St. Mary’s School, Philadelphia and the Civil War, 1862

(Civil War account from St. Mary’s School, Philadelphia used with permission of the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

Throughout this year we’ve been highlighting stories connected with the Sisters’ service in the Civil War. Sisters served in many places, doing many different types of work. Sometimes, as in the account below, they were called to duty on very short notice. In December of 1861, two Sisters at St. Mary’s School in Philadelphia died of smallpox, including the Sister Servant (local community superior). A new Sister Servant, Sister Blanche Rooney, was missioned to St. Mary’s in early 1862. Things changed dramatically for the Sisters soon afterward. The account below was written by an unknown Sister.

…the school and everything went on well until May [1862] when Superiors told [Sister Blanche Rooney] to close the School as soon as possible, in June, as they all wanted the Sisters to go to the War … The School was closed, and final preparations made; we left the dear old School June 22. When we got to Baltimore we met our dear Father B. [Fr. Francis Burlando, Provincial Director] and the Sisters who were to join us, we numbered eleven, then. We had taken to boat for Norfolk, and went from there to the Naval Hospital, in Portsmouth, which was to be our place of labor until further orders. Each two Sisters worked together, a young and an older one. The Sister whom I helped was a good nurse, so that we got along well. After being there a few weeks, the Doctors asked the Sister Servant if the Sisters could take charge of the clothes room, that the Ward master had it, and that it was impossible for them to get the right articles of clothing when they wanted them for any operation or for the sick. The Sister Servant spoke to the Sisters about it; the charge fell to my own Sister and myself; when we opened the door we saw sights: the clothes were piled on the floor four or five feet high; they could not be scattered, as the place was narrow. After attending to the sick all our time was spent in the clothes room, until we got it [in] good order, which thing we accomplished, in a few weeks. The last week of August we were told that all had to leave the Hospital, as it belonged to the Navy, the sailors met with an accident on sea [sic], a boiler exploded, and several sailors were scalded; so they needed the Hospital for them. We soon got ready to start, when we reached Baltimore the Sister Servant told me that we were not to return to St. Mary’s School, through some misunderstanding. I was very sorry to hear this, I loved the work because we were with the very poorest of the poor, and there was so much good accomplished. We visited the poor and the sick every afternoon after school hours. We got the Ladies of Charity interested in the work, they helped very much and did much good. Thus closed our existence, or the existence of the Sisters of Charity, at St. Mary’s School.

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Filed under Civil War, Education, Ministries

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