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Grateful for all who have served this Memorial Day

Sister Athanasius Fogarty was well respected as a sister-nurse.

Sister Athanasius Fogarty was well respected as a sister-nurse.

On May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30 of that same year when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.

But its true beginnings took place before the end of the war with organized women’s groups in the South decorating graves and many in the South still call the holiday “Decoration Day.” Over two dozen cities and towns have claimed being the birthplace of Memorial Day and while none can “prove” they were the first, there is no doubt its birth sprang from death — the death of so many Americans, whether they be called Yankees or Rebels. Memorial Day changed after World

War I when it went from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

The dictionary defines holiday as “holy day; feast day, celebration, jubilee, fiesta, fete; vacation day, day of rest.” Holiday is a shortened form of the term holy day. Somehow that seems right to remember that the term holiday can also mean holy day when we think of “celebrating” Memorial Day. Can you imagine the very first Memorial Day gatherings when the family’s, and collectively the nation’s grief was new and overwhelming? Somehow, over time, as grief is apt to do, the day went from a solemn and reflective time of laying flowers upon graves to shopping and outdoor barbecues and even the Indianapolis 500.

There is also a connection between the Sisters of Providence and the Civil War. On May 17, 1861, a small group of Sisters of Providence took charge at the City Hospital in Indianapolis to begin their time as nurses to the many soldiers injured on the battlefield.

According to the booklet, “The Hand of Providence,” written by the Rev. John F. McShane, the sisters wrote in their Community Diary, that they “found the new hospital in a miserable state of filth and disorder, and the sick in a wretched condition. The Sisters labored very hard to put the hospital in a proper condition; their exertions were crowned with the greatest success. The change they soon effected in making it a clean, comfortable house for the sick soldiers filled the people with admiration and inspired them with great confidence.

In the Indianapolis Daily Journal, June 11, 1864, the Indiana soldiers wounded in Sherman’s army were brought to City General Hospital and one soldier noted, “next to home it was the sweetest, quietest spot he had ever found.”

In December, 2000, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed to help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day. It asks all Americans at 3 p.m. local time “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”

On this Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, let’s all take the time to stop and remember and with gratitude in our hearts, quietly and with the respect and honor they deserve, say a prayer to God thanking him for all the Americans, men and women, who gave everything they had, their very lives, for our freedom and a United States of America.

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Jean Brown

Providence Associate Jean Brown is retired after serving as administrative assistant to Sisters of Providence leadership team members. Jean lives in Columbus, Indiana, with her husband, Gary and two very spoiled cats.

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