Our good Mother Mary Regis returned today after her 6 weeks stay at St. John’s.
Srs. Agnes & Helen accompanied her home & made a short visit. Sr. M. Ephrem
also made her holiday call. We are celebrating St. Stephen’s Day. Some are
hunting the wren and keeping up an old Irish custom.
Sisters going hunting on the day after Christmas? For a bird so small that the meat off its bones wouldn’t satisfy a well-fed child? What is this all about?
A little research reveals that the tradition of hunting the wren dates back to ancient Celtic times and continues to this day in Ireland. On St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), groups of Irish boys would kill a wren and tie it to the top of a colorfully-decorated pole or put it in an ornamented cage or box. The wrenboys would then visit their neighbors’ homes, singing songs and begging for money for the wren’s funeral. The money collected would either fund a party for the boys themselves or be given to a local church or school. Today, wrens are no longer killed for this custom; effigy wrens are made at home or purchased.
Those of you familiar with S. Mary Lenore Martin’s research on Irish women among the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth know that between 1858 and 1910, over 270 women of Irish origin entered the community. This number includes the nearly 80 sisters recruited directly from Ireland in 1895 and 1903. With such a large population of women born in Ireland, it’s not surprising that the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth had an Irish “flavor.” But this small entry in the community chronicle informs us of its importance.
It’s difficult to imagine early 20th century women religious serving as wrenboys. And yet, when no boys were available, it happened right here in Leavenworth, Kansas. The love of their homeland and Irish tradition was that strong, even years after leaving Ireland. Presumably, the “neighbors” serenaded by sisters hunting the wren were other sisters living in St. Mary’s Academy. And did the sisters actually hunt a real wren? Unfortunately, that detail is lost to history.
The Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Wren’s Day!