WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Sisters of Compassion mark 100 years since 1918 influenza pandemic

WelCom November 2018:

The story of the Sisters of Compassion during the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century will be told in a temporary exhibition opening mid-November at the Home of Compassion, Island Bay. The pandemic came at the end of the devastating WWI and struck Wellington between November and December 1918. Wellington had the highest death rate of the cities.

As city officials mobilised, the sisters responded to the call for volunteers, nursing the sick in Island Bay, Berhampore and at the temporary hospital at St Patrick’s College. When St Patrick’s boarders were sent home, Rector Fr Gilbert offered two dormitories as wards to the Department of Health. The sisters, who nursed the boarders, were in charge. Along with a team of volunteers they cared for 91 men at the hospital. Dr Kingston-Fyffe, the attending doctor, described St Patrick’s Emergency Hospital as ‘a model of good management and good nursing in contrast to the chaos at the other temporary hospitals’.

During the pandemic Suzanne Aubert was in Rome, stranded by the war, and the outbreak of flu further delayed her return home. Sr Claver led the sisters at this time and Sr Clotilde directed much of the nursing. Sr Clotilde was assigned a motorcyclist and a side-car to carry out her duties. Many of the sisters also contracted the flu. Sr Natalie O’Meara, in charge of the nursery at the Home, caught the flu when visiting her brother. She died on 13 December 1918.

The exhibition will be open from mid-November at Our Lady’s Home of Compassion, 2 Rhine St (off Murray St), Island Bay, Tue-Sat 10am-3pm; Sun 12noon‒3pm. For more information email heritagecentre@compassion.org.nz or phone (04) 282-1953.