YELLOW FEVER AND ST. JOSEPH CHURCH

This building was constructed in 1841-42 as Christ Episcopal Church at the corner of the present day Randolph Street and

Van Dorn Avenue. When construction was begun on the present Christ Church in 1857, this building was sold to the

town’s small group of Catholics and moved to this location. The Catholic population of the town increased dramatically

during the building of the Mississippi Central Railroad but declined after the War when the railroad headquarters was

moved to Water Valley.

Eventually, the Catholic community wanted to open a school. Colonel H. W. Walter, a prominent non-Catholic citizen of

Holly Springs, had been stationed in Kentucky during the War and was familiar the Sisters of Charity and the school they

operated at Nazareth in that State. He petitioned the Bishop for assignment of these sisters to open a school in Holly

Springs, and in 1868 Bethlehem Academy was opened for the education of young ladies within an enrollment of 50

students.

In 1878 there were 13 Sisters of Charity at Bethlehem Academy. Fr. Anacleto Oberti1, a 31-year-old native of Morra, Italy,

was the St. Joseph parish priest. That summer a Yellow Fever epidemic struck New Orleans and spread northward. Holly

Springs was initially spared but fell victim to its own generosity when refugees from Grenada and Memphis were

welcomed into the city. On the 25th of August two Grenada refugees died. On the 31st the first Holly Springs victim fell.

Within a week an epidemic was declared and panic-stricken citizens began to flee the town. The population before the

epidemic was 3500; during the plague it was 800. Bethlehem Academy was not in session and the Sisters could have fled

the town. Instead, they chose to remain and nurse the sick. Of the 13 teaching Sisters present at the outset of the epidemic,

all eventually contracted the disease. Six of these and the parish priest died tending the sick. They lie in Hillcrest

Cemetery beneath a monument erected in 1879 by the grateful citizens of Holly Springs.

A Relief Committee was formed to oversee the operation of the town. Its head was Mr. W. J. L. Holland, formerly no great

friend of the Catholic Church. He established a hospital in the Courthouse and, on September 5th obtained doctors, nurses,

druggists, a telegraph operator and other relief personnel from the Howard Association of New Orleans. Below are

excerpts from contemporary correspondence:

September 21st TELEGRAM from Mr. Holland of the Relief Committee.

Frank Walter and his brother James, who so faithfully and efficiently filled their

places surrendered to the terrible monster. Hardly the news had reached our ears

before it was announced that Dr. Sheldon . . . of Mobile, who had charge of the

hospital here, was a victim. * * * Many bright and shining lights may go down

in this great struggle, but not one of a more brilliant character than Dr. Sheldon.

Like Dr. Manning whose heaven-lit blue eyes seemed to reflect the depth and

purity of a great and good soul within, Sheldon was mourned by us all. His

convalescents were numbered by the score, and they all speak of how tenderly the

little doctor nursed and cared for them. The situation is growing worse.

The hospital is full, and it looks as if every man must go down. The godlike

Sisters in their mission of mercy have paid in their conduct a beautiful tribute to

Christian fortitude. There are thirteen of them, belonging to Bethlehem Academy,

the Catholic school here, and ten have fallen. First the good Father Oberti died

like a true Christian minister. Father Lamy, his successor, goes his daily rounds

with a smile on his face which we love to see.

Every messenger and clerk around this office have fallen. . . .(E)ach morning as

I take my place there are tales of sorrow told me. * * * Such a calamity never

befell a people. . . . (O)ur suffering people tender their prayerful thanks for the

kind and generous assistance their friends in all parts of the Union have shown.

W. J. L. Holland

September 25th LETTER from Fr. Theodore Lamy to Fr. M. Bouchet.

I received your telegram this afternoon and answered immediately. We are

passing through very sad times here. It is now three weeks since Providence

permitted I should reach here in time to give the last Sacraments to Fr. Oberti. At

my arrival, the Court House had already been changed to a hospital. There were

four of the good Sisters to take care of the sick. Two of them caught the disease,

but they are now well; these are Sisters Victoria and Corintha. When Sisters

Stanislaus, Amanda, Cecilia, Ethelinda, and Fernanda got the fever, they were

immediately carried to the Hospital, where the best physicians were. We had in

charge Dr. Sheldon of Mobile, Ala., who is now in a very critical condition himself.

Sister Stanislaus died last Sunday morning. I buried her here in the City

Cemetery, where henceforth the Sisters will have a lot of their own. * * * When

Sister Scholastica got sick, she wished to remain at the Convent. Dr. Sheldon

promised to visit her three times a day. She asked me to bring Sister Stella to

take care of her. Poor Sister Stella herself fell sick on Sunday evening, and from

the first was taken with a violent fever. Tuesday morning I heard her confession .

