BM: Today is July 28, 1998 and I am Betty Meyer,
a volunteer interviewer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
of North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo, ND. It is
a pleasure to have, visiting with us, Sister Carmen Madigan. And
we are in Mankato, MN at the Good Council. And so, we’re
going to get started with the interview and I’m going to
have you say your name so we get it right.
CM: I’m Sister Carmen Madigan.
BM: And the date of your birth?
CM: November 26, 1917. I’m 80 years old.
BM: It’s unbelievable. Where were you born?
CM: I was born in Madison Lake, a small town in Minnesota,
about nine miles from Mankato.
BM: Where you born in a hospital or were you born at home?
CM: No, I was born at home.
BM: Was there a midwife then?
CM: No, there was a doctor.
BM: Oh, there was a doctor. What’s your nationality?
CM: I’m Irish.
BM: All Irish? One hundred percent?
CM: Yes...third, I guess, generation of American. My great-grandparents
and one great-great [grandparent] came from Ireland.
BM: And did they come to Minnesota?
CM: I think, at first, they worked on the Burlington Railroad
and that group that worked there traveled and finally settled
around by St. Peter and Madison Lake, Mankato.
BM: What was the name of your father?
BM: Henry Madigan. And your mother’s maiden name?
CM: Was Nell. I think Ellen was probably the official one,
but she was called Nell.
BM: And her maiden name?
BM: Did you have any siblings? Brothers and Sisters?
CM: Oh yes. I am from a family of six, so I had two sisters
and three brothers.
BM: And what place where you in the family?
CM: I was oldest.
BM: Very oldest?
BM: Were there other members of your family that went into
the religious life?
BM: You were the only one?
CM: I think some cousins that I didn’t know very well,
of my mother’s, [went into the religious life].
BM: Were your parents supportive of you going into the sisterhood?
CM: They didn’t really support it, but they didn’t
fight it. It’s just like...you know. [Laughs.]
BM: Were you influenced by anybody to enter the religious life?
CM: Well, influence, but in the right way. I don’t mean
pressured or spoken to in a real direct way. I went, really,
because of the role model of the Sisters who taught at that
school at Madison Lake, which by the way, is still in existence.
I think it’s over 100 years old, the Catholic school.
BM: And so, were they the Sisters of Notre Dame?
BM: So they were the role model for you, then, to go into [sisterhood].
Did your local pastor have any influence?
CM: Really, no. He was very remote.
BM: So there is none of your other siblings that have followed
you into religious life?
BM: Did you ever think about what you were leaving behind?
CM: Oh yes, I thought of it.
BM: Social aspects. How old were you when you [left]?
CM: I was just eighteen. I had just graduated from high school,
which now, would almost be intolerable because now the women
who join our order are required to have their degree or else
some career be established. But in those days, the rest who
entered the convent with me were all about eighteen, seventeen.
BM: When you came to the convent then, you weren’t too
far away from home. So you didn’t have distance, but were
you able to visit your family at any time after you came in?
CM: We had what they call ‘visiting Sundays’. We
entered August 27, and we were not permitted a visiting Sunday,
like, [in] September because it was too close to when we came.
So the first time we could visit was October, and it was very
structured. We could visit, I think it was from one to four
[‘o clock] in the afternoon, which – well, for me
it didn’t make that much difference. But some of the other
young women who were in the class with me had parents in the
Twin Cities and their parents, because of the public transportation,
didn’t even own cars. So they had to come by train and
the train didn’t get here when our visiting hours started.
And so, they were – I always felt so bad for them, because
they were really cut off in the length of time they could visit.
BM: Did your brothers and sisters then come and visit, too?
CM: Oh yes, at the permitted time. Not everybody every time,
because they all had their obligations.
BM: Do you remember what items you brought with you to the
CM: Oh, we weren’t permitted to bring very much of anything.
No. We wore black dresses and they did have a stock list of
things to bring. [They were] very difficult to find, like black
cotton stockings and that. So my mother said she’d have
nothing to do with it. [She said] that I should buy them up
here, so she hauled it; which, really, meant I didn’t
bring any clothing along that I had used.
