Steamboat Explosion

Traveling on the Mississippi River had its own unique dangers. Consider Mother Caroline's account of her experience surviving the explosion of the steamboat Pennsylvania. What kept her going? What was the source of her courage in the years following this tragedy? Facilitator directions are available.

Mother Caroline provided accounts of her experience to the sisters in her congregation and to the Central Council of the Louis Mission Society, based in Bavaria–her main benefactors at the time. Read each of these accounts below.


Explosion account sent to sisters

Milwaukee, WI

June 17, 1858

My dear Sisters:

My visitation journey to New Orleans on which I set out May 28th, terminated with great afflictions. I had to take our two young Sisters, M. Patritia [Hussey] and Hyacinth [Zimmermann] with me, and our good Rev. Father [Anton Urbanek] accompanied us. We reached New Orleans with unusual speed, and on the feast of Corpus Christi at 6:00 a.m. we were at the Sisters' house. This unexpected meeting was a joyful surprise for all. I had the consolation to find the sisters all enjoying good health, excepting our dear sister Jacobina [Diener], who is not really sick, but very delicate. We have 120 orphans in our [St. Joseph] asylum there. Notwithstanding the great heat, they, too, are all well and in good spirits; but the Sisters have hard work to take care of them. The English as well as the German schools, have a great increase of attendance, for which reason, I had to hasten thither with the two above named Sisters. We stayed six days and suffered considerably from the heat; yet it was not so oppressive as we had expected.

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Explosion account sent to Mission Society

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

May 31, 1859

[Excerpt from Report to the Central Council of the Louis Mission Society Regarding the Explosion on the Mississippi]

It was June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, a Sunday morning between five and six o’clock, about 60 miles from Memphis when the boiler exploded. One single bang and a third of the ship was blown to the sky! Almost 200 people lost their lives, were torn to pieces, burned, scalded, crippled or drowned. Among them – O inexplicable destiny – the two Reverend Fathers Urbanek and de la Crosse. The Sister of Charity had the consolation of seeing her Reverend Confessor still alive. Longingly, he asked for Holy Communion, which however could not be given him. Reverend Father Urbanek disappeared without a trace, God alone knows how. I searched and found nothing; everything was useless. I cannot describe my sorrow and the fearful worry that came over me. Naturally speaking it is inconceivable that I did not lose my presence of mind, even when holding on to the strong cable between fire and water, in order to save my life.


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