Sister Genevieve, born Ann King, was one of the pioneer missionaries who established Visitation Academy in St. Louis. The story of Ann King begins on 24 October 1800 in Georgetown, Washington, D. C. Her parents were Adam and Grace (Doyle) King. Adam King was a lawyer, militia volunteer, merchant, financier, and real estate broker.

The King children were well educated. Ann and her twin sister, Mary Eleanor, became day students at Visitation Academy. Their brother James attended Georgetown College. Ann determined at a young age that she wanted to join the Visitation Order. Her mother, Grace, was adamantly opposed to a convent life for her daughter. Ann’s sister, Mary Eleanor, married Richard Queen in 1816. Finally, on 3 January 1818, Ann King donned the garb of a Visitation novice and was given the name of Sister Mary Genevieve. No one could have anticipated the adventurous life that lay ahead.

On the western frontier, Bishop Joseph Rosati was charged with organizing the vast St. Louis diocese which extended from eastern Illinois west to the Rocky Mountains and from Louisiana north to the Canadian border. He invited the Visitation nuns to establish an academy for girls in the old (and declining) town of Kaskaskia, Illinois. On 17 April 1833, eight women slipped from the doors of the Visitation Monastery in Georgetown. Mr. Richard Queen, brother-in-law to Sister Genevieve, traveled with the small band of women as guide and protector.

Arriving at St. Mary’s Landing in Missouri, Richard Queen crossed the Mississippi River to Kaskaskia to announce the arrival of the sisters and to learn what preparations had been made for them. When he returned to St. Mary’s, he informed the tired group that Kaskaskia was a poor, miserable, out-of-the-way little place and nothing had been done to prepare for their arrival.A temporary wooden structure was erected where both nuns and students lived and worked. The teachers kept boxes lined with buffalo skins under the tables for students and teachers to warm their feet during study and meals. In the classrooms, there was usually both a chimney fire and a stove. Regardless, the nuns spoke of watching the ink freeze in the children’s pens and feeling as if their feet would freeze off from the wind gushing under the washboards.

Sister Genevieve King
Sister Genevieve King
Photo in the collection of Peggy (Thomson) Greenwood
Used with permission

In 1844, the sisters responded to a request to establish a new house and school in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Then, severe flooding caused Kaskaskia to close. In St. Louis, Sister Genevieve continued her assigned duties as Mistress of Novices, teacher and infirmarian to both the nuns and the students. Gentle and empathetic with her ailing patients, she earned the moniker, “Mommy Jenny.”

In 1848, Sister Genevieve was elected Mother Superior. She guided the convent and the academy through the major crises of 1849: the great fire and a monumental cholera epidemic.

At the age of seventy, Mother Genevieve was once again nominated Mother Superior. On 9 April 1877, at the age of seventy-six, Sister Genevieve died at the St. Louis Monastery.

(Sister Genevieve King was the twin sister of my third great-grandmother. Her full story was published in The St. Louis Genealogical Quarterly, volume 50, number 2, page 62.)

Written by Peggy (Thomson) Greenwood
March 2020

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Last Modified: 29-Jul-2020 11:44