BM: Do you recall what the daily schedule was after you got
CM: It was very early and very structured. By hindsight, I’m
not sure when we got up, but I know if felt very, very early.
We had Mass, I believe, at eight ‘o clock. After which
we had breakfast, and then immediately after that, we started
our classes for the day. And the classes pretty well filled
the day. We had recreation in the evening from 6:00 to 7:00.
We ate our supper from 5:30 to 6:00.
BM: Did you go to bed early, then, if you had to get up early
in the mornings?
CM: Yes, we really did. I believe we were supposed to be in
bed by 10:00. I think we went upstairs – I think our study
hall was until 9:30. No, until 9:00, and then we were to be
in bed by 9:30.
BM: Did you have friends that you left behind that you wrote
CM: Oh, I had friends I left behind, but no. We weren’t
permitted to write letters to friends. So it was hard to keep
in touch, but we did.
BM: Remember getting homesick?
CM: Oh yes.
BM: You did?
BM: What did you do then? Did you get busy with something else?
CM: We didn’t do anything special about it. No, it wasn’t
really recognized any great extent. We just worked through it.
Interviewer 2: Since you graduated from high school, what was
your curriculum like when you say classroom instructors, classroom
CM: In the school that I graduated from?
Interviewer 2: Yes, what were your studies?
BM: Here in the convict you mean?
CM: Oh, here in the convict. We started out - it was rather
backwards - but we started with 101 Philosophy. Really, we were
all too young for that, but I sort of liked it. And we took
German as a foreign language, which I didn’t like at all.
And I had History, English Literature, Convent Life, Theology...
BM: I would imagine you had quite a bit of studying with some
of those subjects?
CM: Very much studying. And we had Math. We had Calculus.
Interviewer 2: Getting into the heavies right away! [Laughs.]
CM: Oh yes.
BM: Which makes me ask a question: when you got into those
kind of heavy subjects, were you ever asked to move out of a
class or was the class too much for you?
CM: No, I guess I wished I had been asked to move out! [Laughs.]
No, I had good preparation and I had good high school education.
My first three years of high school, I was in a private, Catholic
high school in Madison Lake, [where] they had a small Parish
of Catholic high school. It was small and it closed the summer
before I was a senior. So then, I went to Mankato High School.
At that time, we just had one high school in Mankato. Now they
have two, but it was just one.
BM: That’s interesting. Philosophy and Calculus are not
easy subjects. [Laughs.]
CM: Without good teachers, everyone would have floundered.
BM: Who was the priest?
CM: He taught the Philosophy class, the chaplain up here. Father
[A096] taught that. And calculus was a Sister – well,
they all were Sisters or Priests - Sister Dabota, who is an
excellent mathematics teacher. So then she began and led up
to it in such a way that it could be comprehended. It was challenging.
BM: What is the steps and the length of time for a [A099] did
you go through.
CM: We stayed here for one year, the year that I entered. We
entered [in] August and we stayed here through that first year.
We had some classes in the summer also. And then the next year,
you did your student teaching. That was the summer of preparation,
[which] was what little bit we had for student teaching. I did
student teaching the next year, after which the program [stated]
that you prepared to go to the [A105] and stay with the [A105]
next year. I, however, didn’t feel prepared to go to the
[A106], so I did a second year of student teaching. And then,
after that year, I went to the [A107].
BM: And where did you do your student teaching?
CM: I did that at St. Francis School in St. Paul.
BM: So then you came back here and went to [A108] for one year?
CM: That’s right. After one year of classes, two years
of student teaching, and a summer of preparation, then I went
BM: That whole year was spent here then, at Good Council?
CM: That’s right. Yah.
BM: When did you say your final vows then?
CM: In 1946 was my final vows; in 1940, my first vows. We took
vows for three years, and then had a decision time, and another
retreat. Then we took the second three years. So it was 1940,
1943, and 1946. And 1946 was my final vow, but I had already
then – at that time, I had been teaching for six years.
In addition to that, the two years of practice teaching. But
I had been teaching on my own for six years.
BM: All at St. Francis?
CM: No, after my student teaching. And then I went through
[A118] and took my vows. After that, I went several places.
I taught most of the time at St. Agnes High School in St. Paul.
BM: And you taught what?
