by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC
A piece of history, the only one of its kind, was recently donated to the Sisters of the Holy Cross Congregational Archives and Records. The item, a porcelain cup, was given as a gift to Sister M. Gregory (Barry), CSC, by wounded soldiers whom sister had nursed during the American Civil War.
The war, a clash of ideals and political controversy around human rights and slavery, led to four years of battle and more than 1.5 million casualties. The Holy Cross sisters’ involvement with the conflict came about when Father Edward Sorin, CSC, knocked on their door one late night with an urgent request. He relayed that the governor had asked for 12 sisters to help care for the many dying and injured soldiers. The sisters agreed to serve under the condition that they dispense care to all who arrived in medical need, Union and Confederate soldiers alike.
And so they did. Conditions were nearly unbearable, but the sisters served. Nurturing broken bodies and wounded souls, they did all they could to witness God’s love for all.
A Caring Heritage
Sister Gregory, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, professed her perpetual vows in the Congregation in August 1861, just months into the war. Her first assignment (and military service) was from 1862 to 1865 at a converted warehouse that served as a hospital in Mound City, Illinois.
Ann Pretzel, a distant relative of Sister Gregory, donated the cup that bears the name of Sister M. Gregory. “We were told that because her name was written on the cup in gold leaf, she was not able to keep it due to her vow of poverty,” she says. “Therefore, it got passed through the family, ending up in the possession of my mother, and more recently, myself. This cup has always been a treasured part of our family heirlooms.” Ann and her siblings decided that the cup should go “home” to the Sisters of the Holy Cross to become part of the Congregation’s archives.The artifact points to the beginnings of the Holy Cross sisters’ legacy of health care ministry in the United States and around the world. But it also shines a light on the sisters’ pervading charism. Relying on God’s providence and faithfulness they serve eagerly, with kindness and courage, walking with all who are suffering. From hospitals for miners, to health needs of migrating peoples, to free health clinics, their history of compassionate caregiving continues.