Tag: Civil War

Historical Context of a Prayer

A Prayer “For the Protection of the United States,” by Father Abram Ryan, printed in the December 1953 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin, was a little old-fashioned in phrasing, and oddly passionate. 

                In 1953, without the easy reference capabilities of the internet, the Bulletin editor probably had no idea of the piece’s origin.

                Blessed instinct said “find out more about it before you reprint it in 2021” (though a quick google finds this odd prayer online already, in various places, unattributed)!

“O Mary Immaculate! Guard with loving care this country dedicated to thee. Let thy purity keep it pure. Watch over its institutions. As thou art the Refuge of Sinners, this country is the refuge of the exiled and the oppressed. Guide it ever in the ways of peace. Let it never forget its high vocation to teach all the nations of the world, by word and example, the principles of well regulated liberty and reverence for rights of men. Let not its prosperity be its ruin. Alas, many of its children who know not what they do, are walking in uncertain paths, whch are dark and lead them away from the truth. Mother of all, pray for us and plead for them, that we thy children may love and adore thy adorable Son with more fervent faith; that those who are wandering in error’s path may, through thy intercession, return to the one Fold of the true Shepherd — to thy Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Father Abram Ryan

It appears in a book entitled A Crown for Our Queen, written by Rev. Abram J. Ryan, published in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1882.

Who was Reverend Abram Ryan?

The 1912  Catholic Encyclopedia  describes him as “the poet priest of the South, born at Norfolk, Virginia 15 August, 1839; died at Louisville, Kentucky, 22 April, 1886.” (Other sources correct his birthplace as Hagerstown, MD February 5, 1838 – shortly after the family moved from Norfolk). Father Ryan was ordained just before the Civil War and entered the war as a chaplain for the Confederacy. The Catholic Encyclopedia guardedly observes that “he inherited from his parents…the strange witchery of the Irish temper...” and he used “weird and exquisite imagery” in his works. The careful wording begs for further investigation.

Modern sources clarify that Father Ryan was called the “poet laureate of the Confederacy,” writing poems during and after the Civil War which “captured the spirit of sentimentality and martyrdom then rising in the South.” He was known well-enough, that he even had a cameo in Margaret Mitchell’s famous Civil War novel Gone With the Wind: “Father Ryan, the poet-priest of the Confederacy, never failed to call [at Melanie’s home] when passing through Atlanta. He charmed gatherings there with his wit and seldom needed much urging to recite his ‘Sword of Lee’ or his deathless ‘Conquered Banner,’ which never failed to make the ladies cry.

Several sources note that Ryan was fiercely “anti-abolitionist,” which draws new attention to the emotional phrasing of his exhortation. Reaching out from history, this curious artifact offers an unsettling glimpse back in time, and a stark reminder that context is important. Though the prayer itself is ambiguous enough that it could just as easily have been prayed by a Catholic abolitionist. Sometimes God answers prayers in unexpected ways.

“In all of your affairs, rely on the Providence of God through which alone you must look for success. Strive quietly to cooperate with its designs. If you have a sure trust in God, the success that comes to you will always be that which is most useful to you, whether it appears good or bad in your private judgment.” (Saint Francis de Sales)

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God’s Geese Flock to the Satterlee Hospital

Sister Gonzaga

Eleanor Donnelly, the “Poet Laureate of the American Catholic Church,” donated our Blessed Mother altar and lived in the parish at 4502 Springfield Ave. She also penned a small tome in 1900, catchily titled: The Life of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul 1812-1897 – which includes several vivid chapters detailing Sister Gonzaga’s experiences as head nurse at the Satterlee Civil War Hospital, in our neighborhood, decades before our church was founded.

 The Sisters (or Daughters) of Charity was a religious order, founded in Paris in 1633, to aid the poor and the sick. Their traditional clothing was “one of the most conspicuous of Catholic Sisters,” as it included a large, winged cap called a “cornette” — based on traditional peasant clothing when the order was founded. Because of the distinctive cap, the sisters were sometimes referred to as “God’s Geese,” and the hats were a frequent subject of wonder.

Donnelly quotes from Sister Gonzaga’ own journal, to explain how the sisters came to be at Satterlee: “In the twenty-fifth of May, 1862, a requisition was made by Surgeon-General Hammond, through Dr. I. J. Hayes, for twenty-five Sisters of Charity, to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers in the West Philadelphia Hospital — afterwards known as the Satterlee Hospital, in honor of General Satterlee…Dr. Hayes (of Arctic-exploration fame) was appointed Surgeon-in-Charge.” Today, the location of the hospital is described as a “sixteen-acre plot bounded by present-day Baltimore Avenue and Pine, Forty-third, and Forty-sixth Street” with a memorial stone in Clark Park.

