Joined: 27 Nov 2007
Location: Monterey County, California
|Posted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:09 pm Post subject: Concepcion Arguello
|THE FIRST CONVENT in Old California, St. Catherine's, built in the year that California entered statehood, is no more. Abandoned by the Church, it met the unhappy fate of California's First Hotel—the "Washington." When the convent was torn down, its adobes were used to repair the streets of Monterey. Progress must be served.
A simple, dignified structure, similar in type to El Cuartel, it was built by Don Manuel Jimeno beside his own hospitable home, for a hotel. (Now the site of the San Carlos Hotel garage.)
Three Dominican nuns, headed by Mother Goemare, arriving from the East the year before, under the care of Bishop Alemany, were already teaching the daughters of the best families in the province. They were housed in a little structure owned by W. E. P. Hartnell. Already grown too small, the new hotel was purchased, and the pioneer teachers were installed—the first formal school for girls in the country (1851).
What holds the old convent in memory, and ever will, is its place in the famous romance of Dona Maria Concepcion Arguello and Nicolas Resanov, Chamberlain to the Czar—immortalized by Bret Harte, and furnishing the theme for Gertrude Atherton's Resanov.
It will be recalled that when the dashing Russian sailed away, having won little "Concha's" consent to become his bride—and what was more difficult, that of her father, Don Jose Dario Arguello, comandante at the Presidio of San Francisco—no word came from her lover, Not until the visit, in 1842, of Sir George Simpson to the shores of California.
At a dinner in his honor at the home of Comandante Jose de la Guerra in Santa Barbara, the famous English sailor arose in response to a toast. He drew from his pocket a black packet, worn at the edges. "I have carried this packet about for many years, commissioned to take it to California when it should come about that my ship would touch your shores—a message from a Russian officer who died on the steppes of Siberia—his last word to his beloved," A hush, A small figure in black arose, drew tight her mantilla about her head, and went out into the night,
Now she knew. Her lover had been true. Thirty-six years of waiting,
Having through the years been known as "La Beata" —the Blessed—her course now became clear. Seeking Bishop Alemany, she besought him to permit her to enter the new convent as a novice. He shook his head, She was now nearly sixty; beyond the age of novices. She persisted. At last, sentiment vanquished routine, and the shadow of lovely little "Concha" entered the portals of St. Catherine's as its first novice (April 11, 1851). She "took the veil" in due time and when the nuns left Monterey, three years later, for their new home in Benicia—planned by General Vallejo and others to be the rival of San Francisco as the metropolis on the bay—Sister Mary Dominica left Monterey forever. Three years of service in the convent overlooking the green Suisun; then they laid her to rest in a little green grave on the hillside, where the breezes from the Golden Gate sing her requiem.