Sister Anthony O’Connell

“Angel on the Battlefield”

getImageBy Elizabeth Marsh

Sister Anthony O’Connell, born in 1814 as Mary Ellen O’Connell, grew up in Limerick, Ireland. Years later in 1821, after her mother passed away, Mary and her family immigrated to the United States for a fresh start in Boston. Mary had grown up a Catholic and joined the American Sisters of Charity in Maryland when she was twenty-one. After becoming a nun and taking the name, Sister Anthony, she relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837. Sister Anthony worked for a variety of organizations during her time in Cincinnati including St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum for Girls, St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum for Boys, and St. John’s Hospital for Invalids. With the experience of working in the asylums and hospital, Sister Anthony was prepared to volunteer as a nurse at the onset of the Civil War. Because nursing was not yet an established profession, the best nurses were often nuns because they were taught medical skills. Therefore Sister Anthony and her fellow sisters were in demand. Sister Anthony became known as an “Angel on the Battlefield” for her bravery and sacrifice in aiding soldiers by dragging the wounded off the battlefield. There was an incredibly high risk of contracting diseases or infections as measles, typhoid, and smallpox were rampant on the battlefield. Besides the risk of disease, Sister Anthony and her fellow nurses were exposed to the horrors of wars, heightened due to new military technology. Sister Anthony wrote, “Whilst at Shiloh we were often obliged to move further up the river, owing to the terrible stench from the dead bodies on the battlefield, but what we endured on the field of battle whilst gathering up the wounded from among the dead is simply beyond description. At one time there were seven-hundred of these poor creatures crowded into one boat.”[1] The sister was committed to helping soldiers for both armies and would not let the grotesque nature of the Civil war dissuade her. She had become close to many generals on both sides of the war, including Jefferson Davis, and was praised by President Lincoln for her work. When the war finally came to an end, Sister Anthony returned to Cincinnati and continued to devote herself to charity. She passed away on December 8, 1897. Sister Anthony’s portrait currently hangs at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Works Cited Barkley, Elizabeth Bookser. “Angels on the Battlefield.” St. Anthony Messenger (2013): accessed on 23 March 2015. McNamara, Pat. Patheos. “’Angel of the Battlefield’” Sister Anthony O’Connell, S.C. (1814-1897).” Last modified 24 May 2011.   [1] Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, “Angels on the Battlefield,” St. Anthony Messenger (2013): accessed on 23 March 2015,

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