[Note: a version of this post originally appeared at Geneablogie in 2006.]

An almost sinful obsession of mine (other than genealogy) a few years ago was watching Gunsmoke [formerly on TVLand, most weekends; also early mornings during the week.] Some weekends, it seemed as if the time passed and little got done except hours of Gunsmoke.  Let me tell you about one of those days.

At the first strains of the compelling theme music of the day’s first episode, I could feel myself being drawn in. By the time George “Smokey the Bear” Walsh had solemnly and ritualistically  intoned, “Gunsmoke . . . starring James Arness as Matt Dillon,” I was captured. To mitigate the situation, I tried to think of some genealogical angles to Matt Dillion, Festus, Doc, and Kitty that I could blog about. I was still pondering that when the fifth episode of the day began. An obviously very ill woman was being tended by three black nuns. The woman’s two children were nearby. The nuns agreed to see that the children made it to the farm their father was supposed to be preparing for the family near Dodge City [Episode #14, Season 15; first aired 12/29/1969]. Having already seen four episodes that morning,  I was actually about to turn the television off and get down to some real business when

one of the nuns mentioned that they were members of the “Oblate Sisters of Providence.”

I sat back down to watch the rest of the show.

[The children's father (Jack Elam, as despicable as ever in his Gunsmoke recurring role as Pack Landers!) turns out to be a drunk layabout and petty criminal who offers to help the nuns build a school so as to get his hands on the funds donated for that purpose. It's a sort of bizarro version of Lilies of the Field]1, 2.

What re-captured my attention was the mention of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which is an actual order of Roman Catholic nuns headquartered in Baltimore. Founded in 1829, it was the first religious order for African-American women. The first Superior General, Mother Mary Lange, started the order for the benefit of Haitian immigrants. The order has concentrated on child development and education.

On the 1920 federal census for Baltimore, there is a two page section for the St Francis Convent and Orphanage, operated by the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Listed in that section is 16 year old Emma Micheau, born in llinois. She’s the last and youngest “assistant inmate” listed before several boarders ranging from 38 to 94 years old, and then the orphans. “Assistant Inmate” appears to have been the description given to all the nuns and novitiates except the “Superior General” of the Order, who in 1920 was the Reverend Mother “M. Frances.”

Emma Micheau was the daughter of Marshall and Sophronia Micheau of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Marshall Emmanuel Micheau was the son of George Micheau, who had been born in Missouri in about 1852 and George’s wife, Mary Emma Roy, born in Prairie du Rocher in 1855. George was one of five sons of George [1813-1907] and Margret [1834-?] Micheau.

As a religious, Emma was known as Sister Philomena. After her initial stay in Baltimore, she returned to Missouri and later became the Superior at St Frances Girls School in Normandy, Missouri.

In taking Holy Orders, Emma Micheau was following the example set by her aunt, Adelaide (“Addie”) Micheau, who was the daughter of George and Mary Emma Micheau. Addie, born in 1885, became Sister Celestine, OSP, and was resident at the Order’s mission school in St Louis and later, at the Normandy, Missouri, orphanage.

Sister Celestine was my wife’s first cousin once removed and Sister Philomena was my wife’s great-aunt.

Mother Mary Philomena (nee Emma Mary Micheau)

Research Tip: The Oblate Sisters of Providence maintains an Archives and Special Collections Library at the Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent in Baltimore, Maryland. The collection is accessible by appointment only between the hours of 9am and 4pm Monday through Friday. Photocopying and photograph scanning services are available. Some of these records contain the names of orphans and students who resided at the various OSP facilities. Many other religious orders have similar archives.

A tip to search for Catholic religious persons is to use the words “father,” “mother,” “brother, or “sister” as either a first or last name. For example, if you search the 1850 census for Maryland for “sister” as a first name, you come up with about 185 members of the Sisters of Charity in Frederick and Baltimore. Catholic dioceses and archdioceses also have records of their personnel as well as worshippers. For more information on Catholic genealogical records, see the guide at http://home.att.net/~Local_Catholic/.

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