Sister Lauretta Maher

Born: unknown

Died: 1911

Born in Tipperary County, Ireland, Lauretta Maher's parents emigrated with her to the United States when she was only a few months old. When her mother died, she was taken to an orphanage in St. Vincent's, Kentucky. At sixteen she joined the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.(Sister 1933) When the Civil War brought untold casualties, Sister Lauretta was sent to Hospital 2 in Louisville. Hospital 2, located at Eighth and Grayson Streets, was a makeshift hospital set up in an old hotel to handle the war wounded. As a novice in the order, Sister Lauretta reported to Sister Philippa Pollock who was in charge of the nurses at Hospital 2 from November 1861 to September 1862.(Account) While some of the Sisters, including Sister Philippa, died of illnesses contracted during their work in the hospitals, Sister Lauretta contracted erysipelas but recovered enough to return to work. She lived until 1911. After the war she wrote of her experiences nursing the sick and wounded.

On a December morning, 1861, with a single companion, Sister Mary Joseph Hollihan, and the overseer of Nazareth farm, Mr. Knott, as our escort, I boarded the early train for Louisville. Sister and I were to replace two of our Sisters who had fallen ill at the posts of duty. Like the Apostles we left our peaceful home without scrip or staff or money in our purses. The Government had agreed to defray all expenses...

I watched each turn of the street, wondering where I would be landed, till finally I saw blue-coated soldiers with crossed bayonets standing before a large building. I called to the driver, "There is the hospital to which I am going." When the soldiers saw the garb of a Sister of Charity, their faces lighted up and they exclaimed, "Come, Sister, your Sister companions are here." They led me into a large ward filled with rows of beds, about fifty in number. In the distance I saw one of our Sisters bending over a sick soldier, and the sight of her gave me the assurance that I had reached the proper destination.

In the afternoon, Sister Phillippa Pollock, our Superior, assigned to me my special duties in a typhoid ward. There I ministered till stricken with erysipelas, when I was removed to St. Joseph's Infirmary, Louisville.

The battle of Shiloh was fought in the spring of 1862. For want of medical attendance, the wounded were left for three days upon the battlefield, till a body of charitable citizens of Louisville chartered a boat and, in company of Doctors, soldiers and nurses, went to the scene of the battle and brought as many as possible of the wounded to Louisville... The boats did not arrive till late at night and then was enacted a scene that I shall never forget. The Blue and Gray, maimed and suffering, lay side by side. Every effort was made to relieve the suffering, and on all sides were heard such exclamations as: "O, Sister, come quickly! This man is bleeding to death" - "Bring a glass of stimulants to this fainting man" - etc., etc. Heads, hands and hearts were all taxed to their utmost, striving to alleviate the suffering of the poor men, irrespective of the cause they served. This work went on until daybreak; then a few hours of rest, a short visit to the Chapel, and the same routine of duty was resumed daily.

One morning while attending [a boy from an Illinois regiment], I noticed a string around his neck, to the end of which I found attached a Miraculous Medal. The blush that suffused his face at my discovery showed there was more than ordinary interest attached to the wearing of this medal... Each day after that I spoke to him on matters of religion and found him fairly well instructed. One morning, noticing that he looked unusually weak, I asked if he would like to see Father Disney, who was expected that day. When Father was told of the young patient, he went at once to his bedside. After a short interval, Father said to me, "Sister, I will baptize this boy at once, as he desires." This was about 11:00 A. M. At 12:00 o'clock the Sisters went to lunch. Before leaving the ward, I spoke to the little fellow who was radiant with happiness. He said, "Sister, will you not write [my girl friend] and tell her I have been faithful, have worn the medal and studied the catechism and that this morning I was baptized." And so I left him, little thinking that would be my last interview with him. When I returned to the ward, his bed was empty. The orderly left in charge, told me that shortly after I left, the patient took a spasm and died immediately. So that letter was never written. Sister Philippa and I went to the room where the body awaited the undertaker, made him as presentable as possible, and secured a lock of his fair hair to send to the little girl who was instrumental in his conversion, if her address could be learned.

For many a poor soldier boy and grown man we performed such services and wrote letters of sympathy to surviving mothers and relatives.(Maher)


Account of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Who Nursed Soldiers During the Civil War 1861-July 1863. Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Archives.
"Angels of the Battlefield." Newspaper Clipping. Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Archives. October 25, 1917.
"Sister of Charity, Only Surviving Civil War Nurse, Taken by Death." Daily (Covington, Ky.), October 1933.
Maher, Sister Lauretta. Reminiscenses of the Civil War. Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Archives.