'What the Sister believes I believe'

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXV (7) start of chapter

'Do you believe that, Sister? If you believe it, I believe it, too.' There was scarcely an hospital at either side of the line, North or South, of which the Sisters had the care, in which these apparently strange but most significant words were not uttered by the sick and the dying. Many of the poor fellows had not the vaguest notion of religious teaching never having troubled themselves with such matters in the days of their youth and health; and when the experienced eye of the Sister discerned the approach of death, the patient would be asked if he wished to see a clergyman. Frequently the answer would be that he did not belong to any religion. 'Then will you become a Catholic?' would follow as a fair question to one who proclaimed himself not to belong to any Church, or to believe in any form of Christianity. From hundreds, nay thousands of sick beds, this reply was made to that question: 'I don't know much about religion, but I wish to die in the religion of the Sisters.' When asked, for example, if he believed in the Trinity, the dying man would turn to the Sisters who stood by his bedside, and inquire,—'Do you, Sister?' and on the Sister answering, 'Yes, I do,' he would say, 'Then I do—whatever the Sister believes in, I do.' And thus he would make his confession of faith.

A soldier from Georgia, who was tended by the Sisters in an hospital in St. Louis, declared that 'he had never heard of Jesus Christ, and knew nothing about him.' He was asked if he would become a Catholic. 'I have heard of them,' he said; 'I would not be one of them at all—they are wicked people. But I'll be the same as you, Sister; whatever that is, it must be good.'

At the battle of Gettysburg, a number of Sisters joined the camp hospital, bringing with them a considerable quantity of provisions and comforts, procured at their own cost. They even went on the field, bravely conquering the natural reluctance of delicate women to witness scenes of horror such as every inch of a hard-fought battle-field discloses. What services these tender women—some of them young creatures not long professed—rendered to the mangled victims of that furious contest, it were impossible to tell. But so signal was the devotion which they displayed in an emergency of so pressing a nature, that they elicited from a preacher the following strange tribute, published in the newspapers:—'Although I hate their religion, and despise their sectarianism, I must do justice to the self-sacrificing devotion of those pale unmated flowers, that never ripen with fruit.' One, not a preacher, might imagine that the blessings and prayers—the purest offerings of the heart—that sprang up in their path wherever they turned, were fruit the most acceptable to these 'pale unmated flowers;' but the idea would appear fantastical and far-fetched to the material nature of their enlightened panegyrist.

It really matters little, when referring to the services of the Sisters during the war, which army, which State, or which hospital is mentioned as the scene of their labours. Their charity, like their Order, was universal; and whether they ministered to the sick in a Union or Confederate army, or in a Northern or Southern State, it was the same in motive and in object. Next to the sick in the hospital, the prisoner was the dearest object of their solicitude.

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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