Local sisters, diocese assisted victims of 1918 flu pandemic

FROM 1916 THROUGH 1919, the Diocese of St. Cloud published a monthly magazine titled “My Message” to assist Bishop Joseph Busch with his communications efforts. The magazine featured articles focused on Catholic news, local events and explaining the faith. A few articles in 1918 and 1919 addressed the local response to the flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. The following are excerpts from “My Message.”


“When the epidemic struck the city of St. Cloud, no great attention was at first paid to it. But from day to day it spread ever more rapidly. The authorities of St. Raphael’s Hospital decided on making a survey of the situation. Two of the sisters were sent out to visit the homes that were thus far affected, with instructions to gain all the information they could [see excerpt from Sister Julitta Hoppe’s memoir below]. Two days were spent in this work. The report of the misery and of the suffering they witnessed prompted our Right Rev. Bishop to place the St. Cloud Institute at the disposal of the authorities as an emergency hospital. The offer was accepted, and immediately a committee of citizens was formed to take the necessary steps to procure the requisite equipment. This was forthcoming in the very briefest time possible. Two Sisters of St. Raphael’s were placed in charge. They were assisted by a number of the hospital’s trained nurses, and by a large number of volunteer nurses.

Sister Julitta Hoppe, left, with Sister Glenore Riedner at St. Cloud Hospital in an undated photo (Photo courtesy of St. Benedict’s Monastery)

“… During the whole time that the Institute has been open for the treatment of the stricken, considerably over two hundred persons have been recipients of the advantages it offered. This is comparatively a very large number when we consider that only those were accepted who had nobody else to care for them. All classes and kinds were accepted without question, except only their great need, just as help was rendered by all classes of our citizens without distinction of race or creed. So thoroughly efficient has been the management of the whole affair that both the State and Federal health authorities have declared it to be the very best in the entire State of Minnesota. This is no small commendation.”

— My Message, December 1918


“Isolation should be practiced if possible. Old people should be guarded against all sources of infection. The secretions, nasal and bronchial, should be disinfected. In every case the disease should be regarded as serious and the patient kept in bed until the fever has completely disappeared. From the onset the treatment should be supporting, and the patient should be well fed and nursed. At night, ten grains of Dover’s powder may be given. At the onset a warm bath is sometimes gratifying in relieving the pains in the back and limbs. If there is much fever and delirium small doses of antipyrin may be given and an ice-cap applied to the head. … Good, nutritious diet, cheerful surroundings and change of air are essential. The depression of spirits following this disease is one of its most unpleasant and obstinate features.”

— My Message, Sister M. Serena, December 1918


“… We should not be unmindful that God in his visitations does not abandon us to our misery without providing the necessary help. To be convinced of this let us direct our attention to the Orphanage at Little Falls. One hundred and six children were stricken by this dreadful plague. One hundred and six beds were occupied by so many little sufferers. At the same time the sisters were suffering with the same disease, their own bodies were burning with high fever. They would have been justified had they retired from duty and joined the mass of the afflicted. However, they did not abandon their charges, but braved the ordeal, moving down the long rows of little sufferers and ministering to their wants. They risked their own lives until every child was nursed back to health and all danger of relapse was overcome.

“A visit, at this time, to St. Gabriel’s Hospital would have witnessed a like heroic devotion to duty. The hospital, crowded to its full capacity, offered a sight never to be forgotten. Not only were the patients very sick and some of them dying, but the nurses themselves were stricken with the malady. Who was to care for them all? Two sisters and two lay nurses were the whole force available to attend to the sick by day and by night. Yet withal not one patient was neglected. These few nurses were themselves sick and should have been in bed, but they continued bravely at their post of duty until all had terminated well.

“God is certainly good, even in time of affliction, and solace is not wanting. The members of the Women’s Guild hearing of and witnessing this heroic devotion to duty, devised a way to show their recognition and appreciation. One hundred and sixty jars of delicacies and twenty-five pounds of cookies were solicited from the good ladies of the town and donated to the orphanage. This was done to accelerate the recovery of the orphans by stimulating still more their otherwise good appetite.”

— “My Message,” January 1919


The following is from the memoir of Benedictine Sister Julitta Hoppe as published Nov. 23, 2009, on the St. Benedict’s Monastery blog:

“While the flu was raging in St. Cloud, it seemed that every family was involved and Sister Cunegund and I went to tend the sick from house to house. … With the mothers and 5 or 6 children in bed, all needing care … we could not get very far. Word of the situation … got to Bishop Busch that something needed to be done. …[I]t was decided to use [a diocesan building] for the care of the sick. … We had only a few beds set up when the patients began to come. … The schools had been closed, and so the Sisters came to help from almost every one of our convents, and they helped until they, too, were taken with the flu. … We had very few doctors and they, too, got sick. The undertakers got sick and there was no one to bury the dead. Often there were 3 or 4 bodies needing burial. We wrapped them in sheets dipped in formaldehyde, and put them in the coldest place [we had] until they could be buried. We did the best we knew how. [Expectant mothers] were in a dangerous condition. I had to do a caesarean myself.”

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Leave a Reply