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Sr. Cleta Bakewell - Autobiography


Posted By: Ambrose Owens (email)
Date: 1/16/2011 at 16:30:45

Autobiography Of Sister Cleta Bakewell

Lansing, a quiet little Iowa town of about fifteen hundred souls, nestles peacefully among the hill away up in the northeast corner of the state where the Mississippi on its way to the Gulf cleaves the sheer rocky cliffs and prevents Iowa from being a part of Wisconsin, or if you have the Badger point of view, where a bit of lovely Wisconsin has vaulted the mighty river and established itself on the plains of the Hawk Eye state.
It was in this rarely beautiful region that the Bakewell and Phillippi families settled in the pioneer days, for I am told they number among the oldest families in that locality. And my mother often (spoke)of how they cleared the land, built their log house, and of their intercourse with the Indians. The Phillippi homestead was about two miles north of Lansing and it was there that my mother was born and spent most of her life. The Bakewell estate was located about ten miles west of Lansing. The forty acres of land upon which the little town of Church (Calhoun) has grown up was at one time a part of the estate; and Granpa Bakewell donated the site for the Calhoun school-house.
After Granpa Bakewell died my father rented the farm and finally bought it in shares. It was on this place that my father, John W. Bakewell, and my mother, Catherine Phillippi, started housekeeping after their marriage which took place in Lansing on October 26, 1880, at Immaculate Conception Church, they being the first couple united in holy wedlock by Msgr. Haxmeier after his coming to Lansing that same year.
My mother came of good Catholic parents, but my father had not been brought up in the Catholic religion, in fact he did not follow any particular sect. His mother was a Catholic and had the children baptized but they did not receive Holy Communion until they were grown up. My father received instructions and Communion just before his marriage. Thus it was that he never (knew) his religion very well and consequently often found it difficult to practice it. It was my mother who encouraged him and urged him to keep up his religious duties. And it was through her efforts that the children received as much instruction as they did in the Faith, though I must give my father credit for not having interfered and for having given as much aid as could be expected from him.
From what evidence I can gather, it seems that my parents built a house on another part of the farm; it was a log house, crude and simple, but considering the time and circumstances, it was all they could afford. It was there that the five children were born, I being the youngest.
My mother’s piety inspired her to consecrate all her children, while yet unborn, to the Blessed Virgin, and offer them to God to serve Him in the religious state if He so willed; accordingly, before my birth, she one day made her Confession and received Holy Communion in the Sister's Chapel in Lansing and then made the offering and consecration. She often told me about this, and I reminded her of it when I desired to go to the Convent and she seemed reluctant to make the sacrifice.
I was born within the Octave of the Assumption, on August 21,1892, on a Sunday at four o'clock in the morning. My mother often said that I was so homely that she was ashamed to show me to the neighbors who called to see the new baby. But if I was a homely baby, [NB words in ()are hand written edits by an unknown author.]
I certainly could not have been a sickly baby, for they were not in a hurry to have Baptism administered. I received that first and
life-giving Sacrament on the day after the Feast of Our Lady Ransom, September 25, 1892, over a month after my birth. They delayed so long because we lived so far from the church and my mother had to wait until she was able to take me herself, for it seems there were no Catholics living in the vicinity. Thus from the very dawn of life God was patient and dealt mercifully with me as He has so often done during all the ensuing years.
In Baptism I was given the name Catherine Margaret, after my two Grandmothers, and I have chosen Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret of Cortona as my patron Saints, because I hope that by imitating, as far as permitted, the penance practiced by the one, I may be able to follow the other in her observance of chastity and virginity. My sponsors at Baptism were Grandma Phillippi and Uncle Mathias Phillippi.

