In a bright afternoon in April 1869, Sister Austin Carroll was sailing down the Mississippi on the steamship Mollie Abel with a small group of young sisters. Since the boat had no chapel and the weather was warm, the nuns said their morning prayers on deck. The passengers on the ship had become accustomed to the daily ritual. Some of them even began to join them when the sisters sang Latin hymns.
Suddenly the passengers noticed a group of rough-looking men standing near the dock. They were waving and shouting at the sisters who, dressed in their black and white habits, were easy to spot on deck. Some of the passengers grew nervous. While they had enjoyed the singing and shared the spirit of the young women, they knew Catholics in general and specifically Catholic nuns had long been targets of bigotry in the United States. As the ship drew near the dock, the passengers could see the group more clearly. They were hulking stevedores and scruffy rivermen, but now they were quiet. To a man, they removed their hats as a sign of respect. Some stood at attention. Some were still shouting, but these were not catcalls, they were thanking the sisters for their nursing during the Civil War.
The group of nuns was one of a number heading for new assignments as the order expanded to new cities. Their mission was New Orleans, and the woman charged with establishing a Mercy presence there was called Mother Carroll.
Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America—John J. Fialka.
St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY. 2003
Those who wish to read more about these incredible women and their gift of service to the church and the world can do so in John’s book, which you can order from Amazon.com or receive directly from SOAR! for a donation of $50. This donation will support retired religious sisters and brothers through the work of SOAR! To receive the book for your donation, please contact Danielle Bell directly by email or by phone at 202.529.7627.