CM: I’d been an English and Speech Teacher until I started
working part-time administration.
BM: Do you recall the ceremony that you went through when you
did your final vows? The spiritual part of it and the physical
part of it?
CM: It was preceded by the entire summer of preparation. We
came into the mother house in June, I think, sometime in June.
And our retreat was usually sometime mid-July. I actually took
my final vows on July 22. So, the time from school out until
July 22 was spent in intensive preparation. The same was true
of first vow.
BM: Now let’s go to – you said you spent one year
at Strasburg, North Dakota. Now you had come from St. Agnes,
which is a high school in St. Paul. Was it more or less middle
CM: I think so.
BM: And then you went to the rural community in Strasburg.
What was the contrast between those two?
CM: My first years of teaching at St. Agnes, it was wartime.
See that was from 1940 to `43, `44, and then `45, about. And
at that time, there was scarcity of many products. Like, I can
remember for paper used in school, they even used the backs
of calendars and everything like that, because there was real
scarcity, real awareness that our country needed all the help
we could get. There was a real spirit like that in the students,
in the parents, the Sisters. And we were sending care packages
to our Sisters in Poland and Germany, I think. Wrapping those
– I remember just wrapping those. I don’t even remember
what was in them. I do know we sent them. Then by the time I
got to Strasburg, that was the year of ’47-’48.
By the time I got there, the war had ended and so the whole
country was a bit more prosperous. I don’t remember if
that affected me much at all, but it was a situation. When I
left St. Agnes, I had not finished my degree because we had
a certificate to teach, which was a wartime certificate. Many
of the men teachers, and women too, had gone to war and to service,
and so there was a very great scarcity of teacher. And we were
urged, if we were pursuing college degrees, to get one of these
certificates and to teach. The need for teachers was great.
I have that. I was attending St. Catherine’s college on
Saturdays and sometimes, like, Wednesday nights as well as teaching
five English classes with 30 in every class, 150 total. And
I never had any time to prepare for my classes at St. Agnes
until Friday night, so that was an intensive night of preparation
you may be sure. Then I went out there and I was gone almost
all day. By hindsight, you don’t know how you did it,
but when you do it – your young, so...
BM: So when you were in Strasburg then, was life a little simpler,
or was it harder? How did you find living in the convent there?
Were there other Sisters?
CM: Oh yes. We had a convent of Sisters. I don’t know
for sure, but I think something like eight might have been there.
In fact, we had almost no lay teachers in the school, if I remember
correctly. Usually, there was a man to teach Phy. Ed. or something
like that. There may have been some, but I just don’t
remember. It was basically all Sisters.
BM: Did you have a language problem? You said you took German
in high school. Did you have a language barrier when you got
CM: The German that I took had faded completely out of my mind.
That was about seven or eight years away. And uh – no,
I felt that I have a right to speak English and if you want
to speak German, go ahead, but I can’t join. [Laughs.]
But in school, of course, we did. There were many ways in which
it did, indirectly, effect me. The students came from homes
that had been Germans, that were German speaking. And it set
them back because, I know, our first grade teacher - who was
an excellent teacher, Sister Anna Friedt [sp?, A178] - said
that she couldn’t begin even the preschool work until
the semester of the first grade. She knew German, so she was
able to go on both directions, but they hadn’t spoken
any English at all. So that, you know, that meant she was working
– it wasn’t that the children weren’t bright
enough to get it, but she was working behind schedule almost
all the way. And I think – I know there’s a big
question of bilingual, but I really do think the way it was
done there, it was bound to make it academically difficult for
the students. We had, in addition to the regular parishioners
and so on in the school, I don’t know of anybody that
wasn’t Catholic that was Russian-German. I don’t
remember there was, but we had some Dutch Reformed students.
Dutch Reformed was their religion. They must have been from
some little town around. I don’t know that they lived
in Strasburg, but they were English speaking, totally, all the
way through and fine students, and also, very good people to
deal with. They added, in my estimation, they added a lot to
the school. They were better students, just overall; now not
just everyone. But overall, they had the advantage of English
speaking parents and, [themselves], speaking English. So, I
think there was a little jealousy there by the other students.
They thought these students were being a mark advantageously.