My parents lived in the home west of Lansing about fourteen years, then they sold the farm and moved north of Lansing to the old Phillippi homestead which they bought from Grandma Phillippi for about nine hundred dollars. Thus my mother got back again to the familiar scenes of her old home. Here we again lived in a house built of logs. At the time we moved I was only about two years old and do not remember the change of places, but during the few years which followed, I painted in memories store-house permanent pictures of that little log cabin.
After about five years it became necessary to build a new house, and though my parents had scanty means, yet they built a comfortable home and in course of time paid for it entirely. At that time it was considered one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood. Later on my father made other improvements about the place and thus gradually we acquired a very pleasant country home. Nevertheless, my parents were poor---certainly they were not rich. The early days were hard ones and even later on there was much hard hand labor on our own and other farms, although much might have been done in an easier way if we had had money to procure the machinery with which to do it. As it was, everyone in the family, even the “baby”, was obliged to help with the farm work. However, when my two brothers, who were the eldest of the children, were old enough they worked away from home and sent their wages to my parents. This helped along some, but then my sisters and I were obliged to do more of the work on the farm, especially in vacation. My father often expressed the wish that I were a boy instead of a girl for then I could help him more, so, to please him, I sometimes wore overalls (not knowing at the time that it was wrong) and then I would tell him that I was “his boy".
When I was about six or seven years old my brothers and sisters took me with them to attend the Van Cooley District School which was two miles distant from our home. It was there that I received nearly all my elementary education. The little white school-house with green shutters was set in a picturesque place at the foot of a towering hill. Near by, the Van Cooley Creek wended its way to the river; in front, at some distance, lay the road and railroad track, and farther away stretched the Great Father of Waters. On the playground with its scenic surroundings, I passed some of my childhood’s happiest hours. I do not know why we did not attend the Catholic school in Lansing, for there was not much difference in the distance we would have had to go. It really would have been more pleasant for to attend the Catholic school, for in the Van Cooley District we were the only Catholic children and often we had to "suffer persecution” on account of our religious belief. Not infrequently we were openly derided for our Faith, and often my sister Mary did not hesitate to use, not only her tongue, but also her fists in defending it.
My first teacher was Johanna Cavanaugh(Catholic). If I remember correctly, the other teachers who taught there while I attended were;
Anna Koehm, Fanny Hemmenway, Charlotte Thompson, Blanche Bock, George Bammert(fallen away Catholic}, Anna Bakewell (my own sister}, Emma Anderson, and Bartha Fish Gallagher. I think my hardest term of school was the one during which my sister taught, for she was more strict with me than with the other pupils so that they could not accuse her of being partial. By the time I had completed the seventh grade there were only two pupils attending, a boy of another family and myself. The other children of the district had finished school and there were no younger children to attend, Consequently the school board decided that instead of hiring a teacher to instruct only two pupils they would pay our tuition to attend the public school in Lansing. Accordingly I started to attend the eighth grade in the Lansing Public School where Miss Mary Monk(a fallen away Catholic) was my teacher. (She had been my mother’s teacher,also, about thirty-five years previous). Towards the end of the term, however, I left school and stayed at home, I suppose to help with the work, for at that time I was the only one at home with my parents. So I did not receive an eighth grade diploma nor promotion. But the next year after Christmas I returned to school for an eighth grade review. This time Isabelle Duffy (Catholic) was my teacher. The professor then told me that if I had returned to school in September I could have entered the High School. Since that chance had passed, I did the next best thing----reviewed the eighth grade and tried to get a thorough knowledge of those subjects. How that school year ended for me, I will explain later. I was somewhat discouraged with my school life for I was now sixteen years old and was still such a “ dunce” while both my sisters had begun teaching at the age of seventeen. Anna had graduated from High School with honors, having won a scholarship to the Upper Iowa University, and when she stopped teaching she was holding a first grade certificate. My other sister, Mary, had finished the tenth grade and was a successful teacher with a second grade certificate. My mother wished me to become a teacher also, but I did not see how it could ever come to pass. However, it did come to pass but in a different way from what she had planned.
