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Archives Under Four Flags: Iroquois, La Presentation, Fort Oswegatchie, Ogdensburg
See City is focus of revised history

March 21, 2018

By Mary Lou Kilian

Ogdensburg – More than four decades have passed since St. Joseph Sister Mary Christine Taylor accepted the Under Four Flagschallenge to write a revised history of the city of Ogdensburg.

With the publication of “Under Four Flags” this past November, the renowned local historian has realized a goal set back in the early 1970’s.

“After the publication of the “Centennial History of the Diocese of Ogdensburg,” (in 1972) I was asked to update Monsignor P.S. Garand's History of the City,” she told the North Country Catholic. “Msgr. Anthony A. Milia, Dr. Maurice M. Rosenbaum, and Frank A. Augsbury were most eager to have a revised history.  

But Sister Mary Christine, who has published three other history books, knew that historical research is a time-consuming endeavor.

“I agreed to begin the work as long as no time limit was placed on me,” she said. “History would be secondary to my primary religious commitment as a Sister of St. Joseph

“The ultimate wisdom of living a religious life is to glorify God in the service of Christ - especially the poor, the Under Four Flagsundereducated, the sick, the elderly,” she said. “The ministry at Mater Dei College, Wadhams Hall Seminary-College, and St. Regis Mohawk Indian Mission had priority. Work on the history would be limited.”

While the work may have been limited, in the end it was a massive undertaking. “Under Four Flags,” is 732 pages including detailed appendixes.

“I tried to give credit to as many natives of Ogdensburg as possible, so I read thousands of city and county newspapers,” she said. “What began in handwritten notes on cards and early compositions on an old typewriter with carbon copies, eventually moved into my first computer.

“Finding and inserting photos was especially challenging,” she said, “as I had to make each chapter a finished product.”

But, she said, “I never lost faith that "with God all things are possible!".   

Among her goals in writing the history was to assist the next generation of historians.

“There have been several books about selected events in Ogdensburg's history, but I wanted to share with future historians quotes from primary documents that could be of assistance in their research,” she said. “I have recorded  detailed footnotes for them.”

Sister Christine sees Ogdensburg as unique among other communities in the North Country.

“Ogdensburg is the See of the diocese that spans eight northern counties in New York State,” she said.

“Ogdensburg is the only United States city on the great St. Lawrence River and is the Northern Gate of the Empire State. 

“On a main artery of trade for the Iroquois Natives, the port at the junction of the St. Lawrence and Oswegatchie Rivers was important in international wars  - the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Patriot War,” she said.

And, “especially unique were the poor immigrants who built the city: Yankees like Nathan Ford and Louis Hasbrouck, Germans like George Parish and Frank Augsbury, Belgians like John Rosseel, Irish like John Hannan and Thomas Spratt, Hebrews like Mayer Sperling and Nathan Frank, Canadians like the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa.

Sister Christine said that she remains hopeful for the future of a city that has seen a decline in population and wealth in recent years.

“Over the centuries, Ogdensburg's fine families have sent forth talented youth to build up American society,” she said. “Unfortunately, the city lacked employment opportunities to keep such talent at home. 

“The city's economy suffered from the demise of railroads, ferryboats, excursion boats, grain vessels, brass and shade-roller factories, and locally-owned enterprises,” Sister Christine said. “The expected impact on city trade due to the St. Lawrence Seaway never materialized. 

“An arterial highway bypassed the center of the city where locally-owned stores used to thrive,” she said.

“Urban renewal projects demolished historic buildings and  happy gatherings at the Busy Corner. Parochial schools could not survive in local parishes.  Faith-filled churches gave way to decreasing religious observance throughout the city.

“Despite so many setbacks, there is always hope for the future, Sister Christine said.

“Ogdensburg continues to have outstanding religious, educational, and business leaders who generously give their time to works of charity and community programs,” she said. “We still have families who nourish faith and charity in their children. The People of God can make a difference. ‘Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.’”

Under FOur Flags

Photo by Deacon James Crowley
Bishop LaValley congratulates St. Joseph Sister Mary Christine Taylor, an Ogdensburg native who now lives in Bombay and serves at St. Regis Mission, on the publication of her revised history of the city of Ogdensburg. “Under Four Flags” is a 732-page documentary history of the See City.

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