(All images used with permission of the Provincial Archives)
Seen here is a selection of images from our current exhibit, Over There: The Daughters of Charity’s Service in the First World War, now on display through April 30.
The Call to Service
“ … Dr. Danna of Charity Hospital, New Orleans has asked us for Sisters to aid him in conducting a base Hospital. … These Base Hospitals, it seems are to be located wherever they are needed … Doctor asked for five or six Sisters to be placed as Head Nurses in the different wards … the Council agreed to send six sisters when called upon.”
—Sister Eugenia Fealy (Visitatrix, St. Louis Province), letter to Mother Margaret O’Keefe (Visitatrix, Emmitsburg Province), April 21, 1917.
The call came in the summer of 1918. when the unit, formally known as Base Hospital 102, was organized and readied to go to Vicenza, Italy. The chief surgeon, Dr. Joseph Danna, was Dean of the Medical School at Loyola University in New Orleans; he had worked with the Daughters at both Charity Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital. Because of his ties with Loyola University, Base Hospital 102 was also known as the Loyola Unit.
Sisters and Nurses
Ten Sisters were chosen for the Loyola Unit: Sisters Valeria Dorn, Agatha Muldoon, DeSales Loftus, Mary David Ingram, Angela Drendel, Lucia Dolan, Marianna Flynn, Florence Means, Catherine Coleman, and Chrysostum Moynahan. They came from hospitals in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Indiana, and Missouri. They were led by Sister Chrysostum Moynahan, Chief Nurse, who brought a wealth of experience to her role, including hospital administration and service during the Spanish-American War. The Sisters supervised a staff of 90 lay nurses recruited from Daughter of Charity hospitals throughout the country. Many had graduated from Daughter of Charity nursing schools.
Stories from the Front
The hospital, located 15 miles from the Italian front, accepted patients beginning in late September 1918. Medical and surgical cases treated included burns from mustard gas, pneumonia, malaria, and influenza. The hospital treated approximately 3,000 patients; only 28 died.
Diaries kept by three of the Sisters give a day-by-day account of their experiences.
Oct. 6 —There is heavy firing going on at this Front at the present time; the booming of the cannons can be heard here with not more than one or two minutes’ intermission. Shortly after the firing of the rifles over the grave, four aeroplanes appeared over us to investigate the noise. We were all glad to get so near the Front. Saw many fields prepared for a Retreat – with back trenches and barbed wire fences.
Oct. 17 – We have now about 400 patients in the hospital, nearly all sick with the Spanish Influenza. Many civilians in the city are reported dying with it.
—Sister Angela Drendel
Oct. 18 – We have syrup for breakfast on oatmeal. Not because it is the first meal served, but because the limit has been reached. Everybody is very hungry. Unable to get food and the supply is very low. Everybody agrees with President Wilson: No not at their terms even though we are hungry and cold.
–Sister Florence Means
Armistice Day, Post-War Travels, Coming Home
The signing of the armistice in November 1918 marked the end of the war but not the end of the Sisters’ service, as Base Hospital 102 was shut down gradually over the following months. After enduring a bitterly cold winter, the Sisters received furloughs which allowed them to travel throughout Italy and France. They saw many historic churches, had a private audience with Pope Benedict XV, and visited their Mother House in Paris. In March 1919 the Loyola Unit left Italy for America. After landing in New York, the Sisters traveled to St. Joseph’s Central House in Emmitsburg, and from there to Marillac Seminary, their provincial house in St. Louis.