Catholic Nuns and the Making of America
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. 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.
In the 1930’s, a chance encounter took place at a hospital in Akron, Ohio. Dr. Bob Smith, a physician recovering from alcoholism, met Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin at St. Thomas Hospital. She helped Dr. Smith and others recovering from alcoholism, and founded Alcoholics Anonymous, probably the most successful rehabilitation program in American history.
In February 1920, the order sent three volunteers to open a new elementary school in Westwago, a working class suburb in New Orleans. Sister Bonaventure Monhollan was the youngest of the group, which endured many hardships in their efforts.
Her first outpost was Public School No. 1, where she had no difficulty explaining that bad things happen to people who break moral laws. When the town’s hulking sheriff had to face down a lynch mob, Sister Blandina stood with him.
On November 1, 1930, a stocky, black-bearded young man entered St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, Montana. He was in agony, holding his left arm, shattered in a car crash. Soon, he found himself being charmed by his nurse, a young shy nun, Sister Florence Cloonan.
As a coach maker’s daughter who learned carpentry at an early age, Mother Joseph prowled construction sites with a saw in her hand and a hammer dangling from her belt. She used her skills and talents to help build the first hospitals and schools in the Northwest.
Refused permission to start her order of religious sisters in California, Mother Dolores and her small community found their way to Reno in 1877, where she went on to found Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, which is still operating today.