But I must now go back to the earlier days. As year succeeded year, I grew up like most other children. Being the youngest of the family, I was spoiled to a great extent, for my mother frequently took my part and very often let me have my will. I was,for a long time, attached to the privileges of the “baby”---sitting in the high-chair long after it was too small for me, and climbing on my mother’s lap, when she would be sitting in the rocking-chair, to have “just one more rock”, though I (was) so big that my feet almost touched the floor. But very often, too, I incurred severe corporal chastisement from my mother for faults which were traceable to an intractable disposition. I had the bad habit of taking revenge for an injury received from my sisters and companions by biting them. One time after I had been using my canine weapons, my mother called me to her, bared my arm, and sunk her teeth in my flesh to let me experience how it felt. That cured me permanently of the vicious habit. My father seldom punished any of the children---a look or a word from him was sufficient to remind us of our duty. It was my mother, though, who possessed, for good or bad, the greatest influence over me. I think she was a stronger character than my father; was more systematic, persistent, and surer of herself. My father yeilded to my mother in large things, but took his own way in little ones. My mother tried especially to instill in us the love of order and cleanliness; she permitted no extravagance or wastefulness, but taught us to practice economy by being careful with the things we had in daily life.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin found expression in my choice
Of hymns, and also in the erection of simple shrines before pictures or
statues of our Blessed Lady. My sister and I took delight in placing there the wild flowers we had gathered from the surrounding hillsides and meadows; and there we would kneel to say our morning and evening prayers. The lessons of piety taught me in childhood by my mother and sisters were no doubt the seeds of that desire, which I received, and afterwards executed with the help of God's grace, to give myself, without reserve to His service.
I received very little instruction in religion from the Pastor or from the Sisters. Those children from the country who did not attend the Parochial School were given instructions for ten or fifteen minutes on Sundays after Mass, and they also attended a course of instructions given before First Holy Communion. I think I made my first Confession when I was about eight years old. A certain time was set, once or twice a year, when those children who had not made their First Communion, could go to Confession. On the day of Confession we would go to the Parochial School in the morning and there a Sister would instruct us how to receive the Sacrament; in the afternoon we made our Confession. During the intervening hours between instruction and Confession we went to the Church or walked up and down the quiet street performing the examination of conscience, as Sister suggested we should do. This was sometimes a difficult task, since such a long time elapsed between confessions. In order to excite us to fear and contrition, the Sister often showed us pictures of lost souls in hell; how each one suffered most in that part of his body through which he had sinned most; how one was tormented in his tongue for sins of lying, gluttony,etc.; another had red-hot chains: and hideous serpents twined about his hands for having sinned by stealing, etc. I believe that through this that I acquired false impressions concerning, sin which were afterwards so hard to correct.
I received Holy Communion the first time on July 9,1905, when I was twelve years old. My companion, when approaching the altar, was Helen Keffler, now Mrs Stallsmith. I shall always remember the unclouded happiness of that blessed day. The only happiness that can rival it will be that which I hope to experience at my Last Communion. At that first embrace of Our Dear Savior I fe1t,more than ever before,the desire “to be a Sister”,for I wanted to give my whole, self to Him since He had given Himself entirely to me.
I was Confirmed by Bishop Kean on the Feast of Saint Teresa, October 15, 1907. I then took the name Mary, if I remember correctly.
