Aboard the Andrea Doria Ship

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The Andrea Doria ship in port in New York in 1955. On July 26, 1956, this ship sank off the coast of New York. Sister Callistus Arnsby travelled on the Andrea Doria when it collided with the MV Stockholm, and this would prove a formative moment in her life.

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Sister Callistus arriving home. Sister Callistus Arnsby gets out of a car as several Sisters greet her. It is likely that this is her arrival back to London after her experience on the Andrea Doria. The time period is correct, and the Sisters accompanying her are those who went and met her in St Thomas.

In 1987, Sister Callistus spoke to the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph at Mount St Joseph Motherhouse in London, Ontario. This is Part One of her account.

After her year spent in Italy, Sr Callistus and Sr Marie Raymond, a Dominican sister from Grand Rapids, Michigan, secured passage on the Andrea Doria to New York. Sister Callistus described a beautiful ship, with canvasses, murals, frescoes, tapestries, sculptures, and mirrors everywhere.

On the night of July 26, 1956, the Swedish ship Stockholm struck the Andrea Doria port side creating a large tear in her hull. Chaos ensued, and the cabins were evacuated. Sisters Callistus and Marie Raymond rushed out of their berths and dressed quickly, throwing on their habits and head linens.

They joined the other passengers in the Promenade Deck lounge to await information and instruction. The Andrea Doria was listing significantly, making moving around the ship difficult. Once they arrived in the lounge, the Sisters discovered that glasses had been thrown off the bar and the furniture was out of place, creating quite a danger. The bar-keeper found heavy rope and tied it between the pillars in the lounge to help people move around.

Sister Callistus and Sister Angelita, an Italian Sister, tried to calm the upset passengers by praying the Rosary. There were several priests on board the Andrea Doria, and one of them, realizing the gravity of the event, came into the lounge and pronounced a General Absolution to all those who truly repented of their sins.

The passengers received no information from Captain Calamai or any of the ship's officers. No one ever told them that the ship was in danger of sinking or that half the lifeboats were useless. Sister Callistus found out later that the captain was so shocked by the event that he had been rendered "totally useless."

Several small ships responded to the Andrea Doria's distress call, as did the French luxury liner the Ile de France. The French liner went 200 miles out of its way to respond to the distress call and the captain asked for volunteers to man the 32 lifeboats. The Stockholm, the very ship that collided with the Andrea Doria, also responded to the call.

Still, the passengers knew nothing of this. All Sister Callistus could see from the Promenade Deck was crew members using the Andrea Doria's lifeboats to save themselves. The barman in the lounge went to investigate, and upon his return he led them to the open boat deck where, by this time, the Ile de France was waiting.

Once on the Ile de France, they were given hot coffee, blankets, and sandwiches. Sister Callistus, however, was completely sapped of all her strength and the power of speech. She recalls that many passengers were taken to the hospital through the early hours of the morning.

At about 7 a.m., the chaplain of the Ile de France offered a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Chapel after which they were given permission to send a cable free of charge. Sister Callistus sent a cable to Mother Margaret Coughlin in London, Ontario telling her that she had gotten off the Andrea Doria and that she was safe.

Sister Callistus continued to comfort and reassure the distressed passengers. She recalls particularly one man, Dr. Peterson, whose wife, Martha, had been killed. Sister found out later that his wife had been crushed by the elevator shaft which fell on her bed. Martha and Dr Peterson had been traveling home from a medical conference Europe and had gotten tickets for the Andrea Doria after an unexpected cancellation. The night of the crash, the maid had put their nightclothes on opposite beds, and the two decided to sleep in each other's beds. When the collision occurred, Dr. Peterson was thrown out of his bed while Martha was pinned under the shaft and eventually killed, despite the efforts of many to free her.

Sister Marie Raymond, who was Sister Callistus' traveling companion, contacted her Reverend Mother who arranged for a Dominican priest to take the two Sisters to one of their convents in New York. From New York, Sister Callistus traveled to St Thomas, Ontario, arriving at 5 a.m. on the Saturday. She was met by Sister Baptista and Sister Immanuel who came to get her and take her to the convent in St Thomas to rest. Mother Margaret and Sister St. Martin came in the community car to bring her home. Sister Callistus was received with a great welcome when she returned to London.

Aboard the Andrea Doria Ship