Saturday, June 16, 2012

Great Aunt Adelia

My great grandparents James Tolman Pyle and Frances Adelaide McAlpin (see their New York Times wedding notice here) had six children, born between 1884 and 1901. Their fifth child, Charles McAlpin Pyle, was my paternal grandfather. The third child, a daughter, was born on April 17, 1888 at her parents' home at West 45th Street in New York City. The following September, Adelia McAlpin Pyle was baptized in the Church of the Covenant (Presbyterian), at Park Avenue and East 35th Street in New York City.

I have been contacted three times since I started this blog by people interested in my great aunt Adelia (known as Mary Pyle; she took that name when she converted to Catholicism) to gather information in pursuit of her becoming a saint in the Catholic Church.

Those who have emailed me know more about my great aunt than I do and have been very willing to share information for which I am grateful. The information I do have is from census records and her passport applications, as well as a few published books. I share two of her (extensive) passport applications below.

By 1918, Aunt Adelia had been working with Dr. Maria Montessori, "the distinguished Italian educator, anthropologist and physician" for three years. She applied for a passport while working with Dr. Montessori in Los Angeles, California, in order to travel with her to assist in educational work in Spain. The passport application confirms that her birth date was April 17, 1888, in New York and that her father was James T. Pyle, born in New York. At this time, her permanent residence is Los Angeles, where she is a teacher. The passport also indicates that "I intend to return to the United States within indefinite."

The second page of the application indicates that she is 30 years old, 5 feet, 4 inches tall and includes other physical descriptions.

There is also an affidavit confirming that she is who she says she is.

Aunt Adelia has written a letter to accompany her passport application.

I wonder if, because the Great War was still raging in Europe, it was difficult to obtain a passport and travel to Europe, especially as a woman, and that's why there is all this additional documentation with her passport application.

Maria Montessori has also written a letter noting that she desires to have Miss Pyle accompany her to Barcelona, Spain, and that if the Red Cross would accept her services, they would "help war children of any of the allied Nations; such as France, Italy or England." Dr. Montessori notes that she encloses a letter of Prof. Hewett "testifying to the ability and sterling character of Miss Pyle."

She requests that "Miss Pyle's application will receive early and favorable consideration."

And here is the letter from Edgar L. Hewett, the Director of the San Diego Museum and School of American Research, in which he describes Aunt Adelia as proficient in English, French, Italian, and Spanish, and indispensable to Dr. Montessori's work.

He writes that he "can vouch for the imperative character of the purpose which takes Miss Pyle to Europe at the present time, and for her absolute necessity to the world-wide work of Dr. Montessori."

The following passport photograph is on each page of the passport application. Yes, there is a family resemblance here...

1918 passport application source citation:, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 469


In 1923, Aunt Adelia was living in Naples, Italy, and applied for a renewal of her passport with the American Consulate.

The application, although completed at the consulate at Naples, Italy, went through Washington, D.C., where the passport was issued.

I noticed a few discrepancies in this application. For one, she indicates that she last left the United States in January 1917, when we can see from the above passport that she left in February 1918.

This application also indicates that she received a passport in February 1921, but I haven't had luck finding that application. And her legal domicile is now Morristown, New Jersey.

This application indicates that she arrived in Naples in November 1922.

Again, we get the physical description of Aunt Adelia as well as a not very clear photograph of her.

Note that the second "reference in the United States" should read Charles W. McAlpin, Hotel McAlpin, New York City. This is her mother's brother, (1865 - 1942), who served as Secretary of Princeton University from 1901 to 1914. The Hotel McAlpin was likely his address when he was in the City. His home was Glen Alpin, Harding Township, New Jersey.

This passport application included an "Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation" where Aunt Adelia indicates that she has been living in Europe as an interpreter but intends to return to the United States within one year from now.

Based on what I've read about Aunt Adelia's conversion to Catholicism after meeting Padre Pio, I'm not sure how much time she really spent in the United States after she arrived in Italy.

It looks like the Vice-Consul of the United States believed that Aunt Adelia was going to return to the United States. This last page of the passport application is an affidavit stating that the Vice Consul believes that Aunt Adelia is entitled to protection as an American citizen.

1923 passport application source citation:, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series:M1490; Roll #: 2190

From what I've read, I believe that soon after she arrived in Italy, she was drawn to Padre Pio, and felt that she could never leave.

According to some who have contacted me about my great aunt, family members did visit her, including her mother, who had initially been aghast that her daughter had converted to Catholicism. A website has been set up in her memory at (If you decide to check out the site, you can turn off the music as soon as it starts with a button on the home page.)

After I wrote this post, I received some information from a family member, which I shared here about whether she ever returned to the U.S.

See her New York Times obituary here.


  1. What a well documented post. Although it seems odd to have so much documentation for Aunt Adelia to leave the country when she did, there is a wealth of information contained in these documents about her and who she associated with. Fascinated read. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Devon,
      Yes, I was surprised at how much information was provided with these passport applications, but it adds to what is already known about her.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I am so jealous, having a great-aunt who was a personal friend of Padred Pio! That's pretty awesome, Elizabeth.

    1. Karen,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I didn't realize what a big deal it was until I started getting contacted via this blog about her.