A Secret Civil War Engagement
At the time that he was killed during the first day of the battle, John Reynolds was secretly engaged to a woman by the name of Kate Hewett. His family did not even know about Kate. But when Reynolds’ body was returned home to Lancaster, PA., it was discovered that he was wearing her Catholic medal and a ring made up of two clasped hands with the words “Dear Kate” inscribed inside.
The reason for the secret engagement was that Reynolds was a Protestant, and Kate was a Catholic and crossing line of faith for love was unacceptable in the 19th century. Kate was from New York and the two had met in San Francisco and planned to marry after the war. When news got out that Reynolds was dead, Kate could no longer keep the secret and felt she had to see her beloved John one more time and came to the family home, surprising his family.
Reynolds’ sister, Jennie Reynolds Gildersleeve, wrote to her brother Will, a captain in the United States Navy, “She seems to be a very superior person. We all regret that he [John] had not told some of us about her, and that we had [not] known her, yet are happy she came and had all the comfort we could offer her.”
Prior to the war, John and Kate made a pact that if he should die, that she would join a convent and become a nun. Eight days after Reynolds’ burial in Lancaster, Kate Hewitt applied for admission to the Sisters of Charity Convent in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Changing her name to Sister Hilegartis, she then moved to Albany, New York, where she taught at a school operated by the Sisters of Charity.
On September 3, 1868, Kate left the Community of the Sisters of Charity. She gave up the Catholic faith and returned to her hometown, Stillwater, New York. Kate never married.Catherine Mary Hewitt died of pneumonia at Stillwater in 1895. She is buried in the Stillwater Union Cemetery. Her stone is an octagon, symbolic of rebirth and resurrection. The word’ Mizpah’ is carved on the stone; a Hebrew benediction meaning, ‘May God watch over you until we are together again.’