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Sisters who served in Civil War to be honored

Sisters St. Felix Buchanan, Mary Rose O’Donaghue, Athanasius Fogarty, Eugenia Gorman, Mary Frances Guthneck, Sophie Glenn and Matilda Swinley will be honored for their service as nurses during the Civil War during a program on Saturday, May 2.
Sisters St. Felix Buchanan, Mary Rose O’Donaghue, Athanasius Fogarty, Eugenia Gorman, Mary Frances Guthneck, Sophie Glenn and Matilda Swinley will be honored for their service as nurses during the Civil War during a program on Saturday, May 2.

It all started with a simple conversation.

Sister Marie Grace Molloy had traveled to Indianapolis for a breakfast reunion meeting of alumnae of Saint John’s Academy.

While there, she struck up a conversation with Sharon Kennedy.

Kennedy, the chapter regent of the National Society Daughters of the Union, 1861-65, Governor Oliver P. Morton Chapter, told Sister Marie Grace about an idea to honor the sisters who had served as nurses during the Civil War.

Kennedy said she had read a story in HOPE Magazine – a publication of the Sisters of Providence – regarding the seven sisters and their work at City Hospital, located in Indianapolis.

“Sister Marie Grace sent me two books, ‘The Hand of Providence,’ and ‘Lest We Forget,’ from the archives about the seven sisters. Both were written about the sisters’ involvement at City Hospital,” Kennedy said. “It gave me in-depth information on the service the sisters provided there.”

Kennedy then spearheaded a campaign to have Sisters St. Felix Buchanan, Mary Rose O’Donaghue, Athanasius Fogarty, Sophie Glenn, Eugenia Gorman, Mary Frances Guthneck and Matilda Swinley honored for their service as nurses during the Civil War.

As a result, the organization will celebrate those sisters with a marker to be placed near the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods cemetery gates. The marker was constructed by Wagner Signs, Indianapolis.

A dedication program has been scheduled for 1 p.m., on Saturday, May 2. The program will take place at the sister’s cemetery.

According to information archived by the sisters, then Governor Oliver P. Morton sent word to Monsignor Augustine Bessonies, pastor of the St. John Catholic Church in Indianapolis, to contact the Sisters of Providence to help with nursing duties at City Hospital.

Then Superior General, Mother Mary Cecelia Bailly, immediately replied and on May 17, 1861, a small group of sisters took charge at City Hospital.

Sister Marie Grace found archived material from an article published in 1864 in the Indianapolis Daily Journal, which reported a soldier stating, “next to home it was the sweetest, quietest spot he had ever found,” in reference to the hospital conditions.

The sisters who served were also honored in 1923 with government headstones marking their graves through the help of friends, the State President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Chairman of the Nuns’ Memorial Committee.

“For me personally, I think they were valiant women,” Sister Marie Grace said. “This is what our Congregation does: Respond to the needs of the time.”

Kennedy said approval for the marker was needed from the organization’s national board.

“Without that, it would not have happened,” she said. “This is a commemorative marker donated by the Oliver P. Morton Chapter on behalf of the society.”

The Governor Oliver P. Morton Chapter was organized in 1917. The society was formed to remember Civil War ancestors, as well as honor soldiers and others who served.

During the dedication ceremony on May 2 – which is four days before National Nurses Day – Civil War re-enactors will also be present.

About the Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.
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For inquiries or information, contact Jason Moon at jmoon@spsmw.org or 812-535-2810.

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