Workers on the MSJ Farm: Leo Merimee Henry Blandford and one unidentified individual, in October 1940. COURTESY OF MSJ ARCHIVES
Did German prisoners of war work on the farm at Mount Saint Joseph?
BY EDWARD WILSON, ARCHIVES
It will never cease to amaze me how badly history wants her stories to be discovered. I often imagine her as she was personified by the painter Will Hicok Low, benevolent and loving. She sits with a chest of treasures, more than happy to place them in the hands of those who come with arms earnestly outstretched. As could probably be presumed by this saccharine introduction, I got a big treasure from the chest.
A few months ago, while looking for something mundane in the mother superior files at Mount Saint Joseph, I ran across a letter that caught my eye. It was post marked Rennerod and the introductory paragraph spoke of “the proud feeling to have friends in America.” Hmm, German? This shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise. The Ursulines have deep German ties. Then another line, “Who does the season-works on your farm, after the prisoners of war have all gone?” Could this be? Did the Mount have German POWs working on their farm?
When I was young my grandmother had told me about visiting a museum, not too far from where my family lived in Madisonville, that had once served as a holding camp for German prisoners of war during World War II. So, the Mount having POW workers was a real possibility.
The letter was dated 1947. Two years after the end of the war. That was a good sign. The letter continued and the story only got more interesting.
The document was in Mother Laurine Sheeran’s files. The author was writing to thank Mother Laurine for being such a kind friend and sending several items that were unattainable to him in the post-war country. The items he thanked her for were religious in nature. He also had one request, a Missale Romanum. The author seemed to be a devout and gracious man. It was also interesting that he had made such an impression on the humble MSJ community. Who was he? Were there really German POWs on the MSJ farm? Was he one of them? There were so many questions but the short letter was finished. However, to my great surprise, the next document in the file was another letter from the same author marked 21 days later. The next letter held many answers and many surprises.
This story, being too large for one article, will be finished in the next issue of the WKC. The contents of the next letter will be discussed, as well as who the young man writing to Mother Laurine was. Also, just as a disclaimer, as will be abundantly clear when his identity is revealed, the author was not a supporter of the Nazi party. He actually worked in opposition of it. Until next issue, auf Wiedersehen!
Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to [email protected].
Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.