Relative of Sisters of Charity foundress visits motherhouse

Charlotte Tennant could hardly wait to sit next to the statue of Mother Xavier Ross, her distant relative and foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. The statue is located near the fountain in front of the Sisters of Charity motherhouse. PHOTO COURTESY OF SISTERS OF CHARITY

By Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

LEAVENWORTH — It wasn’t until her sister dug deeper into their family’s genealogy that Charlotte Tennant and her siblings realized they shared a special connection to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCLs).

Tennant is the great-great-grandniece of Mother Xavier Ross, foundress of the SCL Community that is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. In fact, Tennant’s middle name is Ross.

She was in Kansas City over Mother’s Day weekend and traveled to Leavenworth with her son Ralph Tennant for her second visit to the SCL motherhouse campus in recent years.

Over lunch with SCL leaders and Sisters well versed in the community’s history, she learned more about Mother Xavier and the SCLs.

She also had the opportunity to meet other Sisters during an informal gathering.

On her must-see list, Tennant revisited the Heritage Room to touch the desk and chair of the foundress; sat next to the beloved statue of Mother Xavier outdoors near the fountain; and visited her grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery — all on the Leavenworth campus.

In 2002, the Tampa, Florida, resident made the trip to Kansas with her sisters Dolores Rench and Marjorie Bovard, both now deceased. Tennant explained that Rench was the only Roman Catholic in the family and the one who discovered the link to Mother Xavier.

Tennant’s family traces its roots to Philip Ross, the brother of Ann Ross, who, as a young woman, converted to Catholicism, joined the Sisters of Charity convent in Nazareth, Kentucky, and became Sister Xavier. She went on to lead a new community formed in Nashville, Tennessee.

As Mother Xavier, circumstances led her to seek other opportunities to serve that resulted in the call to come north to what was the Indian Territory that became Kansas.

The first group of pioneer Sisters arrived by riverboat in Leavenworth on Nov. 11, 1858 — the founding date of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

Mother Xavier led the SCL Community from 1858 to 1862 and again from 1865 to 1877.

Under her leadership, the SCLs expanded their ministries in Kansas and established hospitals, schools and orphanages in Montana and Colorado.

Her legacy includes her charity, wisdom and courageous spirit.

“It wasn’t until Dolores started searching that we learned about this person you’ve known for years,” Tennant told the Sisters. “We wished we had grown up knowing about Mother Xavier.”

Following the recent visit to Leavenworth, Ralph Tennant, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, wrote: “We were overwhelmed with everyone’s hospitality.

“The visit couldn’t have been any better.”

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