Monday, January 5, 2009

Missus Mattingly's Miracle Cure

In spring of 1824, the bells of Georgetown College pealed for a full day with news of a miracle that had taken place in nearby Foggy Bottom. The event, which triggered great cynicism and controversy--even within the Catholic Church--was viewed with awe by the common folk of Georgetown and triggered more than a few religious conversions, including from among my own ancestors.

It involved a 30-year-old German priest with a name as incredible as the healing powers he was said to possess, and the sister of the Mayor of Washington, Ann Carberry Mattingly.

Ann Carberry was born in St. Mary’s County in about 1781, one of the nine children of Thomas Carberry and Asenath Simmons, whose ancestors had settled Maryland in the mid-1600s. Anne’s brother was a Catholic priest at St. Inigoes in Saint Mary’s County. Another brother, Thomas, served as the sixth mayor of Washington in 1822—this following a hotly-contested election that brought into question his former military record.

In the early winter of 1803, she married John Mattingly, and the couple eventually moved to Washington D.C., where they raised four children: William, George, John and Mary Susan. Ann’s husband died when he was in his forties, and little else is known of her life, either before or after her marriage—certainly nothing that would give any hints of the dramatic events that took place in 1824, during the last year of her Georgetown brother’s post as Mayor of the city.

According to her brother, Mayor Carberry, she had been living with him since 1815. , and two years later, when she was about age 34, Mrs. Mattingly discovered a tumor “the size of a pigeon egg,” growing just beneath her left breast. Painful to the touch, it began to grow, and within a year, the woman was bedridden and in constant pain. Her doctors, William Jones and Alexander McWilliams, were helpless to offer her any remedy except for hemlock, mercury and generous doses of laudanum—as many as 350 drops a day. Her misery only increased with the development of bedsores and the onset of constant vomiting. In early 1824, her doctors pronounced her a hopeless case, and Ann Mattingly resigned herself to death. Friends and family, however, held out one last hope.

Enter Étienne Larigaudelle Dubuisson—Father Stephen, as his Jesuit colleagues knew him. Born in Haiti to creole parents and raised in Nantes, this former employee of the French Army felt a calling to the priesthood, much to the objection of his parents. Dubuisson left Paris in secret for Maryland—and Georgetown College. There, he was miserable, disliking fellow students almost as much as they disliked him. He was appointed prefect a year later, in 1816. His efforts to crack down the unruly pupils made him so unpopular that in 1818, students hatched a plot to kill him in study hall. Luckily for both, the plot was uncovered by a fellow priest, and the would-be assassins were expelled. Undaunted, Dubuisson continued his religious studies and in 1821 was ordained a priest.

He was known to be a brilliant orator, and it is said that when he preached at Holy Trinity, it was to a standing-room-only crowd. He no doubt projected an old-world sophistication that made him stand out in Georgetown; this was only enhanced by the fact that he spoke several languages and had once served as treasurer of the French Crown.

Mrs. Mattingly’s friends approached Dubuisson, urging him to call in the Big Gun: A titled cleric from Bamburg, Germany bearing the extraordinary name of Prince Alexander Leopold Hohenlohe-Waldenbourg-Schillingsfurst.

A priest with a reputation for effecting miracle cures through prayer, Father Hohenlohe had been banned from public “miracle-working” by the Pope, but allowed to cure in private. Ann Mattingly had little to lose and gave her consent for the German priest to be contacted. Father Anthony Kohlman, of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, wrote the letter.

Hohenlohe replied in a letter to the Archbishop of Baltimore that he would offer a special Mass for anyone wanting his help on the 10th of every month, 9:00 a.m. European time. Mrs. Mattingly’s priests should offer a novena—9 days of prayer—in the days preceding this Mass.

Throughout the nine-day novena, Mrs. Mattingly was fading fast. On the morning of the 10th, to coincide with the Mass being said by Father Hohenlohe in Hamburg, Father Dubuisson said a special Mass at Saint Patrick’s Church on 10th Street, downtown. As soon as he was through, he raced by carriage to Mrs. Mattingly’s bedside to bring her Holy Communion.

