Sisters of Providence given permission to swim!

June 29, 1953: This is a very special day in the history of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. This was the day that the sisters were given permission to swim!

Sisters John Mary Rifner and Martha Ann Rifner (yes, they are sisters, too!) were two of the sisters who were excited about this new opportunity.

According to a web article, “Sister John Mary certainly remembered that June day in 1953 when word was received that swimming was permitted.

“‘Mother Marie Helene [Franey, general superior from 1948 to 1953] came in and told the postulants and novices that they would be permitted to swim,’ said Sister John Mary.

“Soon the sisters received their new seersucker suits that looked like a short dress. Panties and bras were necessary undergarments to wear with the suit.

“‘As soon as you got into the water it clung to you,’ said Sister Martha Ann.

“‘And when you jumped in the water, the skirt would come up over you and you didn’t know whether you were drowning or alive,’ laughed Sister John Mary. ”

The photograph above shows the swimming pool that was located in the old gymnasium on the motherhouse grounds. The pool was once shared with the students at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.


Sparks from chimney start fire at Military Hospital

Indiana Governor Oliver Morton asked the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., to provide assistance in the administration of City Hospital in Indianapolis right after the April 12, 1861 attack on Fort Sumter. The Congregation graciously responded to the request and served soldiers — Union and Confederate — for the duration of the Civil War at Military (formerly City) Hospital (pictured).

In the Archives of the Sisters of Providence are several transcripts of two Indianapolis newspapers. The transcripts give one a glimpse into the daily life of the sister-nurses and their charges. The Indianapolis Daily Journal relates the following article about a fire in the hospital in its Monday, Jan. 16, 1865, issue:

“Yesterday morning about eight o’clock, the City Hospital was discovered to be on fire in the roof, having caught from the sparks from the chimney. Through the exertions of the attaches, however, who cut a hole in the roof in another place, and applied a wholesome quantity of water, the fire was extinguished with slight damage. The water occasioned some inconvenience in some of the rooms, but the energy of Drs. Kitchen and Wishard soon made all comfortable again. The Hospital is full of sick and wounded and we shudder at the bare contemplation of the consequences had the fire got a fair headway. It was the wooden addition that was on fire, and owing to its combustible nature, it would have been speedily consumed.”

This transcript is part of the collection of the Sisters of Providence in the Vigo County Indiana Civil War Sesquicentennial Project. See more documents and artifacts in the Sisters of Providence collection.


‘On the eve of a great battle’

“My dear Mother:

“On the eve of a great battle I have a few minutes, and with my saddle as a desk, will write a few words to the loved ones at home.

“General Hill of the rebel army has crossed the Potomac about this point and is marching upon the capital with a large army. Our forces are detailed to give him battle on all points of our position.”

So begins an 1863 letter from John Blinn to his mother in Terre Haute, Ind.

Blinn continues:

“What ever may be my fate in the coming contest you may rely with confidence in the persuasion that it will be one of which my friends and family may not feel dishonored.

“Should I be spared again to fight under the same glorious banner for which I have fought, it will be with God’s will. If I should fall, remember that I died in a cause for which many have died. Let His will, whose knowledge surpasseth all understanding, be done.”

This letter is part of the collection of the Vigo County Historical Society in the Indiana Civil War Sesquicentennial Project. See more documents and artifacts in the Vigo County Historical Society’s collection.