The Crimean Journals of the Sisters of Mercy, 1854-56

By Mangion, Carmen M. | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Crimean Journals of the Sisters of Mercy, 1854-56


Mangion, Carmen M., Nursing History Review


The Crimean Journals of the Sisters of Mercy, 1854-56 Edited by Maria Luddy (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 2004) (260 pages; 55 euros/£50/$55 cloth)

Fifteen mostly Irish women religious journeyed to Crimea in 1854 under the leadership of Mother Superior M. Francis (Joanna) Bridgeman and at the request of the British government and episcopal authorities of the English and Irish Catholic Churches. Their motives were straightforward. The government wished to quell public outrage regarding the inadequate nursing care of their troops in Crimea, and the Catholic Church hoped this show of loyalty would improve the position of Catholics in Britain. Mother Bridgeman and her cohort saw their mission as a means to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers, but more importantly, to provide for their spiritual needs.

All fifteen sisters were encouraged to write accounts of their experiences, not as personal diaries, but as community documents; of these, three are extant. The journals of Sister M. Aloysius Doyle and Sister M. Joseph Croke were destined to become communal reading material in their convents, and excerpts were published in Catholic magazines or, in the case of Doyle, in book form. Mother M. Francis Bridgeman's detailed account was intended for congregation leaders and clerics; it was never published. These three journals, in their entirety, are at the core of this text.

Maria Luddy's introduction and skillful editing reflect her own copious research. She presents biographical sketches of the characters and sets the scene for their journey to Crimea. The theme that reverberates throughout, in the texts and in the silences, is one of relationships: the sisters' relationships with Florence Nightingale; with the clergy; with die medical staff and patients; with the ladies and nurses; and certainly, with their God. The tenor of these relationships has much to say about gender, ethnicity, religion, class, and authority. Luddy helps us to better understand many of the silences through die correspondence and documents that she has unearthed in her own research.

Mother M. Francis Bridgeman was a powerful figure in all three narratives. She was an astute woman, aware of the import of her responsibilities toward the fifteen sisters, her church, and her God. Religious fervor and Victorian propriety colored her actions. She was the infamous "Mother Brickbat" of Florence Nightingale's correspondence. Nightingale remarked angrily that her conduct was "neither that of a Christian, a gentlewoman or even a woman."' Here is that other half of the story of the relationship between Nightingale and Bridgeman, and, in the style of Florence Nightingale, it is the acrimonious nature of the relationship that emerges. Bridgeman's disapproving attitude toward Nightingale is evident as she documents their sparring throughout her text. Nightingale is portrayed as one with an "ambitious spirit" who "played the part of an insidious, dangerous enemy" supported by "human power and English infatuation and bigotry" (p. 145).

Irish-English antagonism resounds throughout the narrative, but the tone changes subdy by the end of their journals. Sister M. Aloysius proudly announced in one of her first letters to her mother superior in Ireland, "We travel in our veils, in the face of proud bigoted England, no disguise whatever. …

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