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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Adjoining are the little reception rooms


The

institution is situated on the outskirts of the Faubourg St. Antoine, upon an elevation, where the view in one direction is limited by Mont St. Genevieve, and on the other embraces a large territory intersected by the windings of the Seine and by lines of railroad. The space is thickly dotted by the high chimneys of manufactories and massive constructions of various forms. A great pile of buildings which fronts upon the street forms one of the sides of the court within; two long wings extend at right angles, which seem to have been built at different intervals of time. That on the right ends with the penitentiary, or house of correction; the left wing terminates more modestly at the garden entrance; while farther, at the extreme portion of the grounds, still to the left, rises the hospital, standing apart from the rest. The whole establishment, including the gardens, has an extent of fifty-five hundred square meters.

In the little room at the entrance, where the _concierge_ is usually found in these French houses, sits one of the sisters, surrounded by bell-cords and tubes and bells which are constantly in use, bringing messages to and fro in all directions. A sister is always on duty, morning, afternoon, and at night when it is necessary, responding with discreet politeness to the inquiries made. Adjoining are the little reception rooms, where comers and goers are met, and the consulting-room of the distinguished oculist, who twice a week gives

gratuitously his valuable services. Then come the office and reception-room of the chaplain of the house, followed by the little "prophet's chamber," occupied by the former directress when she returns upon visits which her age and poor health render only too infrequent.

What the French call the "_economat_" or business office, next demands our attention. A dozen registers admirably kept, portfolios of all kinds, and numberless papers are arranged upon different shelves. The sister in charge notes in her journal every entrance and every departure, and all the journeys and leaves of absence of the sisters. In a safe she has the necessary money for current expenses, the rest being deposited in the bank. She provides the stores, examines the accounts of the pharmacy and the kitchen, pays the salaried employees, gives or sends to each deaconess the modest sum allowed her for personal needs, and transacts the daily business of the house. She must also every month hand in three reports--one to the Prefect of Police, another to the Minister of the Interior, and the third to the Minister of Finance, giving detailed statistics concerning the age, occupation, and progress of her _proteges_. "How many know how to read? How many to read and write? How many to read, write, and cipher? What progress has been made since the last report?" These are some of the questions she has to answer; and, meanwhile, if a crowd of little children come in, she turns from her writing and calculations and plays with them as if she had nothing else to do.

Let us see where these children come from. Here is the "Salle d'Asile," as it is called, with its benches and chairs for the little ones, maps and historical pictures suspended upon the walls, slates and globes, and all the belongings of a school-room. The sister who has directed this school for thirty-five years has seen sons and daughters succeed fathers and mothers. More than nineteen hundred children have passed through her hands. With what pride she showed us the copy-books, and pointed out some particularly good compositions. Hers was no perfunctory task; a mother could not have displayed greater interest in her children. The number of pupils varies from one hundred and ten to one hundred and thirty, a little less than half of them being Catholics. All kinds of primary instruction are given, including gymnastics, singing, and marching. Bible stories hold an important place in this elementary teaching, even those which are sometimes considered to be beyond the reach of children; for there is nothing in any other book to take their place. It is useless to add that not only lessons are given, but shoes, aprons, and garments of all kinds, some of the little ones being clothed from head to foot by the institution. Every day soup is distributed, ostensibly to the poor and the ill-nourished, but practically partaken of by all. Even during the siege of Paris the soup continued to appear. It gradually became less substantial, it is true, but still it was soup.


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