‘Repairers of the Breach’: Nun shares research, stories of religious sisters during Civil War

Staff Writer

The American Civil War killed more Americans than any other war and introduced hundreds of American heroes, including more than 600 religious sisters who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers of both the North and South armies. 

Their stories of courage and humility remained largely unknown at Franciscan University until Sister M. Johanna Paruch, FSGM, introduced them at a talk hosted by Mary Spouse of the Spirit woman’s household on Wednesday night. 

History is about people,” said Paruch. “It’s not about land or battles, but people. These sisters were great because they went out in these very elaborate habits with yards and yards of material and it’s not easy to do that with the mud and the blood and the gore. But off they went.” 

Paruch, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, has been researching the unknown stories of these women ever since her dentist encouraged her to join the Civil War Roundtable while she lived in Rock Island, Ill.

There are about 618 women documented in official archives of the various communities. However, with the geographic area and number of convents, Paruch estimated that there may have been closer to between 900 and 950 sisters. 

According to Paruch, the Daughters of Charity have more than 300 sisters documented as nurses working in more than 16 states. Sisters of Mercy have documented about 100 sisters.

Unfortunately, in 1965 the Union Army set fire to Columbia, S.C., destroying the Ursuline convent and an asylum operated by the Sisters of Charity.

After starting her research, Paruch wrote about 70 pages, but had to stop due to other commitments. She picked the project up again this summer and plans on spending the 2014-2015 school year on sabbatical to finish her research.

Paruch has very high spirits about her project.

I hope the heroicness and sacrifices shines through in my book,” she said. “The tragedy is that many of these communities are dying. I want to tell their story.”



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