In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

6 “Our Heels Are Praying Very Hard All Day”: NURSING IN CATHOLIC HOSPITALS The great grace he has received is to be attributed to the intercession of our Lady of Lourdes as the Sisters made novenas for him and we gave him some of the water to drink.1 Remark Book, Santa Rosa Infirmary January 18, 1898 The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word used this language to explain a miracle of a railroad worker’s conversion at their hospital in San Antonio. Catholic teachings emphasized miracles, usually due to intercession of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, that often involved the use of holy water. Stories from the Bible frequently associated water with miraculous healing.To devoted Catholics, not only did holy water have protective and curative powers, it also had sacramental properties that would remind persons of their baptism. In the Catholic imagination, then, water could be a major source of spiritual restoration and protection.2 This account of holy water and its use in what was viewed as a miraculous conversion is just one of many examples of how the nuns wove their religious beliefs and practices into their nursing service. A conception of health care that understands it solely in terms of the prevention of suffering, illness, 129 Wall_CH6_2nd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:57 PM Page 129 and death would see sister-nurses simply in an auxiliary role of fulfilling a duty of charity. However, the significance of their nursing was much broader because the meanings of suffering, illness, and death were much broader.To comprehend nuns’ nursing and hospital establishment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is important to understand the ways in which disease, death, and healing simultaneously were issues of body and spirit. These formulations of meaning lay at the very heart of nuns’ hospital establishment and nursing. An emphasis on religious practice, however, sometimes contrasted sharply with the day-to-day reality of sister-nurses’ work. During one particularly hectic week in 1889, the Incarnate Word Sisters at St. Joseph’s Infirmary, Fort Worth, admitted nineteen patients, discharged six, transferred one to another room, and cared for twenty-four others, prompting the annalist to remark, “Our heels are praying very hard all day.”3 Thus, while spiritual concerns fueled their nursing, on their stressful hospital wards where they were exposed daily to life-threatening illnesses and emergencies, nuns’ nursing dispelled the notion of them as passive praying creatures. Meaning of Sickness in the Roman Catholic Tradition Multiple explanations for sickness existed simultaneously for Catholic sisters , including both religious and medical, and there were equally complicated understandings of remedies.The point, here, is not to emphasize the conflicts and tensions between religious and medical missions, but rather to illustrate how Catholic sisters integrated them. Nursing the sick and dying placed nuns in situations that linked the worldly and the divine. It was a means by which sisters could participate in important and dramatic religious experiences, and this conferred on them a special mission. In the American Catholic tradition of the nineteenth century, no clear distinction existed between the healing effects of secular medicine and the comforts of religion. Both religious and nonreligious explanations prevailed when one became ill.These included a concept of disease as a deviation from normal health, caused and potentially correctable by natural means, but also other perspectives that involved an emphasis on supernatural causes and healing by religious measures. For example, belief in the natural causation of disease associated medicine as part of the natural order. Often, however, natural causes were subsumed under ultimate supernatural causes that only divine intervention could ameliorate.4 130 Chapter 6 Wall_CH6_2nd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:57 PM Page 130 At this time, recognition of the inevitability of pain and suffering was still part of the American Catholic ethos,5 although certain tensions prevailed . Caring for the sick could ease suffering, and it was a characteristic demonstration of charity. Yet, suffering was also an invitation to share in Christ’s redemptive sufferings. While this did not translate into a view of suffering as good in and of itself, it could advance the glorification of the sufferer and the self-sacrificing caretaker, in whom suffering could awaken compassion and present opportunities to relieve the sufferings of others. Writings by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century theologians as well as the nuns reveal the full range of interpretations of illness and suffering .The 1888 Manual of Decrees and Customs of the Sisters...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.