[Laughs.] It wasn’t true at all.
BM: There are still a lot of the Dutch Reformed families there.
CM: That’s interesting. Are they farmers?
BM: Uh-huh, very much so. Nice, clean farms.
CM: Because I do remember them from school.
BM: The farmers now, though, are struggling more, I’m
sure, then from previous years. Did you have any interactions
with parents when you were there?
CM: As I thought back on that question, almost none. When I
think of parent-teacher conferences now and so on, we never
had anything like that at all. I’m sure there were 90
percent of the parents I never met.
BM: Did you teach there during the summer then?
CM: No, I didn’t. During the summer vacation –
well I did have my degree by then, but I took summer school
classes or something. They had classes here. No, I didn’t
stay there all summer.
BM: Let’s go into some of the anti-garb. I know you were
before the anti-garb, but you must have experienced some of
the effects of it. Now, North Dakota was the only state that
had the ruling that Sisters had to wear street clothes at a
certain year, but you were there before that year?
BM: Do you remember if there was any activity going on before
that in preparation for the anti-garb?
CM: We had no preparation. I didn’t even know it was
a possibility at the time. I had heard nobody talking about
it. If we used even communications from the state, I don’t
remember it. Of course, you said North Dakota was the only state
that happened, and that is true, but nowhere else were Catholic
schools, public schools identical, because I was in a public
school. But one would never know it, because everybody there
was Catholic, except these Dutch Reformed students. Everybody
else was Catholic. And consequently, they had to follow the
laws of state in that regard. But nowhere else was this being
done. There was no precedence for it at all in our lives or,
I think, the lives of anybody else.
BM: So where did you go after the year in Strasburg?
CM: I think I went to St. Michael, MN. There’s a high
school there and that’s north of Minneapolis a ways.
BM: And you were not affected by any of the garb change then?
BM: Until when? Cause you look very nice now in your street
clothes. You switched then. When did you switch?
CM: Oh, there were many, many years in between. This was after
Vatican II, when the advice was that the Sisters should move
into more comfortable, less conspicuous clothing. This happened
a little bit gradually, but it was 1973 before we started wearing
street clothing. I mean, we had the option.
BM: Did you take that option?
CM: I believe I did.
BM: You did. But some of the Sisters didn’t and still
BM: I’ve often wondered if, when you went out teaching,
you wore street clothes, and then when you came back to the
convent, if you changed back into your garb?
CM: No, [not] in my experience. They probably did that in Strasburg,
where they had to wear separate clothes to school.
BM: Yes, early on.
CM: No, we never did anything like that.
BM: Is there some other stories that you’d like to [share]
that I haven’t asked or questioned about?
CM: I would like to tell you about this. First of all, several
things that shocked me or baffled me, I don’t know. It’s
a mixture of the two words. [Laughs.] When I was in Strasburg,
in addition to the fact that I came from an area where nobody
ever spoke anything but English, and to hear that. Well that,
I was a little prepared for, because the Sisters had talked
about it. But, as I got to get the feel of the community - and
this is strange and a small thing that really shocked me –
[I noticed] that the children didn’t have their teeth
cared for. There was no dentist in Strasburg. And even some
of the high school students had dental dentures, and the students’
teeth were just in terrible condition. As I gathered, a part
of this was from the water, but I think something could have
been done...something. I always thought some dentist could get
a Ph.D., or a scientist, if they come here and studied that
water. But if they had had dental care constantly, I don’t
think it would have been that bad. There were a few people who
– I believe they’d been in Linton or something before
that and then moved in. I don’t know it was whether their
teeth were cared for in advance, but they didn’t have
that problem. The Sisters never had that problem after we lived
BM: Do you recall, was their a dentist in town?
CM: No, there was no dentist. Anyone who went to a dentist
went to Linton, and usually, that was to have a tooth pulled.
No matter how young you were. Now that was enough to shock.
BM: Yes, it was.
CM: It really was.
BM: I’m trying to recall my own situation. I guess the
dentist that I had pulled my teeth too when they were badly
decayed. And as teenagers, sometimes that happens. That’s
interesting. I had never heard that before.
CM: That was very shocking to all the Sisters. I don’t
know what impact it had on some, but I know that it was unbelievable.
