The Sacred Heart Review, Number 22, 16 May 1914
WHAT FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OWED TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
Mother St. George, the last survivor of the band of nuns who worked in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale, died at Norwood, England, recently, aged eighty-seven. Last week in our news columns we chronicled her funeral. The London Tablet tells of Bishop Grant’s message to the Norwood convent, in 1854, one Sunday evening: “I must have five of the Sisters by seven o’clock to-morrow morning at London Bridge, ready to start for Constantinople.” The next day the five Sisters started with Miss Nightingale. Mother St. George was decorated with the Red Cross, by Queen Victoria, many years after the war. The recently published “Life” of Florence Nightingale, written by Sir Edward Cook, quotes from a letter to the London Times,— written by its special correspondent, in the Crimea- several passages that deplore the futility of the nursing arrangements on the British side and point to the advantages of the French who had the nursing Sisters. He wrote:— Here the French are greatly our superiors. Their medical arrangements are extremely good, their surgeons more numerous, and they have also the help of the Sisters of Charity, who have accompanied the expedition in incredible numbers. These devoted women are excellent nurses. Two days after this letter appeared, a reader of the Times sent to that paper the
query, “Why have we no Sisters of Charity?” Florence Nightingale was persuaded to organize a corps of nurses. ” Her experience all tells,” wrote her sister, ” including in the list of qualifications, her sympathy with the Roman Catholic system of work.” The corps included ten Catholic nuns (five from Bermondsey and five from Norwood—Mother George’s party.) Miss Nightingale was from the first anxious to have Catholic nurses on her staff, because, says her biographer:— In the first place many of the soldiers were Catholics; and, secondly, her apprenticeship in nursing had shown her the excellent qualities as nurses, of many Catholics. A letter from Miss Nightingale to Mr. Herbert described a number of her Catholic nurses as being: “The truest Christians I ever met with,—invaluable in their workdevoted, heart and head, to serve God and mankind.” When the war was at an end, the Reverend Mother, who had come from Bermondsey with the first party, returned home. What her services meant to her chief is frankly acknowledged in the letter Miss Nightingale wrote to her from Balaclava: — God’s blessing and my love and gratitude with you, as you well know. You know well, too, that I shall do everything I can for the Sisters whom you have left me. But it will not be like you. Your wishes will be our law. And I shall try and remain in the Crimea for their sakes as long as we are any of us there. I do not presume to express praise or gratitude to you, Reverend Mother, because it would look as if I thought you had done the work not unto God but unto me. You were far above me in fitness for the general superintendency, both in worldly talent of administration and far more in the spiritual qualification which God values in a Superior. My being placed over you in an unenviable reign in the East was my misfortune and not my fault. From her childhood Florence Nightingale showed a vocation for nursing. She nursed and bandaged the dolls her sister broke, and she gave “first aid to the wounded” to a collie with a broken leg. The earliest sample of her writing is a tiny book, which the child stitched together and in which she entered in very uncertain letters a recipe ” sixteen grains for an old woman, eleven for a young woman, and seven for a child.” The conventions of her day and class forbade the following of her desire to become a nurse. The advantages of wealth and culture were hers, including travel and study in foreign countries. The chief attraction that Paris offered to her ” lay principally in its hospitals and nursing Sisterhoods.” Her beautiful home at Embley appealed to her chiefly as a desirable place for a hospital— ” I think how I should turn it into a hospital and how I should place the beds,” she said to a friend. When Dr. Howe visited Embley, Florence asked him; “If I should determine to study nursing, and to devote my life to that profession, do you think it would be a dreadful thing ? ” ” Not a dreadful thing at all,” replied the visitor. “I think it would be a very good thing.” To Catholic Sisterhoods she owed the opportunity that opened the way to her future career. She wrote on one occasion:— The Catholic Orders offered me work, training for that work, sympathy and help in it, such as I had in vain sought in the Church of England. The Church of England has for men bishoprics, archbishoprics, and a little work. For women she has—
what ? I would have given her my head, my heart, my hand. She would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and do crochet in my mother’s drawing-room; or, if I were tired of that, to marry and look well at the head of my husband’s table. You may go to the Sunday-school, if you like it, she said. But she gave me no training even for that. She gave me neither work to do for her, nor education for it. In Rome, the great attraction for Miss Nightingale was the Sacred Heart Convent, but for nursing Sisterhoods she retained always the deepest regard. Her latest biographer says: — She thought more often, and with more affectionate remembrance, about the spirit of the best Catholic Sisterhoods than of Kaiserswerth, or indeed of anything else in her professional experience. At Kaiserswerth, an ancient town on the Rhine, there was a hospital conducted by Deaconesses, (Protestant) and here Miss Nightingale spent some months. That Kaiserswerth trained her, she herself denied. “The nursing there was nil,” she wrote. “The hygiene was horrible. The hospital was certainly the worst part of Kaiserswerth. I took all the training there was to be had; Kaiserswerth was far from having trained me.” From the Protestant Deaconesses of Germany, Miss Nightingale went to live among Catholic Sisters in France. Dr. Manning secured the opportunity for her ‘to study in their institutions and hospitals. ” Florence joined the Sisters of Charity in Paris. And thus after many struggles and delays, was she launched upon her true work in the world,” states Sir Edward Cook. In 1854 came the “call” to the Crimea and the practical test of Miss Nightingale’s vocation for nursing. Of her companions to the Crimea we have already learned something, and more is related in a general way in the chapters dealing with her experiences as an army nurse. A small black pocket-book, found among Miss Nightingale’s effects, after her death, contained a few of the letters she received before starting for the East. One of these letters, was from Dr. Manning, who wrote:— God will keep you. And my prayer for you will be that your one object of Worship, Pattern for Imitation, and source of consolation and strength may be the Sacred Heart of our Divine Lord. Summing up Miss Nightingale’s feeling towards Catholics and Catholicism, Sir Edward Cook says: — There were many points at which Roman Catholicism appealed to her. . . Cardinal Manning, for whom she entertained a high respect, may sometimes have regarded her as a likely convert; but towards acceptance of Roman doctrines, I find no ground for thinking that she was at any time inclined. Yet the spirit of Catholic saintliness—and especially that of the saints whose contemplative piety was joined to active benevolence— appealed strongly to her. She read books of Catholic devotion constantly, and made innumerable annotations in and from them. . . She admired intensely the aid which Catholic piety had given, and was giving to many of her own friends—to the Bermondsey nuns, especially, and to the mother and sisters of the Trinitade’ Monti — towards purity of heart and the doing of everything from a-right motive. Then, again, to be ” business-like” was with Miss Nightingale almost the highest commendation; and in this character also the Roman Church appealed to her. Its acceptance of doctrines in all their logical conclusions, seemed to her business-like; its organization was businesslike; its recognition of women-workers was business-like.