The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834
Nancy Lusignan Schultz
The Free Press
In the midst of a deadly heat wave during the summer of 1834, a woman clawed her way over the wall of a Roman Catholic convent near Boston, Massachusetts and escaped to the home of a neighbor, pleading for protection. When the Bishop, Benedict Fenwick, persuaded her to return, rumors began swirling through the Yankee community and in the press that she was being held at the convent against her will, and had even been murdered. The imagined fate of the “Mysterious Lady,” as she became popularly known, ultimately led to the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts on the night of August 11, 1834 by a mob of Protestant men.
In Fire & Roses, Nancy Schultz brings alive this forgotten moment, shedding light on one of the darkest incidents of religious persecution to be recorded in the New World. It was a time when independent, educated women were feared as much as immigrants and Catholics, and anti-Papist diatribes were the stuff of bestsellers and standing-room-only lectures. This glimpse into nineteenth-century Boston and into an elite boarding school for young women, vividly dissects the period’s roiling tensions over class, gender, religion, ethnicity, and education.