Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Seventy-seven Year Old Letter From Auntie - part two.

Now for the last two pages recounting the Legend of Isleta as told by Auntie - Anna McDonnell.

Page 3

As the years went by other missionaries took up the work of the martyred one – they built a church, which still stands although more than two centuries have intervened.  When the church was finished the Indians wanted to bury the body of their beloved priest within its walls, but when they started to dig on in the sands to bring up the body for reburial, they found to their amazement that the trough, or rough coffin they had buried the priest in had risen to the surface of the earth.  This legend was oft repeated by the Indians, so Bishop Daeger of Santa Fe, one of the few Franciscan Bishops in the United States decided to have an investigation made.  He accordingly called together a number of the clergy, newspaper men, lawyers, and towns people of Albuquerque and nearby territory, and I will tell you of the Phenomenon, just as the Father related it to me that day.

     He told me that the trough, made from the cottonwood tree, was as well preserved as though it had recently been buried, although according to science the soft wood of the cottonwood tree should have rotted and crumbled away after it was under ground for a good length of time.  When they opened the trough they found the body of the priest in a mummified state, which means an unusually well preserved condition of the dead body.  He was buried in the clothes he had been murdered in.  The cloth in his clothes was of a very coarse weave, like basket cloth, and was immediately confiscated by the people assembled there, to be treasured as a relic of this martyred priest who lost his life in the cause of religion.  Father (blank) showed me several pieces of the cloth that he had encased in a little golden reliquary – he told me that he was delegated by the Bishop to wash the body of the priest and prepare him for a Christian burial in priestly vestments, so he brought a basin of water and some clean linen cloths and proceeded with the washing of the body.  When he told me this I exclaimed, Father, you don’t mean to tell me that a body buried 350 years was still intact and that you were able to wash it?  Yes he said, he was I a perfect mummified condition.  He said that he raised one arm and washed it, then the other and finally turned him over so as to wash his back – all this being done in the presence of City Officials and Newspaper Men, who had gathered there with the clergy and people to witness the investigation.

     He said that when he went to wash his back, he noticed a small hole right under the left shoulder blade where the poisoned arrow had entered and pierced his heart.  Out of this hole three little red worms wiggled – he took them I the palm of his hand and showed them to the bishop – he then crushed them and gave them no further thought.  After finishing the washing of the body, he dressed it in new priestly robes and they enclosed it in a new casket and buried it down 10 feet, putting large stones on top, to weight the casket down, hoping that after this Christian burial his body would rest at peace.  I have been told that the church officials have since started an appeal to Rome, to have the martyred priest canonized a Saint.

Page 4

     The little Father told me that three days after this Phenomenon took place, his hand and arm began to swell and a bad case of blood poisoning set I – they rushed him to the hospital and the doctors despaired of saving his arm, or even his life.  He begged them not to amputate his arm and he prayed very fervently to God to spare him so that he could go back to work among the Indians, with whom he had been for over thirty five years.  He spoke their language fluently and was a great favorite with them.  He was a young French Priest, whose health was failing him in the old world, and the doctors ordered him to go to where the climate was high and dry and he would overcome the lung trouble he had; hence his arrival in New Mexico among the Indians with whom he remained all these years.

     After a long siege the doctors were able to save him without having to amputate his arm.  He returned to Isleta and began to ponder on what caused his illness.  He remembered the three little worms and figured one of them bit him, when he held them in his hand while washing the priest’s body.  He finally concluded, however, that he was afflicted because his hands were unworthy to touch the body of a Saint, which the martyred priest undoubtedly was.  Be this as it may, the worms originating in the hole where the poisoned arrow entered, must have been deadly poison for the Indians in those days used to extract poison from the head of venomous snakes to poison their arrows with -  that poison never dies; consequently the worms were poison.  There is a law in the Western Country that anyone killing a rattler must bury the head, so that nothing can come in contact with it.  As far as the little priest being unworthy I think that a priest who could live among the Indians for thirty five years, speaking their language and teaching them the word of God must be a pretty good saint himself.

     Before I departed he showed me a “Special Decoration” he had received, a few months previous, from the King of Belgium, who with his Queen visited the United States shortly after the World War was over.  The King and Queen heard Mass in this same little Indian Church and was so impressed that he presented the “Special Decoration” to the pastor – he was very proud of this honor from the King.

     I thanked him for his kindness in giving the information I sought and after receiving his blessing joined my friends who were waiting on the outside.  On our way back to Albuquerque I gave serious thought to things that had been told me, and I shall never regret my trip over the Old Indian Trail to Isleta.  A few seasons later I learned that this little Father had lost his sight entirely, and shortly thereafter passed away on to his eternal reward.  May he rest in peace.

     And now dear Gloria, I will bid you good night, thankful for the opportunity of refreshing my memory regarding one of the most interesting experiences of my life.  When you read this little story in the years to come think kindly of your Aunt and remember me in your prayers.


  1. What a treasure, Margel! That anyone thought to ask her about those memories, and that she put them in writing almost 8 decades ago...

    I have few letters surviving in my family history stuff. I know how precious they are.


  2. Margel, I'd like to speak with you about photos of my grandfather, Ed, that I found on your blog while doing some research. I have the same photos in my possession. My name is Tyler Kennelly, and you can reach me at tylerkennelly@gmail.com

    Hope to hear from you.

  3. Margel, I'd like to speak with you about photos of my grandfather, Ed, that I found on your blog while doing some research. I have the same photos in my possession. My name is Tyler Kennelly, and you can reach me at tylerkennelly@gmail.com

    Hope to hear from you.