Sister Anthony

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXV (14) start of chapter

I elsewhere mentioned the munificent gift made by two Protestant gentlemen to a Sister in Cincinnati; and as that munificent gift—of a splendid hospital—is but one, though a striking proof of the influence which the work of the Sisters has had on the enlightened Protestant mind of America, something may be said of the object of that donation. There is nothing remarkable in the personal appearance of Sister Anthony—nothing of the stately or the majestic—nothing that harmonises with the romantic or the poetical. Sister Anthony is sallow in complexion, worn in feature, but with a bright intelligent look, and an air of genuine goodness. Though thoroughly unaffected in manner, and without the faintest trace of show, every word she utters betrays an animating spirit of piety, an ever-present consciousness of her mission—which is, to do good. One feels better in her presence, lifted up, as it were, into a purer and brighter atmosphere. In accent and manner she is strongly American; and had I not been assured by herself that she was born in Ireland—somewhere, I believe, between Limerick and Tipperary—I should have taken her for a 'full-blooded American,' that is, if Sister Anthony could be taken for a 'full-blooded' anything.

For a considerable time Sister Anthony held a subordinate position, to which she thoroughly adapted herself; but it was impossible she could continue to conceal her great natural ability and talents for organisation and management. Her first important work was the establishment of the Hospital of St. John, which became so famous and so popular under her management, that the most distinguished physicians of Cincinnati sent their patients to her care. In this hospital Sister Anthony made herself perfect in the science of nursing the sick. When the war broke out, she, with twelve Sisters, took charge of the Field Hospital of the Armies of the Cumberland and the Tennessee, and nursed the wounded and the sick in the South and South-West during its continuance. Such was the estimate formed of the services of these and other Sisters of the same institution, as well as of the Catholic Chaplains, that the Generals in command frequently wrote to Archbishop Purcell, asking for 'more Priests and more Sisters, they were so full of devotion to their duty.' Nearly all of those Sisters were, like Sister Anthony, Irish. Her influence was immense. Even the surliest official or stiffest martinet could not resist Sister Anthony. There was a contagion in her goodness. Some years before, when in a subordinate capacity in the Orphan Asylum under the care of her Order, Sister Anthony was in the market, bargaining for chickens to make broth for some sick children, when the salesman, perhaps wearied of her importunity, said—'If you were a pretty woman, I'd talk to you longer; but you are so darnd ugly, you may go your ways, and take the chickens at your own price.'

Sister Anthony, who never gave a thought to her personal appearance, good-humouredly accepted the compliment which ensured her a profitable bargain for her poor little chicks in the asylum. But the wounded soldier on the hospital pallet was not of the fowl-merchant's opinion; the sick man saw everything good and beautiful in the countenance of the nurse who smoothed his pillow with hand light as a feather's weight, and, with voice attuned to the tenderest compassion, won him to hope and resignation. At the mere whisper of the name of Sister Anthony, the eye of the invalid brightened, and a pale flush stole over his wasted cheek; and when it was mentioned in the presence of strong men, it was received with a hearty blessing or a vigorous cheer. Protestant and Catholic alike reverenced Sister Anthony. There was no eulogium too exaggerated for her praise, or for their gratitude. She was styled 'the Ministering Angel of the Army of the Tennessee,' and Protestants hailed her as 'an angel of goodness.' And at a grand reunion, in November 1866, of the generals and officers of the army in whose hospitals Sister Anthony had served, her name was greeted with enthusiastic applause by gallant and grateful men.

The United States Marine Hospital, constructed at a cost of a quarter of a million of dollars, was sold for 70,000 dollars, at which price it was purchased by two Protestant gentlemen, and by them 'donated' to Sister Anthony, and is known by the beautiful and felicitous title 'the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.' This fine institution is now at the service of the sick and suffering of Cincinnati. These generous Protestant gentlemen were known to Sister Anthony, and she to them. Some time before, it was her intention to build, and in the course of a few months she obtained 30,000 dollars to aid her in her task. But, changing her mind, from not wishing to undertake so great a work as she at first contemplated, she determined to refund every dollar of the money. When she came to those two gentlemen, she tendered to them their liberal subscription; but they refused to accept it, saying: 'No; we gave it to God. We cannot take it back.'

Sister Anthony is not insensible to the influence she exercises, as the following brief dialogue will show:—

Sister Anthony (to a friend). I guess I want this hospital painted. I guess Mr. ——— (mentioning the name of a worthy citizen) will paint it.

Friend. Why, Sister! he is not a painter; he is a grocer.

Sister Anthony. I know that, child; but he is a rich man, and he will have to paint it.

And it was just as Sister Anthony said. He had to paint it, and he felt honoured by the distinction conferred upon him.

One day Sister Anthony was transacting some business in the city with the prosperous owner of a large store. When the business was concluded, the owner said: 'Sister, where is your conveyance—your horse and buggy—to take you up the hill?' 'I have no horse,' replied Sister Anthony. 'Then I will get you a horse and buggy,' said the store-keeper. 'The conveyance I have had for the last fifty years is still very good, but the horses want shoeing,' answered Sister Anthony, pointing to her shoes, which were in the very last stage in which that article of dress could possibly exist. A box of the best shoes was at once supplied to Sister Anthony's well-employed 'horses.'

I present Sister Anthony only as a type, not of her own noble Order, but of all kindred Orders; for, throughout the United States, there are hundreds of Sister Anthonys, who, like her, have been styled 'ministering angels,' and 'angels of goodness;' at the mention of whose honoured names blessings rise from the hearts to the lips of grateful men, and mothers in distant homes pray at night for those who nursed their wounded sons in the hospital, or ministered to them in the prison.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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