For a girl, I was adventureous and indifferent to danger---the more violent and dangerous the more it seemed to appeal to me. Frequently I could have been seen climbing a tree and then rapidly descending by swinging from one limb to another; and often I would hazard a climb over a steep cliff, or walk on the narrow beams which stretched thirty or forty feet across the barn, twenty or twenty-five feet from the floor. Killing snakes, especially rattlers, seemed to have a special attraction for me, and I was always willing to aid the dog in his tussle with a woodchuck. My dexterity in climbing trees proved a great help to me a few times when I was pursued by an angry bull. Many times when my brother made the rounds to look at his traps, I trudged along beside him, over hill and valley, even though at times the snow-banks were above my knees. And I remember of even accompanying him on racoon hunts, traveling miles over hills and through dark woods, returning late et night with our prey. I went with him also to cut down bee-trees; my task was to keep up the smudge. I recall that on one of those occasions I became sick from eating too much of the warm honey.
The railroad passed very near our home and we nearly always walked on the track on our way to and from school; if a slow freight train passed us I sometimes ventured so near as to be able to touch the sides of the cars as they moved along.
The river had a peculiar charm for me. I would spend hours on its banks picking up shells,wading in the shallow water near the edge, or watching the waves as they advanced or receded. Frequently I took bait, line, and hooks along, and would cut a pole from the willows near by and then pass the afternoon fishing, going home in the evening with a nice string of the finny tribe. My mother never liked to have me go alone to the river, for she said: "You may fall in and there won't even be anyone to tell the story." But my Guardian Angel always took very good care of me, even though I kept him very busy. Onetime, however, it seems he withdrew his protecting hand somewhat, no doubt in order to teach me a lesson. I was standing beside a large clam-boiler which was filled with clams and boiling hot water. As I was bending over the tank, with my hands resting on the raised lid, my sister Mary came on the other side and drew the lid towards her, thus opening it farther; my arms were too short to span the distance and my hands plunged into the scalding water, burning my arms up to the elbows. I ran home and my mother immediately applied coon oil and scorched cloths. The remedy soon healed the burns without leaving the least scar.
As the result of so much romping about, my dresses were often
in tatters. So as a sort of punishment, my mother made me dresses of overall goods which I could not tear so easily. This wounded my vanity somewhat, and thereafter I tried to be more careful, at least with my clothes.
In spite of my boisterousness when alone or in the family circle, in the presence of strangers I was somewhat shy. I tried to avoid speaking to them or meeting them if I could do so without being observed; if I were walking along the road on my way to or from town or school and I saw or heard a vehicle approaching in the distance, I would try to conceal myself behind a thicket or in whatever hiding place I could find. I remember that one time I hastily climbed a leafy tree to avoid a meeting.
I was accustomed to help with all kinds of work on the farm, such as husking corn, planting and digging potatoes, hoeing the corn,etc., making hay, milking cows, and even repairing the fences, driving in the stakes and nailing the wire on myself. I also le(a)rned how to cook and bake, and relieved my mother of that duty to a great extent during the last two years that I was home. When I left, she laughing said that she would have to learn it over again. One of the tasks during vacation was to watch the cattle as they pastured along the roadside or in places not enclosed by fences. This occupation fostered in me a love of solitude. Occasionally my sister Mary accompanied me and then, sitting in the shade of a spreading tree, the cattle grazing near by, she would teach me prayers and help me in catechism and other studies. Perhaps it was in these solitary vigils that I acquired that great love for books and reading, for I became a veritable book-worm.
Through constant association with nature I learned to love and observe its many beauties.
"Hand in hand with her I walked,
Face to face with her I talked”.
The deep shadows of the forest and groves attracted me. I delighted to wander through some wood, the solitude broken only by the chipping of a squirrel, the songs of birds, and my own footsteps. There for hours at a time I would pick wild flowers, build my playhouses, or sit by the creek listening to its babble. It was there that I gained
“Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee's morning chase,
Of the wild–flowers time and place
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood
How the tortois bears his shell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well:
How the robin feeds her young
How the oriole’s nest is hung:
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!”