Eleanor Donnelly

Sister Gonzaga records that the Sisters were directed to be ready to move in to the still-under-construction hospital by June 9, 1862:

Accordingly, twenty-two Sisters arrived at 10 a. m., on that day. The place was so large that we could not find the entrance. The workmen looked at us in amazement, thinking, perhaps, that we belonged to ‘the flying artillery’ (because of the hats!)  After stepping over bricks and mortar, pipes, etc., we were ushered into an immense ward, while a good Irishman went in search of the Surgeon-in-Charge. He and his staff welcomed us and showed us to our quarters, and desired us to order dinner to suit ourselves. He then showed us through the Hospital, of which but eight wards were finished. The full number, when completed, was thirty-three, each accommodating seventy-five patients comfortably, with his separate table and chair.  Attached to each ward, were two small rooms; one for the chief nurse, the other for the Sisters to keep medicines, little delicacies, etc., at hand. The Hospital grounds covered an area of fifteen acres, giving our sick ample space to rove about and recreate themselves.”

“At 12 pm. we repaired to the kitchen for dinner, and we could not help smiling when we saw the tea served in wash pitchers, and the meat and potatoes in basins. There was neither knife, nor fork, nor spoon. Upon asking for them, the cook answered that he had only four for the officers’ use, but as they did not dine until later, he could lend them to us. We used them in turn. By the time we had finished dinner, we found they were bringing in some sick — about one hundred and fifty. All went to workhttps://archive.org/details/lifeofsistermary00donn to prepare some nourishment for the poor fellows, who looked at us in amazement, not knowing what manner of beings we were” (because of the hats!).

“On the sixteenth of August, over fifteen hundred sick and wounded soldiers were brought to the Hospital, most of them from the battle of Bull Run….The wards being now crowded, tents were erected…” Patients tried to show their appreciation for the Sisters’ tireless patient ministrations: one convalescent, “when ‘on leave,’ — ran all over town, seeking in every millinery shop for a new white cornette such as the Sisters wore (and which he did not know were never purchased in such quarters), to replace the old, and sometimes blood-bespattered bonnet that covered his faithful nurse’s head.”  Donnelly reports that “During the three years which the sisters passed at the Military Hospital of West Philadelphia, they attended over eighty thousand sick or wounded soldiers!”

Herline & Co. Lithographers [1869-70], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Atlantis Lore and Civil War

donnelly

How is SFDS parish connected with the lost city of Atlantis?

Admittedly a tenuous link, it comes to us through Eleanor C. Donnelly, the donor of our Blessed Mother altar, who was born in Philadelphia in 1838. The sixth child in a large literary family, she credited her brother Ignatius with teaching her to write verse when she was age nine, and she published her first book during the American Civil War.

By the early 1900s, Eleanor was “The Poet Laureate of the Catholic Church” in America and her religious poems were read at many public events. Her published works comprised “almost fifty volumes” of short stories, poems, and  biographies – including a biography of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace, head nurse of the local  Civil War Satterlee Hospital (its location marked by the Gettysburg stone in Clark Park), filled with interesting details of hospital life. Another poetry volume, Lyrics and Legends of Ancient Youth , published in 1906, is notable as all proceeds from its sale went to “the building fund of the new church of St. Francis de Sales, Forty seventh street, West Philadelphia, of which the Rev. M.J. Crane is the Rector.”

Eleanor was a prolific letter writer: the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC) archives and the Minnesota Historical Society contain many letters to and from prominent people, including correspondence with her favorite big brother Ignatius. This is where the Atlantean connection comes in: a Minnesota congressman and Lieutenant Governor, Ignatius Donnelly is better remembered today for supporting the theory that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and for his book  Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, which remains a seminal cult classic of Atlantis lore.

Eleanor’s life had its share of shadows. She never married and never quite fulfilled her dream of religious life, which proved “too taxing.” Our Mary altar is poignantly engraved with a memorial to her parents and brothers and sisters. Her parents died young. Her brother Ignatius passed away suddenly in 1901. Two of Eleanor’s sisters and a niece died within days of each other  in 1909, and other relatives perished soon after.

Eleanor lived at 4502 Springfield Avenue, according to Who’s Who in America 1908-1909. She and her last remaining sibling retired from there to live with the IHM Sisters at Villa Maria convent in West Chester, where Eleanor wrote a dedication poem for our church in 1911. She was buried from the Cathedral with great ceremony, in 1917.