Nuns of the Battlefield

Pastor's Desk

Back in the 80’s I had a Catholic Trivial Pursuit knockoff that we would play sometimes in seminary. The only thing left of it is one question that stuck in my mind, “What does the monument ‘Nuns of the Battlefield’ commemorate?” …

It probably stuck in my mind because I immediately thought of a bronze statue of a group of nuns, veils flying, charging with spears or muskets. Turn’s out, of course, they weren’t fighting nuns at all. And their story is rooted, like the Memorial Day Holiday that is the traditional beginning of summer, in the awful cost of the Civil War. When the war started, what we know as hospitals or nursing care, didn’t really exist yet. Those who could afford treatment were mostly treated at home. Those who were homeless or poor were mostly treated by religious groups. And so it was that the largest pool of people with training on treating wounds at the time were the orders of Catholic women religious. More than 600 volunteered for service as nurses. “They comforted the dying, nursed the wounded, carried hope to the imprisoned, gave in His name a drink of water to the thirsty,” says the inscription on the monument, which I found out is near Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. (thanks to one of my favorite websites Atlas Obscura.) So as we celebrate this weekend, let’s make sure to offer a prayer for those who gave their lives in military service, and give thanks for the dedicated women who stood by them in Christ’s name on the battlefields that are the beginning of this holiday.

The relief on the monument depicts 12 orders of women religious. Can you spot the habit of the Sisters of Charity, founded in Kentucky and the order of St Frances’ Sr Carmelita?