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Charles Coomes & Frances Alvey Affair

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: About Mar 1827 to about 1830
Location: Union, Kentucky, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Coomes Alvey
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Doyle, Mary Ellen. Pioneer Spirit: Catherine Spalding, Sister of Charity of Nazareth. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006), pp. 84-86, Books.Google.com, ([1]: accessed 16 December 2021)

Quotes from pp. 84-86

”No loss could have been more traumatic to Catherine than one in 1827. This episode was dropped from published history, doubtless to spare family members and descendants. But it was so important at the time, so drained Catherine’s emotional and spiritual resources, that it requires attention. She had known well both the people involved, so that her sensitivities had to be deeply wounded.
The first person was Father Charles Coomes, who had come to St. Thomas in his early teens. Catherine had known him there as a seminarian and then as pastoral minister. There is no reason to doubt she had given him her respect and friendship. The other person was Sister Perpetua (Frances) Alvey from Union County. Catherine had been her Mistress of Novices at Nazareth and her superior for eight months at Scott County. Whatever her assessment of this young Sister, Catherine had to feel for her a sense of responsibility and a mother’s hope.
Coomes and Sister Perpetua met when he was assigned to Scott County, where he created ‘inquietude’ by ‘private interviews with some sisters at undue hours and against the rules.’ Flaget told Bishop Rosati of St. Louis that Coomes had committed no grave faults against morals. It seems clear, however, that this very young priest was wrestling with his promise of celibacy and endangering the similar promise of equally young Sisters. The local superior sounded a warning, and Catherine went to Scott County to deal directly with the issue. She escorted Perpetua and another Sister back to Nazareth, where, said David, ‘we thought we had brought them to their senses by the most charitable, paternal and maternal treatment by the Mother and myself.’
But Catherine’s suffering had only begun. It peaked on a Sunday afternoon when Coomes came to Nazareth to persuade the two young Sisters to return to their homes under his escort. According to Flaget, ‘In vain the mother [Catherine] offered him some thoughts full of wisdom to arrest his imprudent step. Each statement he opposed and made bitter reproaches to the superior.’
Catherine knew her need for practical and emotional support. Though it was Sunday and she knew Flaget’s occupations, she and her officers sent for him. They gathered with the priest and two Sisters, and Flaget tried to persuade the young women of the ‘indecency’ of the proposed journey, promised to send them home at his own expense with a proper escort, and begged them to trust his age and experience of the world. One Sister heeded him, but Frances Avley went with Coomes, probably that very afternoon. One can only image how Catherine’s emotions were wrung out by the day’s end, how much she needed consolation and whatever sleep she got that night. Flaget says ‘her heart was profoundly wounded.’ It is worth remembering that the Mother who had to summon all the wisdom she had in this crisis of young emotions was herself thirty-three years old.
That Sunday, however, was not the end of Catherine’s trauma. Instead of taking Frances Alvey to her parents, Coomes took her to Missouri and placed her as a guest in a convent of the Sisters of Loretto, while he vacillated about returning to the Bardstown diocese or transferring to that of St. Louis. Flaget now refused Coomes because he had ‘conceived a kind of hatred’ for the Sisters of Charity and had written a ‘violent and insulting’ letter to Catherine. Flaget wrote this account on Good Friday, 1827. Catherine, too, had her share of the day’s sorrows in Coome’s reproaches and especially in her concern for her young Sister adrift at the whim of an unstable young man already unfaithful to his own vows of ordination.
Throughout the summer of 1827, new episodes prolonged the story, all surely known to Catherine through the bishops. In the autumn, Frances Alvey finally went to her home. Coomes followed her, and they were married in the Alvey parlor by a Methodist minister. Church law required public excommunication of the unfaithful priest. This was performed in the Bardstown Cathedral on All Saint’s Day, 1827, with a huge crowd there to witness Flaget’s stern but intense grief. No record tells whether Catherine was present.”
Reference 48: “Coomes died in 1830, only three years after his marriage. Webb says he never justified himself by impugning the Catholic faith and practice and died ‘heartily repenting the scandal he had occasioned.’ Frances Alvey Coomes lived on as ‘devotedly Catholic’; she was buried in the parish cemetery. They had twins, Charles and Mary Anne; the latter is known to have married, lived as a Catholic, and raised a large family.”

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