That continual out-dooor life kept me in health, for I was seldom sick. The measles, chicken-pox, and an occasional sore throat or bruised finger were the worst ills I ever suffered.

“Oh for childhood’s painless play,

Sleep that wakes in laughing day

Health that mocks the doctor’s rules.”
The talent for drawing was certainly inborn and not acquired.
My sister has lately told me that the pages of my school books were covered with my drawings. I did not have water colors or oil paints, so I used house paints, and the cellar door and the walls of the barn were my canvas. My Aunt Lena painted with oils on canvas and velvet; often I stood before her work admiring it and wishing I could do as well. One of my teachers, Miss Hemmenway, painted flowers in school during the noon hour, and I always preferred to watch her rather than play. When I walked home with her after school, she would point out to me the many scenic spots along the way and thus taught me appreciate the loveliness of wild nature and to develop an artistic sense of the beautiful.
By the time I was thirteen years old my brothers and sisters were all occupied away from home, which seemed rather lonely without them. But they came home now and then, also in vacation. They often took me with them to dances and parties of pleasure. Though I was young, I was tall for my age and so passed for being older than I really was. The fervor of my First Communion Day gradually cooled as the months slipped by; the desire for amusements grew upon me; I lost my shyness and began to seek attention, and became fond of pleasure to a degree that often, later on, exposed me to serious danger. Happily God watched over me, and was patient. And I am certain the Blessed Virgin, who never fails to reward the least attention showed her, in return for my devotion to her, often protected me and kept me from sin.
The undue attention and time that I gave to the pursuit of those pleasures was, no doubt, the cause of my not being as successful in my studies as I might have been.
I had just passed my fourteenth birthday (1906) when the first break in the family circle occurred---my oldest sister, Anna, married. On the wedding day a large crowd of relatives and friends assembled at our home and passed the day feasting and rejoicing. That same week a Carnival was being held in Lansing, so the day after the wedding ever member of the house went to the city to join in the celebration, leaving me alone at home.I felt very lonely, not because I was left behind, but I was grieving over the departure of my sister. Evidently she was happy in the vocation she had chosen, but I felt that I myself would never make that choice, though I had not as yet decided what vocation I would follow. There was a great void in my heart, which it seemed nothing could fill.
During the two following years I sought amusements eagerly enough but did not find in them the relish and satisfaction that others seemed to enjoy. When I desired to share my companion’s pleasures I always felt something restraining me, something calling me away, and when the pleasure party was over I felt a sort of remorse, or a great emptiness, an indescribable something.
When I was sixteen and was reviewing the eighth grade, a Mission was held at the Immaculate Conception Church, from March 22nd until April 4th, conducted by Father Rohlman and Father Drumm (now Bishop of Des Moines) of the Dubuque Apostolate.
My teacher, Miss Duffy, was a Catholic, consequently the Catholic pupils in her room more readily obtained permission to attend the exercises than did those who had a non-Catholic teacher. The first week of the Mission was for Catholics, the second week for non-Catholics. I was very prompt in attending the exercises of the first week, trying to be present at as many as possible. My mother noticed this but did not say anything until the end of the week. The exercises of the first week closed with a Holy Hour; it was the first Holy Hour I had ever made and I was deeply impressed. I little dreamed that in the years to come I would often have the opportunity of making a Holy Hour; but none of them have been or ever could be like that first one. It was then, as I knelt in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, that I decided definitely to follow the religious life. My mother, who was watching me closely, no doubt observed a change in me, for that night after we returned home she put the question: “Katie, are you going to the convent?” Without hesitation I answered: “Yes, and very soon too.” It never occurred to me that before making such a decided statement I ought first ask the advice of my Confessor and the permission of my parents.
Within a day or two my father and mother called on Msgr. Haxmeier and told him of my decision. He told them to send me to him; I went to him and he questioned me to assure himself of the genuineness of my vocation. When he had finished his interrogations and instructions he dismissed me with the blessing and the injunction that I must then ask the consent of my parents. (Happily, he did not say I must obtain their consent). My mother gave her consent, though somewhat reluctantly, and when I asked my father his_ only answer was: “You don’t realize what you are doing.” Though he did not consent then, he did later on when I received the habit. On that occasion Msgr. Haxmeier asked him: "Now are you satisfied?" and he answered “Yes, if I had more they could come too.”
The Franciscan Sisters of La Crosse were the only Sisters I had ever seen and I was not acquainted with any particular Sister personally; in fact I had always been somewhat afraid of the Sisters, but now my mother and I went to the Sisters to ask permission for me to enter the Motherhouse at La Crosse, and to get necessary information as to what would be required in the line of clothes, money, etc.
My mother began immediately to get my clothes ready. I did not return to school, even to get my books---my cousin brought them home for me. I conceived so great a longing for the convent life that I could not get there quick enough. I lost my appetite and began to grow thin and pale; my mother remarked that if she did not soon take me there, she would not have to take me there at all.
At that time I did not understand what vows were, or what obligations were imposed on religious. The desire uppermost in my mind was to serve God more faithfully, and I thought the best way to do so would be to become a religious. '
My sister Mary, who was then working in St. Paul, came home to stay with my parents so they would not be alone after I left. My father tried to persuade me not to leave until June but I wanted to go in May, Our Lady's Month, so I fixed the date of my departure on May 24, 1909, the Feast of Our Lady Help Of Christians. The day before that date a number of relatives came to spend the day and to bid me farewell. I did not, or rather could not show that it was very hard for me to leave; I think that made my parents feel all the more sad. On the morning of the longed for day my sister and I walked to town to attend Mass, my father and mother following later in the carriage bringing my trunk.
After my father had said good-bye at the depot and had gone some distance on his way back, he returned again to advise me once more that if I didn't like it in the convent I should return home again and assured me that I would be heartily welcomed. My mother and sister Mary accompanied me to La Crosse. Strange to say, as often as I had been in La Crosse, I had never seen even the exterior of Maria Angelorum, so when I reached the Convent everything was new to me.
My mother and sister remained in La Crosse until the next day when they saw me clothed in the black bonnet and cape of a Postulant. They then returned home leaving me to begin the new life and die to the old one.

Sister M. Cleta Bakewell

• ••• ., •.•••• “Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more."

~I originally hand copied this some time in the mid 1950’s because my grandmother had said that after I read it she was going to destroy it. A cousin of mine typed it and circulated it in 1982. Last year, 2010, I received a typed copy from the archives of the Franciscan Sisters Of Perpetual Adoration. The above is a reedited version restoring some of the misspellings and original grammar that may have been changed in the other versions. Respectfully Ambrose F. Owens


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