Extracts of letters written by Sisters of Charity during the War of Secession, from 1861 to 1865: “Military Hospital (House of Refuge), St. Louis, Missouri.
Many of our poor soldiers scarcely knew of the existence of God, and had never even heard baptism mentioned. But, when the Sisters explained to them the necessity of this sacrament, and the goodness of God, who, by means of it, cleanses us from the original stain, and adopts us as His children, they were filled with the deepest emotion, and often shed tears. On one occasion, a patient said: “Sister, do not leave me; tell me more about that good God whom I ought to love. How is it that I have lived so long and have never heard Him spoken of as you have just done? What must I do to become a child of God?” “You must,” replied the Sister, “believe and be baptized.” “Well, baptize me,” was his answer. The Sister persuaded him to await the arrival of Father Burke, who would be there next morning. The patient consented reluctantly. “Ah!” said he, “it is very long to wait, and I am so weak; if I die unbaptized, I shall not go to Heaven.” To relieve his anxiety, the Sister promised to watch near him and administer baptism, should she perceive any unfavorable change in his condition. “Now,” said he, “I am satisfied; I rely on you to open for me the gates of Heaven; it is through your intervention I must enter.” He spent a quiet night. Next morning, Father Burke admitted him into the Catholic Church, by the sacrament of baptism, which he received with admirable piety. A crucifix was presented him; grasping it eagerly, he kissed it, saying as he did so: “Oh my God! I did not know Thee or love Thee before coming to this hospital!” Then, turning to the Sister, he said: “Sister, I have forgotten the prayer you taught me;” and he repeated after her several times, “My Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit, sweet Jesus, receive my soul.” He died pronouncing these words.
The precise number of baptisms cannot be ascertained; there were probably seven hundred during the two or three years of our residence in the hospital. Five hundred Catholics who had led careless or sinful lives returned sincerely to God and resumed the practice of their religious duties. A great number of these had received no other sacrament than that of baptism, and they made their first Communion at the hospital. The majority of the newly baptized died; the others on leaving asked for medals and catechisms, saying they desired to instruct themselves and their families.”
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