. . (and) administered the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. In the evening of

Tuesday, congestion of the brain was declared. We were three men to keep her

quiet in bed. * * * As she said she wished to have a priest by her at her death,

last night at 11 o’clock they came to awake me. The black vomit had begun, and

I remained with her till she died at 5 o’clock in the morning. The President of the

Howard Association, on hearing the sad news of her death, went with me to the

undertaker and ordered the best coffin in his store for her, whom he called a

martyr of charity. * * *

Theodore Lamy

October 8th LETTER from Sr. Scholastica to Mother Columba.

I know how anxious your dear good heart must be about us, and therefore, shaky

as I feel, I must send you a line. You received the news of poor Sister Victoria’s

death, which occurred last Saturday morning. She took a relapse the Monday

before. Sister Laurentia came home the next day from the Hospital. * * * Five

have gone. * * *

Did you hear that Sister Honora was taken with the fever this day a week ago?

She had it in a very slight form, but is still unable to be up. Day before yesterday,

dear hard-working Sister Laurentia was taken down with the fatal scourge. So

far, she is doing “beautifully,” the nurses and doctors say. * * * She is the last of

our dear ones to have the fever. * * *

Our other dear Sisters, Cecilia, Lamberta, Amanda and Ethelinda are improving.

Sr. Fernanda does not improve as fast as they. Still, I hope we will have no more

relapses, and as soon as the frost comes, we will all get strong. * * * I am certain

Capt. Jack Frost never met so heartfelt a welcome as he will receive this year.

* * * You cannot form an idea of what a terribly racking disease this is. It

seems to make one forget all but the presence of the destroyer. Oh! the stupid

sleep of the fever is hard to shake off. * * * The Howards have been very kind to

us and continue so. They allow us one man nurse and three female nurses. I hope

we can dispense with some of them by the end of the week. Love to all,

Sr. Scholastica

October 18th TELEGRAM from Mr. Holland of the Relief Committee.

Since the inception of the disease, there has been the most indescribable

confusion in every department. This was occasioned by the heads of every

department being stricken first. For instance: The Nurse Department lost Colonel

Walter first, Colonel Falconer next, and their successor was so completely

exhausted by his labors I had to look after it for several days myself. His clerks,

one by one, left, till seven have gone down. In the drug store, three were stricken

down, and two of these from New Orleans. In the post office all stricken, two

died, two convalescent. In the express office two had fever, one died. In the

Commissary Department all went down. In the Medical Department eleven

physicians fell, four died, and one of the convalescents will never get well. Of

ministers here five fell, two died. Of messengers for Relief Committee not one

could stand; all went, half died. Of nurses two out of seven had it, several died.

Of teamsters all save one, and since this was written he has fallen; several died.

Of the Relief Committee I am all (that is) left of the first body, the second also. It

has been recruited seven times and still there are only three who have not had the

fever – two of these of New Orleans, who are acclimated. I would not make this

sad recital, but I feel well satisfied the outside world does not appreciate our

situation. * * * The Sisters of Bethlehem have exhibited a heroism simply grand

and beautiful. They came into the hospital and watched with sleepless care the

stricken patients, as if it were a pleasure; none . . . too repulsive for them to attend

with special pleasure, and speak words of cheer and comfort, that made the

patients feel like they were at home and under a sister’s care. One by one the

loveliest and best fell, till all went down save one – Sister Laurentia. She stood

like a monument of womanly graces, brightening us all by her brilliant eyes and

cheerful talk. Finally this good woman followed the rest, and now she sleeps by

the side of five others in our cemetery. In all this revel of disease and death it has

been our pleasure to witness some of the grandest examples of manly and

womanly virtue I have ever expected to see. * * *

W. J. L. Holland

October 25th LETTER from Sr. Scholastica to Sr. Martha.

* * * Today Col. Holland was buried!! Funeral notices were sent around and

Mr. Brittennum, the one who is taking Col. Holland’s place, sent a carriage for us.

Four of us went, I among them. ‘Tis the first time I have been away from home

since July. My heart was heavy to see such desolation. Nearly every house

closed, and so many inmates gone forever!…. In the cemetery, I saw dear Father

Oberti’s grave, with a little impromptu wooden cross Father Lamy put there when

he buried him. Some distance from there they laid the last remains of our good

and much esteemed friend, Col. Holland. Father Lamy will explain to you why

his death was particularly a sad one.

Quite near his grave are the six little mounds of our loved ones. Oh! they look so bare and desolate. * * * One of the Committeemen, a gentleman from New

Orleans, came to the carriage to bid us goodbye and said: “Well Sisters, you have

lost a good friend, but you must remember you have many more.” And indeed

they have all been as kind to us as it is possible for them to be.

I think the fever is pretty well over here. There are several cases on hand, but mostly convalescents. A few who took it since the frost will probably die. One

Catholic woman will die today. Father Lamy prepared her before he left.

Sister Scholastica

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1Surname spelled Oberto on Baptismal Certificate.