where the Atlantean connection comes in: a Minnesota congressman and Lieutenant Governor, Ignatius Donnelly is better remembered today for supporting the theory that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and for his book  Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, which remains a seminal cult classic of Atlantis lore.

Eleanor’s life had its share of shadows. She never married and never quite fulfilled her dream of religious life, which proved “too taxing.” Our Mary altar is poignantly engraved with a memorial to her parents and brothers and sisters. Her parents died young. Her brother Ignatius passed away suddenly in 1901. Two of Eleanor’s sisters and a niece died within days of each other  in 1909, and other relatives perished soon after.

Eleanor lived at 4502 Springfield Avenue, according to Who’s Who in America 1908-1909. She and her last remaining sibling retired from there to live with the IHM Sisters at Villa Maria convent in West Chester, where Eleanor wrote a dedication poem for our church in 1911. She was buried from the Cathedral with great ceremony, in 1917.

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