The five or six witnesses in her bedroom that dark morning—friends, family, doctors and priests—say she was barely able to move as Father Dubuisson read the text of Hohenlohe’s letter and prepared to read the last rites. He then offered her Communion; by now, it was 4:15 a.m., and it took her some minutes to work the thin wafer down her parched throat. Later, Mrs. Mattingly would say, “I believed that the hour was at hand…In the distressing situation, I calmly and without agitation of mind awaited the final close of my earthly miseries…”

This is how Father Dubuisson described what happened next: “Mrs. Mattingly fetches a deep sigh, rises slowly to a sitting posture, stretches her arm forward, and exclaims with a firm but somewhat weak voice, ‘Lord Jesus, what have I done to deserve so great a favor?’”

Mrs. Mattingly, who was wearing only bedclothes, sat up on the side of her bed and asked for her stockings. These were brought to her, and she put them on and began to get out of bed, to the astonishment of the others in the room, who gasped or cried outright. Father Dubuisson suggested a prayer of thanks, and when he had finished, the patient got out of bed and knelt down, proclaiming the tumor was gone, as were the ulcerations on her back.

“Suddenly,” she later said, “in the twinkling of an eye, the pain left me, my body was entirely healed, and I found myself in perfect health.” Indeed, such perfect health that she immediately began moving around the room, pulling at the heavy curtains and tidying things. Later, she had a hearty breakfast, where before her “cure,” she had not been able to manage eating much of anything at all.
Word spread quickly through the streets of town and the bells of the Catholic churches began to ring in celebration and it is said that more than a few Protestants converted to Catholicism before the furor died down. Family and friends who had witnessed the miracle wrote testimonials on her behalf, including Father Dubuisson.

Looking back, it might have been seen as a public relations triumph for the Catholic Church, still fighting to maintain itself in an overwhelmingly Protestant America. Some of the worst skeptics were to be found in the Catholic Church itself. The Archbisop of Baltimore scolded Dubuisson, urging him to “moderate and guide the popular emotion” in order to avoid “irreparable evil and scandal.” Father Matthews later commented with sarcasm, saying the ‘miracle’ had caused so much trouble that it was a “happy thing” miracles didn’t occur more often. The parties involved all gave sworn depositions to both the Church to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the end, the entire incident was downplayed, out of fear it would incite a superstitious public. Rome never issued a statement.

Gradually, the numbers of well-wishers beating a path to Mrs. Mattingly’s door died down. So, too, did her notoriety. She briefly joined Visitation Convent, much later in life, but left after only a year. She is said to have witnessed a second miraculous cure—this time, it was an injured foot. She died in quiet obscurity at the age of 71.

Father Dubuisson served as President of Georgetown College for awhile, but so hated the job that he begged to be relieved from it. After a brief nervous breakdown, he went on to have a distinguished career as a missionary pastor. He died in France in 1864.

Trinity’s Father Kohlman went to Rome and ended up as the tutor of the future Pope Leo XIII.

Timothy Carbery never ran for Mayor again.

Seen below, Carbery house, 17th and C Streets, NW, built ca. 1818. Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

Father Hohenlohe went on to become, in 1844, Chorepiscopus and Titular Bishop of Sardico. His method of curing the sick was continued after his death by his friend and disciple, Joseph Forster, pastor of Hüttenheim, who died in 1875.

And to this day, every March 10th, St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, where Father Dubuisson said the Mass for Ann Mattingly, marks the occasion with a special novena in memory of the event.

©Cecily Hilleary 2009,

Top Photo: Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown, ca. 1849, Courtesy Woodstock College Archives, Georgetown University Special Collections Research Center.


Anonymous said...

Ann Carbery and Thomas Mattingly were my ggg grandparents. Carbery, Lay, Martin, Fox.
Joe Fox

Quondam Washington said...

Was this story passed down in your family? Email me at All the best, and thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Please note the correct spelling for the Carbery family in this case is Carbery.
I happen to have the full account of this event as written in the annals of the Georgetown convent.
yours sincerely

Quondam Washington said...

QW isn't sure just how she latched onto this particular misspelling--and is duly chastised!

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