Never had I even heard of or thought of high school students
having a denture.
Interviewee 2: It’s amazing that now the city Strasburg
water is literally condemned. And they had special treatments
put over their water and they are finding arsenic and also some
other very toxic elements found in the water. So your assumption
there, or finding, was very founded. In fact, there was something
wrong with the water.
CM: I felt so sorry for those students. I know their parents
were in the same condition, but somehow the students were the
ones I dealt with and I thought there whole life is ahead of
them. To wear a denture for a whole lifetime seemed a very shocking
thing to me. And not to get constant dental care and dental
examinations, even though it was a long time ago from the time
I had been a child. We went to the dentist every year before
school started, and we didn’t have money, nothing like
that, but you just went to the dentist.
BM: How about healthcare, physical healthcare? When they got
sick, they didn’t have a doctor in town then either.
CM: No. I don’t remember a nurse at school either, or
a nurse visiting the school. I don’t think we had any
of that. And if it was in the state, we would have had it, because
we were a public school. That was something that really shocked
me and I don’t know if I should say shocked or baffled
or surprised or what.
BM: It was just one of those conditions that-
CM: One would not expect it in the United States, but it exists
there. And another thing that I found very shocking was that
there were families - and I knew that from the Sisters - where
first cousins married each other with the result of children
who had birth defects. I remember seeing one man, and I saw
him because he’s a relative of the house Sister there
who was from the Strasburg area, and I think his hand came out
about here. He didn’t have this part of his hand at all.
There were very, very mysterious things like that. And I do
remember – see, the sermon was first in German, and then
in English. And in that sermon, the translated one in English
anyway, there were strong warnings, like, from the bishops and
priests against this. And that, of course, was new to any of
us. I knew, genetically, it was not acceptable. We all knew
that from a scientific point of view, but I didn’t know
it entered the church teaching, but it did. And it was in the
church teaching because it was correct scientifically, so that
the priests weren’t trying to influence people. It has
its religious tone, there’s no doubt about it. It really
isn’t right to have that high of possibility of bringing
very defective people into the world. And there were mental
effects because of that, too. We have lots of Sisters from the
Strasburg area, and not one of them was affected in that way,
but there were people that were. So that I found very, very
BM: Do you realize that you’re the first one that has
brought those two things on?
BM: Yes, that’s really addition to observations that
CM: I did learn to understand the Russian-Germans of the area.
I went to an elder hostel a few years ago. It was at Crookston,
[MN] and Ethnic Groups in the Midwest was the topic. There was
a professor from – I forget whether it’s University
of Fargo or Fargo State University.
BM: North Dakota State University?
CM: North Dakota State University. And this professor spoke
on that. It was just a wonderful enlightenment. He took the
Russian-Germans, he took the Ukrainians, and Swedes. I think
there was some Lithuanians, but not in that area, but I think
that was one group that he did talk about. I met him at an intermission
one time and I said, “You know, I’m really hurt.”
“Oh,” [he said]. I said, “You take all these
other national groups. You haven’t said one thing about
the Irish.” He said, “They stepped off the boat
integrated.” [Laughs.] Oh, I like that. I know it was
because of the language. Yah, because the Irish came speaking
English and it made a whole difference.
BM: Plus the fact that the Germans that are here, they were
colonized. That was their way of life in Russia, and that’s
the way they did it here, too. You know, they came from Strasburg,
Germany and they went to Strasburg, Russia. They came from Strasburg,
Russia to Strasburg, ND. So, they’ve always grouped. How
Interviewee 2: Many.
BM: Have always been colonized and always intermarried, you
know, within the community.
CM: I assume that would have been perfectly acceptable, genetically,
if the group was big enough so that relationships... That was
one thing that helped me. And another emphasis that he gave
was that they were defending their culture madly and consequently;
became very provincial. I don’t think the students that
I had at Strasburg at that time ever really got out and, let’s
say, got a job in Bismarck. I don’t remember that, or
even in the Twin Cities: St. Paul, Minneapolis. I do think that
that ended right about that time, but I know that it was not
true that they pushed out into any other areas much at the time
that I was teaching there. But I’m sure it happened afterwards.
