New collection guide – National Hansen’s Disease Programs, Carville, LA

(Image and transcription of Sr. Mary Thomas Stockum letter used with permission of the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

Another collection guide is now available on the “Finding Aids” page: the records of the National Hansen’s Disease Programs, in Carville, Louisiana. Hansen’s Disease is the current name for the disease traditionally known as leprosy. The leprosy hospital in Carville began in 1894 as the Louisiana Leper Home, run by the state of Louisiana. Two years later the Sisters were asked by the state to administer the facility. In 1921 the United States Public Health Service took over the facility and the Sisters continued their ministry as civil service employees. The Sisters served as nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, medical researchers, and, above all, friend to the patients there. In 1999 the Carville facility was transferred back to the state of Louisiana, and Sisters continued to serve as volunteers until withdrawing completely in 2005. View the collection guide

Mary Thomas Stockum letter

Letter of Sister Mary Thomas Stockum, 1896

The image seen here, and transcribed below, is from a letter of Sr. Mary Thomas Stockum, one of the first four Sisters to serve at Carville in 1896. Please note that the use of the term “leper” reflects the terminology which was current at the time. Today the term “Hansen’s disease” is preferred rather than “leprosy” and the term “leper” is no longer used. What is important to note in Sr. Mary Thomas’ letter is her joyful attitude toward the patients she served.

Leper’s Home
Indian Camp
White Castle P.O. La April 28, [1896]

My very dear Mother,

The grace of our Lord be with us forever!

My heart is so full of gratitude and happiness that I hardly know what to say. It would be impossible for me to say what I felt when Father Lennon told me that my prayer was heard and that our dear Lord would permit me to serve Him in the person of the lepers. The thought often comes to me, especially during meditation, what I have done to deserve this great privilege but I can only promise our dear Lord that I will try in earnest to prove to Him that I am grateful. It did me as much good as any sermon could, to visit our dear patients. I could not keep back the tears when we got in the chapel and after meditation I told Sister Beatrice that I felt as if I never again could imagine I had a cross to bear.

Father advised me to be very cheerful but I am so happy that I find it difficult not to be too cheerful at times. I always felt that it was God who gave me the desire to serve Him in the person of the lepers, but I did not expect to find so much consolation and happiness here … I have been very lonely, but we were so busy that I hardly had time to think about it and this has helped me a great deal to get over my loneliness. I know you are very busy and have a great many things to think about, but still I felt as if I must thank you and am sure you will be pleased to hear I am so happy.

Sister Cyril and Annie are so good and fervent and I hope and pray that I may profit by their example and correct whatever is displeasing to my divine Spouse.

Hoping to see you soon in the midst of our happy little family. I remain in the S.Heart of our Lord.

Affectionately and gratefully,
Sr. M. Thomas Stockum
[The acronym stands for “unworthy Daughter of Charity, servant of the poor sick”, and it was common practice at the time for Sisters to use it as part of their signature]


Filed under Finding Aids, Health Care, Ministries

2 responses to “New collection guide – National Hansen’s Disease Programs, Carville, LA

  1. Se. Martha Beaudoin

    This was most interesting. I visited ther in the 1980’s and it was quire impressive even then.
    We. Maetha Beaudoin, D.C.


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