Catholic Nuns at War, so writes
by SISTER JULIE inA nun’s life blog.

A nun cares for a wounded soldier in this detail from a larger Civil War-era print featuring the field ministry of Holy Cross Father P.P. Cooney. In Civil War battles, at least 300 Daughters of Charity ministered to soldiers on both sides of the war. (CNS photo/courtesy University Archives, The Catholic University of America)
Catholic nuns and sisters are no strangers to the battlefield. In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Sister Betty Ann McNeil, DC — a Daughter of Charity and archivist of the Emmitsburg, Maryland, province — said that the Daughters of Charity and 11 other religious communities had a unique role in the Civil War.

The sisters provided food, water, bandages and basic medical care. They also gave spiritual solace to soldiers who requested it: praying with them, distributing religious medals, baptizing the dying and writing letters home to soldiers’ families.

At Gettysburg and other Civil War battles, at least 300 Daughters of Charity ministered to soldiers on both sides of the war. In all, more than 600 sisters from 12 religious orders responded to this national crisis by doing everything from bandaging soldiers in the battlefield to coordinating makeshift hospitals. (source: “Story of sisters’ role in Civil War ‘under-told,’ archivist says” by Carol Zimmermann in the Archdiocesan newspaper, The Boston Pilot, 10/07/2011)

Sister Betty Ann said “little is known about the role of these sisters in history because they simply were responding to the needs of the time, not unlike the work these sisters continue today in caring for the sick and helping those in need.” She herself knows quite a bit about the history because of her own work in editing the book Charity Afire about the sisters’ Civil War ministry. She was particularly inspired by Sister Juliana Chatard.

Sister Juliana Chatard [was] a young Daughter of Charity who longed to be in the field of action. Eventually this young woman, who was from the North, was sent to Richmond, Va., and made an administrator of a soldiers’ hospital there….

Describing the 1862 Battle of Richmond, Sister Juliana said fighting during the weeklong battle started each day at 2 a.m. and ended around 10 p.m. with bombs “bursting and reddening the heavens” just yards from the hospital door. She also said the sisters at the hospital were shaken by cannon firings and the “heavy rolling of the ambulances filling the streets bringing in the wounded and dying men. The entire city trembled as if from an earthquake with the exception of few short hours.”

As Sister Betty Ann sees it, Sister Juliana’s ministry was similar to what so many of these sisters were doing during a time of great national turmoil.

“Her charity knew no bounds,” she said. “Her love embraced the Northern soldier who was dying as well as the Southern soldier who was thirsty.”

Read the entire article at The Boston Pilot website.

What other stories have you heard of involving nuns at war? In what ways are Catholic nuns today serving “during a time of great national turmoil”?

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