1918 Pandemic Launched Sisters’ Ministry in Medicine

FIve SistersCovid-19 is the second pandemic weathered by Sylva nia Franciscans.

The Influenza of 1918 swept the world just two years after Mother M. Adelaide and 24 Rochester Franciscans arrived, at the request of Bishop Schrembs, to serve as teachers for Toledo’s Polish children.

The pandemic stopped everything.  In Toledo, there were as many as 20,000 cases and 700 deaths.* Schools and stores closed for months, but the Sisters stayed busy by helping where they could.

Nearby, U.S. Gypsum had a small company town near Port Clinton, Ohio.  By October, the miners and their families were severely stricken. The company superintendent asked Fr. Raphael Kinnane of Port Clinton’s Immaculate Conception Church for help.  When Bishop Schrembs learned of the situation, he again called on Mother Adelaide.

Her response began a century long ministry in health care.

The next morning, October 28, 1918, she and five Sylvania Franciscans arrived in Gypsum.  In the Sylvania Franciscan archives, identification was found for only three of the Sisters – Sister Emmanuel Ochocki, Sister Eugenia Zajac and a Sister Elizabeth.

The five Sisters stayed and cared for 98 people battling Influenza.  They tended the sick in homes as well as in a make-shift clinic set up in a donated cottage, using another cottage as a temporary convent.  Blessedly, all their patients lived.

Of the Sisters, only Sister Eugenia, a 19-year-old who had recently made her first profession, was taken ill.  Although she survived, she never regained her health.  She died in 1930.

Having demonstrated that the Sylvania Franciscans had a talent, like their Rochester Franciscan Sisters, for health care ministry, Mother Adelaide began sending the Sisters to nursing and hospital administration schools.   The congregation officially staffed their first hospital in 1921.  By 1950, a third of the Sylvania Franciscans served in the ministry of health care and eventually they would staff 20 hospitals across seven states.

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Sources: Sister Nora Klewicki, OSF; Ventures for the Lord: A History of the Sylvania Franciscans; 1990.

Sister Judy Zielinski, OSF; We Came to Serve; the Story of Sylvania Franciscan Health Care. A New Group Media Documentary.

Lauren Lindstrom, The Blade, March 25, 2018, 100 years ago, a deadly flu brought Toledo to a standstill

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