If it hadn’t been for Charles Routt, there might not be any Springfield Dominicans. Time and again, he came to the community’s aid. Like the sisters, Routt was a Kentuckian by birth. His family moved to the Jacksonville area in 1834 when Routt was nine years old.
They belonged to the Christian Church, now known as the Disciples of Christ, but Routt became Catholic in 1840. The sisters arrived in Jacksonville in 1873 and a few years later began a friendship with Routt that changed the course of their history.
In 1876 the pastor of Our Saviour Church became very ill and fell behind in paying the sisters’ salaries. The community soon ran up bills with the grocer and the butcher. Something had to be done. Sister Josephine Meagher proposed that she and Mother Cecilia Carey approach Routt, who was then a parish trustee, for a loan. Routt made the loan, and thus began a long a fruitful friendship.
The sisters paid off the loan a few months later but sill carried a considerable debt on their new motherhouse.
“Once Mr. Routt had put his finger in their finances, never as long as he lived would he withdraw it,” wrote Sister Thomas Aquinas Winterbauer in Lest We Forget, a congregational history she authored. Routt had a knack for helping the sisters in a way that did not embarrass the struggling community. “He found various ways and means of redeeming this or that note for them and erasing it from their accounts,” Sister Thomas Aquinas wrote.
Routt was, however, more than a man with deep pockets. He became a valued friend and advisor. The sisters even allowed him to vote on financial matters. When the community decided to relocate the motherhouse to Springfield, Routt scouted properties. He was the first to show Mother Agnes McGuire and Sister Josephine the tract on West Monroe Street, to which the community relocated in 1893 and where it remains. Once again Routt helped out with a combination of loans and donations.
Routt’s death on November 26, 1894, was a sad occasion for the community. Generous even in death, his last will and testament released the sisters from a debt of about $50,000. Their friend nurtured the community at a critical stage of their development. His guidance and support, combined with the sisters’ hard work and God’s providence, allowed the community to grow and flourish.
Adapted from a story by Sister Susan Karina Dickey first published in JUST Words, Fall 2006.