Heralding the War—BVM Coverage of ‘The War to End All Wars’

April 6, 2017, marked the 100th anniversary of American entry into World War I. On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany. Eight months later, the United States officially declared war against Austria-Hungary on Dec. 7, 1917. While the Sisters of Charity, BVM publication, Our Herald, did not focus on the war, it referenced the conflict several times prior to the involvement of the United States.

The earliest mention of the war came in an October 1914 article that requested prayers for the new pope, Benedict XV, “whose accession to the throne comes in times so troublous, our prayers will be earnest and unceasing.” Two years later, the April 1916 issue noted that “Eastertide this year sees war, death and desolation stalking through the world. ‘Christian Civilization has failed,’ say our enemies. We need the strong, joyful hope of triumph and of life eternal that rings out in the Easter Alleluia; but we cannot know final defeat.”

Once America entered the war, it was regularly referenced in Our Herald. The October 1917 issue, the first published after U.S. involvement, informed the reader that “at Mount Carmel adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is kept up at all the hours of the day to obtain the blessing of peace.” It also noted that “prayers have been redoubled that the Nations at war may listen to the words of the Ambassador of the Prince of Peace” (Pope Benedict XV) who had recently issued a letter calling for peace.

In January 1918, Our Herald emphasized the importance of religion in education, arguing that war “has shown in a hideous series of object lessons . . . the result of educational systems, scientific and materialistic, in which religion had no part . . . Men educated under these systems used this knowledge for the destruction of their fellowmen and themselves.”

It also heralded the capture of Jerusalem on Dec. 9, 1917, by the combined forces of Great Britain, France and Italy, and proudly noted that the chaplain who carried the cross into Jerusalem was Rev. William Raphael Ludford, OSB, who had been educated by the BVMs at St. Mary Academy in Elgin, Ill. This issue also includes a more somber mention of the war—the name of Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimmons, “one of our Kansas City boys, the first U.S. Officer killed in France.”

The October 1918 issue, which included information on the influenza epidemic, was apparently published late as it also included a short article noting that before beginning Mass on the morning of Nov. 11, the chaplain announced the armistice had been signed. “With all the fervor of our souls, we offered the Holy Sacrifice in thanksgiving” and later that afternoon the Te Deum was sung.

This issue of Our Herald, as well as the January 1919 issue, include excerpts from letters sent home by some of the soldiers. In one letter, one of BVM St. Catherine Murphy’s brothers informs her that soldiers can receive communion any time after confession, “no matter how long our fast.” On a lighter note, he also tells her the American troops “hate the name ‘Sammie’ and ‘Yank’ is our name.”

In the past, history was often taught on a macro level—great deeds performed by great men. As the teaching shifts to more of a micro level, resources such as Our Herald become more valuable to researchers as they provide a glimpse of how history was documented “as it happened.”

—Jennifer Head
BVM Archivist

Post date 4.20.2017