The one probably opening that would be different was some of
the young men became benedicton priests. Then, they went to
St. John’s and that opened up the whole world to them.
And some of the girls went to convents, the Benedicton or the
Sisters of Notre Dame or something, and that got them out of
this real provincial area.
BM: Another thing I think probably broke through was the war.
CM: That’s right. And this teacher did emphasize that.
He said there was no holding the young guys who came back from
war, and really experienced different things. They wanted to
work on engineering or something like that. They recognized.
BM: Plus, they had the opportunity to go onto school and have
it paid for and got a G.I. Bill and they were able to, then,
go onto college. And that took them away from the farm, so to
CM: There was one family that was an exception. I think there
name was Wagner, I’m not sure, but they sent their girls
to St. Benedict’s College. And I don’t know if they
had any sons or not, but I do remember that. I think they had
moved into the area. And I also remember - this woman I talked
to as a parent - and I remember that she went to Bismarck to
get dental care for her children.
BM: So she was a little more progressive.
CM: She felt the same way as I did about the dental care. I
enjoyed that. And I enjoyed that speaker and his classes on
this [A391] thing. The Ukrainians: many, many things were the
same, but they had different emphasis, like, in art and everything
like that. We had a Ukrainian dinner at the University, cooked
by our directors by this same professor. I believe he was Ukrainian.
BM: He was Ukrainian?
CM: I think so. Otherwise, I don’t think he’d get
into cooking in Ukrainian.
BM: No, because that’s something that’s a learned
part of your culture.
CM: That just came to my mind when I got this questionnaire;
brought it back. I haven’t thought of it for years. Probably
not from Strasburg, but from that area, there are a number of
girls who entered our convent and, with the younger ones, it
was all the same. But with older people, I think, with the older
sisters who came from there, I always felt very bad, because
they came without any, even high school, education. And because
they hadn’t had that advantage, [they are] very brilliant
people who are not educated. They just said they didn’t
want to go to school or they thought that they shouldn’t,
or I don’t know how it went, and they started doing housework
right from the start. They didn’t even finish high school
and, much less, go to college. And they became, what we call
them, house Sisters or housekeepers.
BM: Do you think that could be contributed to their parental
emphasis from home?
CM: Probably. Education just wasn’t emphasized in their
lives. I think that some of them just have a natural brilliance,
but [it] never was developed. And it comes through in other
ways as they educate themselves. And then, at home, their counterparts
who didn’t come to the convent, I’m sure they were
the same way. Maybe the men got educated later on or something,
I don’t know.
BM: I’m not sure if they were educated because education
was not a valued part of the Germans from Russia culture. I’m
sure there are exceptions, but I’m sure, even as we looked
at North Dakota rural schools, there’s been some research
done on that.
CM: Currently you mean?
BM: No – well, yes. It was brought out and last year
it was published.
CM: In the schools right now?
BM: It was done from the state and uh, they went way, way back
to the beginning of the rural schools and they were finding
that schools in some of the agricultural areas valued it less
than, we’ll say the Scandinavians counties. They valued
it much more.
CM: Well, the Irish has a big emphasis. We had never as much
money as the Germans of the area or other people. We were always
more prosperous, I would say. But there never was a question
of our going to college and I’m 80 years old. My mother
went to Fairbow [sp?, A453] to high school. They had an academy
in Fairbow. Then, after that, she came back and she went to
school here in Mankato. It was called the State Normal School
at the time. She went there for two years and qualified for
teaching at that time. You could do it in two years. And my
dad went to Business College here. I don’t know how long,
but they had a background considerably better than many other
Interviewee 2: There was never a question if we go to school;
it’s when you go to school.
CM: That’s right. And we went right from grade school
to high school in the same building there and then from [A458]
high school. After that, my sister went to college here. She’s
a year younger than I am. And I didn’t go anywhere else
since I went to the convent then for school. My brothers were
drafted into service at that time, so what education they got
in service and then when they came home on the G.I. Bill. And
my sister graduated from St. Benedict’s.
BM: You all went to college?
BM: Thank you so much Sister. It’s been great. You’ve
given us some new insights that we have not discussed before
and so it’s really been a very good experience. Thank
CM: You’re welcome.