Eleanor Cecilia Bailly was born on June 2, 1815, to Joseph and Marie Bailly. Joseph was a very successful French-Canadian fur-trader. He established a trading post near present-day Porter County in Indiana, near the town of Chesterton. This made him an important part of the western fur trade and the primary pioneer in that area.
Marie Le Fevre de la Vigne was a woman of French and Native American descent. She belonged to the Ottawa Indian tribe and was known as “the Lily of the Lakes” for her beauty.
They were both rooted in strong Catholic values and wished to pass this on to their children.
Joseph and Marie were both previously married. They were basically known as common law marriages in those days. Joseph was married to an Indian from the Ottawa tribe. Instead of recognizing the Catholic faith, she began following her tribe’s religion and following pagan rituals. The couple went their separate ways because of this.
Marie was married to an Indian in her own tribe. He did not treat her very well, so she sold what she could and bought her freedom.
Joseph had four sons and one daughter from his marriage and Marie had two daughters. Together they bore four daughters and one son — Esther in 1811, Rose in 1813, Eleanor in 1815, Robert in 1817 and Hortense in 1819.
In 1817, they made their home on the Calumet River. The Bailly Homestead became the principal fur trading post in northern Indiana. Many Indians passed through this area and attended Mass at the Bailly Homestead. Traveling priests would also come by to direct Mass. Mass was held in the living room of the Bailly house at first, but then Joseph used the old log house on the grounds and converted it into a chapel. Mass was held there from that point on.
The Bailly Homestead is still standing today. The Homestead was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962. It is preserved by the National Park Service at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
It was in the living room of this house that Eleanor began her education. When Eleanor was 8 years old she attended Reverend McCoy’s Mission from 1823-1827. It was a Baptist education mission in Michigan.
By the time the Bailly children left home they could converse in French, Ottawa and Potawatomi.
When Eleanor became of age, her father sent her, her older sister, Rose, and Robert to Fort Wayne, Ind., to the Carey Institute. The girls received high praises while studying there. Sadly, Eleanor’s younger brother, Robert, contracted typhoid fever and died there at the age of 10. His remains were later moved to the Bailly Homestead Cemetery.
Eleanor and Rose continued their education in Windsor, Canada, at the convent boarding school. From there, they went to Montreal. After studying in Montreal, they went back over to Detroit to finish their education. Esther, Eleanor’s older sister, lived there and introduced her to Detroit society. Eleanor spent a lot of time practicing her piano while there. Her musical gifts would always serve her well.
As the years started to go by, Eleanor’s sisters all married. Eleanor definitely had her suitors. She was even known as the “Belle of Detroit.”
This article was written by Paul Beel, a staff member in the Mission Advancement office and an admirer of Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly. Paul is also a Providence Associate.