"HAIL TO THE CHIEF”
President William H. Taft at Saint Mary[i]
September 25, 1911
When it was announced in the Leavenworth Times that President William Howard Taft was expected in Leavenworth, Sister Mary de Chantal said to Mother Mary Olive:
“Why not invite the President to pay us a visit?”
“Such a vain suggestion,” was Mother’s reply.
There were two other Sisters standing by, Sister Mary Aurelia and Sister Mary. They thought that if the President would not come to visit, he might be induced to take in St. Mary’s on his route to the Soldiers’ Home.[ii] Father Downey[iii] was consulted. He went to town, saw our congressman, Mr. Anthony, and he said he thought it might be managed, and, if possible, it should be arranged that the President's cavalcade should at least make St. Mary’s on the progress[iv] and stop long enough to salute the Sisters and pupils.
And now such comings and goings in preparation for the event! Four of the workmen went into town yesterday to be sworn in as deputy sheriffs. They are to be stationed as guards, two at the front gate, one at the Guardian Angel statue, and one near the house. Clusters of lights have been put at the front entrance, as probably it will be dark when the party arrives. An arch of welcome is being erected. Every flower-pot in existence on the place is to be put on exhibition. Bolts and bolts of red, white, and blue bunting have been bought. The walks are as clean as the library floor (where I am now writing).[v] Banners and pennants are to float from the trees. Everything in our power is to be done to greet our First Magistrate in the most becoming manner.
September 27, 1911 – The Big Day
The weather, which for nearly two weeks has been dark and threatening, is this morning bright and glorious – if it will only be kind enough to remain so until eight o’clock p.m.! But Kansas skies are extremely fickle.
September 28, 1911 – The Day after the Big Day
I scarcely know how to describe the events of yesterday but I will in plain English tell an unvarnished tale. All day long the weather was propitious, if anything a little too warm for perfect comfort, but oh! It was bright and shiny, making the grass and trees show to the best advantage….
From the front gate, which was locked with a padlock in the early morning, to the house, was ornamented with national flags, and a triumphal arch was erected just a few years from the statue of the Guardian Angel. It bore this legend in letters of white on a background of blue and red: Welcome to our President. The thing was so heavy that the men in vain tried to raise it to the desired height, sixty feet, between two trees on opposite sides of the avenue. After really Herculean efforts, they were forced to place it much lower down where, I suppose, it looked very well. I did not go see it after completion.
The Sisters and pupils had supper at five o-clock. We were through our supper for some time when a telephone message came saying, “The President is leaving the Fort!” Then there was such hurrying! The men [clergy] were scarcely though their supper, but they scampered away to don their best clothes and soon appeared in the front year, looking very respectable indeed. The children, boys and girls from St. Vincent’s Home,[vi] by this time had made their appearance, each with a flag. The Academy pupils stood on the lawn right in front of the steps and the Sisters were on the steps.
At about twenty minutes after six the eventful moment arrived! An automobile appeared careening around the ring; the pupils began their song of welcome. They thought the first automobile contained the President, and began cheering, but the much expected one was the second. This auto stopped immediately in front of the steps. Mr. Anthony alighted; next an officer in brilliant uniform; and then William H. Taft, bringing along with him all the way from Washington the irresistible smile! This won the hearts of all the girls without a word, I think.
Bishop Ward stepped forward, Bishop Lillis making way for him, and the President shook hands with him and the other clergymen present. Then Mother Mary Olive and Sister Vincent Marie were presented to him. Two of the pupils who had been longest in the Academy (five years) – Anna Livey of Nebraska and Marietta Day of Colorado – after the handshaking, stepped forward and gave to the President, one a bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums tied with white ribbon; the other, a pennant of the Academy, white and gold. His Excellency graciously accepted them and forthwith handed them to the officer in attendance, who, man-like, very unceremoniously deposited them on the front seat of the automobile. I trust they did not make cushions of them before they reached the city. Then the photographer made his appearance and Mr. Taft allowed himself to be taken in the midst of the pupils – and a merry group they were!
When this part of the program was over, the party prepared to depart. Mr. Taft said two or three times to the Sisters sitting on the steps, “Good-bye Sisters” and to the orphan boys from St. Vincent’s, “Good-bye boys,” and bidding good-bye to the assembled audience amidst cheering and waving of flags, the automobiles began flying around the ring going to the Soldiers’ Home. I never saw so many flags in my life, and I never expect to see so many again.
When the last auto had disappeared, the girls, accompanied by some Sisters, went down to the front gate and there waited until the Presidential party returned from the Soldiers’ Home and came to the gate. The President recognized them by standing up in his auto and waving his hat until he was out of sight. And such was the end of a very eventful day in the history of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.
[i] From the Mother House Chronicles, Vol. 2, 288 ff.
[ii] Veteran’s Home (Wadsworth), now the Veterans’ Administration Hospital, located across the road from Saint Mary Academy.
[iii] Father Thomas J. Downey was chaplain to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth from 1905 to 1926.
[iv] Progress: a ceremonial journey made by a ruler through his realm.
[v] Sister Mary Buckner (d. 1915) authored this account.
[vi] St. Vincent Orphanage in Leavenworth, Kansas.