By Stephanie Hornback
The period from 1912 to 1924 was one of change for the United States. World War I, the flu epidemic and women’s suffrage were among the events facing Americans — some welcome, some not.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have always focused on community involvement and thus were not immune to the flux in which the country found itself. Now those 12 interesting years are documented in the first of a series of books chronicling SCN’s second century in existence. It will be published in segments following the terms served by SCN mothers general.
“Impelled by the Love of Christ: The Life and Ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth 1912-1924” covers Mother General Rose Meagher’s term.
Author Frances Krumpelman, SCN, said she and the late Mary Collette Crone, SCN, decided about eight years ago that there needed to be a written history of SCN’s second 100 years. There were histories on the first 100 years and SCN’s work in India and Belize, but none on the second 100 years.
“We decided if it was going to get done, we’d have to do it,” Krumpelman said.
It was a coincidence that her book was published as SCN prepares for its bicentennial celebration in 2012, said Diane Curtis, SCN director of congregational communications. Part of the celebration will be sharing its history.
In Krumpelman’s book, that history includes SCN’s exhausting effort during the Spanish influenza crisis, which hit the U.S. in 1918.
“At Camp Taylor in Louisville, there were so many sick and dying soldiers that the army doctors and nurses, even with the extra help of the Red Cross, were unable to cope with the situation,” Krumpelman writes. Several sisters answered a call for help and took up residence at the camp.
Curtis said as she read the chapter about the flu epidemic, she was impressed by how many SCNs had a background in nursing. They were also adept at caring for people on a large scale, Curtis said.
Krumpelman was struck by something else.
“I find that amazing, that the Army couldn’t take care of their own, so they called in the sisters,” she said.
Another interesting aspect of the book is SCN’s reaction to women winning the right to vote. The mother general advised them to vote, pray and follow their conscience. Bardstown politician Ben Johnson visited and encouraged them to exercise their new privilege.
So many sisters voted that it turned the tide of the election.
The book also covers the facilities SCN built during the 12-year span; schools and colleges opened, including Spalding University; renovations to the local campus, and more. There’s also a timeline, glossary of terms and 24 pages of pictures.
“There’s a really generous use of historic photographs,” said the Rev. Clyde Crews, an Archdiocese of Louisville historian. “Sometimes you don’t get that in these histories.”
Crews said the book was carefully written and engaging, giving the reader a sense of the sisters’ personalities. The series will do more than record SCN’s story, he said.
“This whole series will be a significant event for the telling of American Catholic history at large,” he said.
From helping starving European children after World War I to opening maternity wards for women, who in that era had just begun having children in a hospital instead of at home, “Impelled by the Love of Christ: The Life and Ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth 1912-1924” covers it all.
In writing it, Krumpelman gained an even deeper respect for her religious community because of “the amazing amount of ministry that the sisters did — diverse, geographically far-flung, really with minimal resources, and how willing people were to help,” she said, including priests and the people of Bardstown and Nelson County.
The book is available for $20 locally at Bardstown Booksellers on North Third Street.