Crimea centenary service
CATHOLIC nurses are to attend special services as part of nation-wide celebrations of the centenary this year of the arrival in the Crimea of Florence N'ghtingale and her first party of nurses.
The arrival took place in November, but the celebrations are to be held round about Florence Nightingale's birthday, May 12.
Non-Catholic nurses in London will go to a service in St. Paul's Cathedral. Catholic nurses feel their celebrations should not he on the same day so that staffing of hospitals can be made easier by Catholics and non-Catholics relieving each other for duty.
The Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood dioceses will combine for an evening service.
The Catholic Nurses' Guild has asked other dioceses to make their own arrangements and to invite all Catholic nurses to attend.
The anniversary is of special significance to the Catholic nurses for a large proportion of the original party that braved the horrors of the Crimean campaign were Catholic nuns.
Florence Nightingale herself, the great pioneer of modem nursing, who shook the lethargic War Office to its foundations to reorganise the Army Medical Services, wished to do her hospital training with Catholic nursing nuns, began her studies at a Catholic hospital, and at one time decided to become a Catholic.
On a visit to Rome as a young woman, Florence Nightingale met the future Cardinal Manning, who was then on the brink of conversion. She discussed with him her growing interest in the sick poor.
She came upon him again in London after he had been ordained. He helped her by protecting and placing in the Convent of the Good Shepherd a young girl she had rescued from prostitution but for whom she had failed to obtain a place in any Church of England institution.
There was a long correspondence in which the future Cardinal gave her much advice and consolation.
In her letters to him she signed herself "Your weary penitent," and once wrote: "If you knew what a home the Catholic Church would be to me! All that I want I should find in her. All my difficulties would be removed. I have laboriously to pick up, here and there, crumbs by which to live. She would give me daily bread . • . Why cannot I enter the Catholic Church at once, as the best form of truth I have ever known?"
But she seemed unable fully to accept the discipline of the Church, and her biographer, Cecil Woodham Smith, says : "She had no conception of submission in the Catholic sense."
Fr. Manning could not accept her as a convert, but he arranged for her to study in a Catholic hospital staffed by nursing nuns.
Despite discouragement from her family, she went to Paris to enter a hospital of the Sisters of Charity and be given hospital training wearing the dress of a postulant.
She presented herself to the Rev. Mother and was approved. But only a day or so before she was to become a member of the hospital staff she was forced by the illness of her grandmother to go back to England.
At last she did join the nuns, but became ill herself after a fortnight and returned to England again.
When two years later she went out to the Crimea, one of the only three personal letters she took with her was from Fr. Manning, commending her to the protection, adoration and imitation of the Sacred Heart.
It was he who arranged that Catholic nuns should join her party. Some were Sisters of Mercy from a convent in Bermondsey, in southeast London, others members of the
Society of the Faithful Virgin from Norwood sent to join her by their foundress, ?Other St. Mary, at the request of Bishop Grant.
The Norwood nuns belonged to a congregation that had experience of nursing cholera, one of the scourges of the Crimea.
The Bermondsey sisters were described as among "the most valuable members of the party." Their Superior-Mother Moore, known as "Mother Bermondsey"-became one of Florence Nightingale's dearest friends.
The inclusion of nuns in the party, in the anti-Catholic atmosphere of the time, raised a storm of Protestant protests which Florence Nightingale resisted.
Later Mary Stanley, sister of the famous Dean Stanley of Westminster and an intended convert, joined her in the Crimea with 15 Irish nuns under Mother Frances Bridgeman, of Kinsale. This caused still more protests.
The Bermondsey nuns, shortly after their return from the Crimea, founded the Catholic Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth, in St. John's Wood, London.
Into old age-and she lived to be 90, dying in 1910-Florence Nightingale recalled her days in Rome when she had first been drawn towards the Church, as the happiest of her life. "I never enjoyed any time so much," she wrote. Moreover, she never lost an attraction that she had developed as a young woman for the Catholic mystics.
Fanny Margaret Taylor, an Anglican, who joined Florence Nightingale in the Crimea at the age of 21, was so deeply impressed by the Catholics she met out there that she became a convert. She made her
first Holy Communion in the battle area.
It was not only the work of the nuns and chaplains that moved her. More especially she was impressed by the living faith she found in the letters home dictated to her by Catholic Irish soldiers.
After the war, as M other Magdalen Taylor, with the help of Cardinal Manning and the Jesuits she founded the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.