In keeping with Women’s History Month, which I wrote about here, I’m going to tell you a little about another bigger-than-life woman from Alabama. I know this face as well as I know the face of my very own Mother. A larger than life portrait of Sister Chrysostom Moynahan (1863-1941) has presided over the reception area of St Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham for as long as I can remember. To say she was mildly intimidating is an understatement. Every day when I walked past Sister, I tried to avert my eyes. I didn’t want that accusing gaze to fall on me. Dammit! The portrait was like a magnet! I couldn’t look away no matter how I tried!
Sr Chrysostom came to Birmingham in 1900 to serve as administrator of the new St Vincent’s Hospital. She worked for eighteen years supervising nursing care, organizing a residency program, and establishing the first Nursing School in Alabama, among many other duties working with the community. She worked tirelessly with and for the poor and ensured that all patients received care, regardless of their ability to pay.
Sister was born in Ireland and immigrated to Massachusetts in 1879. Following her graduation from the Daughters of Charity Seminary in 1889 she was sent to Carney Hospital in Boston. In 1894 she graduated from the Daughters school for nurses.
Her first taste of war nursing was during the Spanish American War when she took care of Spanish sailors who were injured following an attempt by the Maria Theresa to run a US blockade and was fired on.
Following posts in Fort Thomas, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana she was assigned to Birmingham.
Sister was the first registered nurse licensed by the state of Alabama, receiving License #1 on 10th March 1916. It was clear to her that the nursing sisters badly needed skilled personnel to help care for the patient. That thought led her to found the school of nursing.
Sister was recruited to lead a group of nursing Sisters and lay nurses to Italy in 1918 to support the war effort during the first World War. Hers was the only group of its kind to serve abroad. She and the staff of Base Hospital #102 in Vincenza, Italy were the closest to the nearby Italian Front. They were attached to the 332nd Regiment from Ohio and brigaded with the Italian Armies. Their patients were treated for burns from mustard gas, pneumonia, malaria, and influenza. Base Hospital #102 treated a total of 3,000 patients with a loss of only twenty-eight.
Sister Chrysostom received decorations for bravery and service to the military from both the Italian and American governments. She also received congratulations from Pope Benedict XV, President Wilson, and Governor Kilby of Alabama.
After the war, Sister was sent to administer hospitals in St Louis and St Joe Missouri and finally to Mobile, Alabama.
She was buried with military honors in a soldier’s grave in Catholic Cemetery, Mobile Alabama. Sister Chrysostom was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982.
As always, I sure do appreciate you coming by today. When I see you’ve visited or liked a post it makes my heart sing. If I see you’ve left a comment for me, I’m just right over the moon! Being that you’re out and about on the web anyway, why not pop over to Amazon and get a copy of New Yesterdays for your reading pleasure? Pick up an extra copy or three for the young folk in your life. They’ll thank you for it and Ol’ Big Jim will too! Just click either of those highlighted links and, presto! Like magic, you’ll be off on a delightful journey!
An excellent tribute to a wonderful person, Jim. Thanks.
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Well I have to say, you taught me something today – and that makes for a pretty good day! Interesting portrait. A fabulous woman indeed! They really did it right back then, didn’t they? I can’t believe I didn’t know her already. I’m from Alabama and got my nursing license there! Small world. The reader recommended your site. I’m glad it did. Enjoyed it! Thank you!
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Thank you for your kind words, and thank you a hundred thousand times for stopping by.
Sr Chrysostom was a formidable woman, yes! However, during my tenure at St Vincent’s I was fortunate to become friends with a good many of the Sisters. All of them seem to have been cut from the same bolt of cloth as Sr Chrysostom.
I hope I’ll see you making return visits!
Thank you so much for this wonderful column. I happened upon you, and your words about Mother Moynihan . i knew nothing about this fearless and magnificent woman, until Fr. Joe Wolfe at EWTN. mentioned Mother today at morning Mass
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Thank you a hundred thousand times for stopping by, Alice! I’m about to revive this blog, and hopefully you’ll find something else of interest here.