Saturday, June 8, 1907: A nun kidnapped

Posted on June 13th, 2006 – 6:42 AM
By Ben Welter

This fascinating tale appeared on page one of the Minneapolis Tribune. The article provides all the clues you’ll need to figure out who committed a daring crime. Or you can skip straight to the end to learn what prompted the strange kidnapping of Sister Borromeo, nee Emily (Minnie) Digle. The original misspellings of her name are preserved:

ABDUCTED

Sister Is Kidnaped From
Parochial Schoolroom
At Duluth.

TWO MEN SPIRIT
WOMAN FROM SCENE

Daring Crime Committed
Before Pupils – Police
Now Searching.

VICTIM’S PARENTS
RESIDE IN ST. PAUL

Father Opposed Daughter
Taking Veil – Is Now
Out of City.

DULUTH, Minn., June 8. (Special) – Sister Borromea of St. Clement’s Catholic school was kidnaped yesterday by two men who have disappeared, leaving no trace of themselves or their victim. The outrage was one of the most daring ever enacted in Minnesota.

Duluth News Tribune headlines painted dramatic images of the abduction. According to later newspaper accounts, though, Digle hadn’t made much of a fuss during her removal, and no mob chased the hack.

TWO MEN ENTER.

The sister was teaching in the primary room at 1:30 in the afternoon, when the two men entered, seized and carried her half a block to a hack, thrust her in and dashed away.

Her young pupils were spellbound with terror and stood mute for several seconds, but when the sister was being borne screaming to the street, they regained their senses and raised an outcry which alarmed the entire neighborhood.

The police were notified and every officer in the city was warned to look for the kidnapers. A special detail of six men was also put on the case, but no trace of the sister or her assailants has been found up to midnight.

It is believed that they are still in the city or the country nearby.

Mother Scholastica Kerst, prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery, where Sister Borromeo lived.

The abducted woman is 24 years old and is the daughter of Edward Deigle, superintendent of the St. Paul terminal railroad yards. He is a non-Catholic and has opposed his daughter taking the veil.

She was to make the final vow, binding her for life, July 11.

The screams and entreaties of the nun as she was carried bodily into the street by her abductors attracted several hundred students of the school and persons in the neighborhood, and before the carriage was half a block away a howling mob was in pursuit. They were soon distanced, however, and abandoning the chase they turned to the police for aid.

SITTING AT DESK.

The abduction was marked with a degree of desperation and boldness seldom equaled. Sister Borromea was sitting at her desk when two men entered, and advanced toward her at a rapid pace.

As they approached her the sister bowed courteously and called the heavier of the two “Father” in her salutation.

Without a moment’s warning they seized the teacher, one taking her by her arms and the other by her lower limbs and carried her to the door. The sister screamed and fought desperately, but she was powerless in the hands of her abductors.

Without once pausing they bore her to the street and thrust her into a hack.

DEIGLES AWAY.

Little could be learned last night regarding the Deigle family, and the abduction of the daughter in Duluth. Mr. Deigle just recently took charge of the terminals in St. Paul. The family, which at present consists of only man and wife, lives at North St. Paul. The father could not be reached by telephone last night, and neighbors said that he and his wife had gone away on a fishing trip.

FOLLOWUP: The next day, the Tribune reported that Sister Borromeo’s father, a Protestant, had kidnapped her to return her to the family and prevent her from taking her final vows that summer. “We did what we thought was best,” he said. His daughter was reported to be calm about the abduction, but insisted she would return to the convent “as soon as I get a chance.”

I contacted Sister Margaret Clarke, archivist at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, for background on the case. She kindly forwarded copies of newspaper clippings and correspondence from the period, including heartwrenching exchanges between Mother Scholastica and Sister Borromeo.

“I am fully convinced that you have a vocation, and a good one, so is every body else that knows you; and we do sincerely hope and pray that our dear Lord will give you courage to persevere, and not look back at the ‘flesh-pots of Egypt,’ ” wrote the prioress in a letter dated June 11, 1907.

A portion of the letter from Sister Borromeo to Mother Scholastica, June 1907.

“Oh Mother such agony I am going through … I am the most unhappy creature on earth,” Sister Borromeo wrote in a handwritten letter dated June 18. With the help of supporters, including St. Paul’s chief of police, the kidnapped nun returned to the monastery in late June and made her final vows on July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict.

But that’s not the end of the story.

The following July, Sister Borromeo left the motherhouse again, “without any warning whatever, and is likely gone to her people,” Mother Scholastica explained in a letter to the bishop of the Duluth diocese. “Whatever did not suit her I cannot tell; everybody was always kind to her and made a good deal of allowance, though she often proved rather frivolous.”

Sixteen years later, a contrite Minnie Digle wrote to the monastery’s new prioress, Mother Agnes Somers, seeking “readmission to the Benedictine order and your community.” She admitted fault in leaving the community in 1908, attributing it to “a fit of temper” and a misunderstanding with Mother Scholastica. She also wished to put to rest rumors that she had cooperated in the 1907 kidnapping, saying she would be willing to take an oath that she was not responsible in any way and “resisted as far as it lay in my power.”

Mother Agnes put the matter to a vote of the community. Those opposing Digle’s return carried the day, 83-41.

The prioress explained the decision in a letter to the Duluth bishop dated June 24, 1924: “I was not familiar with Miss Digle’s history and I was astonished at the amount of opposition that was shown, but I was even more astonished at the reasons for it. The Sisters, and most of them the older ones, were almost unanimous in saying that Miss Digle was fickle, untruthful and given to spectacular conduct, and that they doubted her sincerity now.”

Mother Agnes broke the bad news in a brief, typewritten note:

“Dear Miss Digle:

“As I promised you I have laid your request before the Sisters and though the Sisters sympathize with you in your desire to return to our community it is the opinion of the large majority that your re-entrance here is not for your own happiness nor for the best interests of our community.

“The sisters suggest that you enter some other Benedictine convent where the regretful past is not so well known, and I personally am most willing to help you if you decide to do so.

“With sincere good wishes from all the Sisters, I am

“Yours very sincerely in Christ,

“M. Agnes”

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