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REV. JOSEPH BALFE, D.D.
REV. JOSEPH BALFE, D.D.
From Photograph taken in 1879, in possession of Mr. F. X. Reuss
From Daguerreotype, taken in the '40's, in possession of Mr. F. X. Reuss
A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF THE REV. JOSEPH
IGNATIUS BALFE, D. D.,
Priest and Professor of the Diocese of Philadelphia.
BY FRANCIS X. REUSS.
Thomas Balfe, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born near Maynooth, in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1788, and married Margaret Heyden, who was born in the city of Dublin. It is stated that she was a niece of Father Thomas Heyden, once stationed at St. Joseph's church in Philadelphia, who baptized some of her children there. Thomas Balfe brought his wife to America shortly after their marriage and settled in Philadelphia about 1809 or 1810, where his brother, Lucas Balfe, who had came with them, entered into partnership with Thomas, in the boot-making business. Lucas, who never married, went to Cuba in 182--, whence after recovering from an illness during an epidemic, he returned after a short time only to go to Caracas, Venezuela, South America. There he prospered so as to acquire quite a competency; then sent for his brother Thomas, who finding that country not to his liking from a religious point of view, returned to his family which he had left in Philadelphia.
Lucas remained in South America until about the time of the “California gold-fever," when returning to the United States to visit his brother, he left Philadelphia with the intention of going to the Pacific Coast, but was never afterwards heard from.
In 1816 Thomas carried on his business of boot-making at No. 66 Union Street, near Front, and it was here that Joseph
Balfe was born, Thomas dying at No. 18 Plymouth Street, (at present Rittenhouse Street), in January, 1856.
THE CHILDREN OF THOMAS AND MARGARET BALFE. Mary Balfe, the first of the children of whom there is any record, was born on September 20, 1814, and was baptized in St. Joseph's church, on October 20th following, by Rev. Terence McGirr. She never married, dedicating her life especially in her later years to her widowed mother and brothers. I knew her well ; she was always a truly pious and devoted woman. On August 17, 1874, she died near Overbrook, Pa., and was buried there in the family lot in Cathedral Cemetery. Her Requiem Mass was celebrated in the church of Our Mother of Sorrows.
Joseph Balfe was the second child, of whom we will speak at length further on. Here we will merely mention the fact, that he was baptized Joseph, yet he invariably signed his name “J. I. Balfe." The middle initial standing for “ Ignatius," which he received in confirmation at the hands of Bishop Conwell in 1828, or maybe '29; he never signed his Christian name in full, but used the initials always. Besides Mary and Joseph Balfe there were two other children, Edward, born October 30, 1811, and Catharine, born who both died in infancy. It is my intention to speak only of those who lived. Then there was Elizabeth, born June 24, 1819, and Helena, born February 22, 1826, who was baptized at home, by Bishop Conwell, who, however, failed to record it. Her sponsors were Peter Whelan and Madame Helené Coulon. Both these children subsequently became Sisters of Charity at Emmittsburg, Md. They left Philadelphia for that place in company with their reverend brother Joseph, on February 7, 1843, Elizabeth being at the time twenty-four years of age, and Helena lacking but two weeks of being seventeen. At first when the mother was apprized of Helena's design to accompany her sister to Emmittsburg, she was greatly distressed on account of the extreme youth of the child, but finally gave her consent, saying: “It is a great sacrifice, and so far we have had the grace to refuse nothing to God.” Wherefore, she
felt sure that she would have much consolation at the hour of death.* She did not object so much, she said, to Elizabeth's taking the veil, but the loss of her little Helena was a pang to her heart. How her hope of consolation in her last hour was realized we will see in a future chapter, as given to the writer by an eye-witness, whose happiness it was to be present at the death-bed of Mrs. Balfe.
To return to the youthful novices ; Elizabeth made her vows on November 17, 1844, nearly eight months before Helena. She took in religion the name Sister Adelaide, and was immediately sent with a band of the sisterhood, amongst whom was the late venerable Sister, Mary Gonzaga Grace, to Donaldsonville, La., where a Mission Hospital was to be opened in the old Ascension Parish. Between that place and New Orleans they spent more than three years, when Sister Adelaide was sent to Mobile, where she was placed at the orphanage, and here she spent nearly thirteen years of her life. When on her recall to the mother house to make her annual retreat, she was permitted to pay a visit to her mother and brothers, who all were living in Philadelphia. During the Civil War, she was assigned to service in military hospitals in the South, having charge of one at Montgomery, Ala., towards the end of the struggle, after which she again came north, and at the petition of Dr. Balfe she was permitted to make a final visit to her mother. During the many years of Sister Adelaide's sojourn in the South, her mother always observed a strict fast on the feast of St. Stephen--proto martyr of the Church-it being a tradition among the faithful in some parts of Ireland that his guardianship prevailed against fevers; and indeed Sister Adelaide passed safely through two frightful epidemics, attending the afflicted at all times, day and night, which favor she attributed, under God, to her good mother's prayers. She opened the Industrial School in Baltimore and remained there but a few months, when she was recalled to the Mother House, where she remained on active duty until shortly before her death,
* All reminiscences relating to the Balfe family, given in this paper, have been communicated by members of it to the writer.
which occurred just two weeks before she would have completed her Golden Jubilee on February 2, 1893. Sister Adelaide died of pneumonia.
Helena, who took the name-Sister Gertrude—in religion, was engaged in mission work in Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and also in the States of Iowa and New York, in which duty she spent about thirty-six years, when she was called to St. Joseph's, Emmittsburg, where she still remains, after an active service of over half a century, waiting for the final summons, and eternal reward of so long a service in charity.
Henry Conwell Balfe, so named after the second bishop of his native city, was born on September 12, 1822, and baptized in St. Joseph's church on October 6th, of that year, by Rev. William Vincent Harold. His sponsors were Rev. Thomas Heyden, and Anna Conwell, niece of the bishop. It was during the infancy of Henry that Thomas Balfe went to South America at the solicitation of his brother Lucas. During the father's absence from home the little Henry fell ill, which so prostrated the mother with grief, that kneeling by the cradle-side she prayed God that He would preserve to her her boy, that he might grow up to a useful and pious manhood. Whilst thus engaged in prayer, a heavy knock at the front door announced a visitor at this most unseemly hour-it was near midnight-and the mother was awaiting the last breath of her babe, not daring for one moment even to leave him. Yet hastening to the door, to her delight, she found there, an old friend waiting for entrance, whom she had thought at the time was at the North Pole. He was the somewhat famed Captain Parry, who had but lately returned from his northern trip to the land of perpetual snow and ice, and being a very intimate friend of the Balfes, had hastened to the house to visit his old acquaintance, Thomas Balfe, not knowing that he was away. The Captain, who had an excellent knowledge of medicine, prescribed at once for Henry, who, by dawn, was out of danger. The child grew up to manhood, yet was never robust, though healthy, and having been sent to the Urban College of Propaganda, at Rome, was ordained there in 1848. On his