A Flu Season Like None Other

As we prepare for the 2010 flu season with flu shots and immunity boosting vitamins, we can be thankful that the year is not 1918!  The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20- to 40-million people worldwide with many dying within 24 hours of contracting the disease. 

The following journal entries from Sisters living in San Jose gives a glimpse of life during this time. The brave Sisters called it a privilege to help those stricken with this deadly, infectious disease.


October 11, 1918

Here the Day High School and all the Parish Schools closed, and will remain so until the 18th of November as the influenza is raging in the town. The boarders however continued to keep school as there were no cases among them and every precaution was taken to keep the dreaded disease from our door.  No visitors were allowed to come to the parlors, those of pure necessity were received at the lodge, all mail and packages were fumigated before they were received at the house, and every department was well ventilated. The boarders recreations were lengthened so as to give them more time in the open air, as the Doctors recommended this together with more sleep, as a preventative. They obtained the later by retiring an hour earlier.

October 12, 1918

Our dear Sister Superior was still at Santa Barbara, having been detained longer on account of a cold.  Dear Sister Anthony, SH, fearing our dear Sister Superior would be worrying about us, on account of the papers giving such dreadful reports about the epidemic, sent our dear Sister Superior a night telegram to assure her that we were all well.

October 14, 1918

Dear Sister Anthony, SH, received a letter in reply, telling her to have the Sisters make a Novena for the Poor Souls that we may be preserved from the epidemic, and our dear Sister Superior herself had a Novena of Masses said for them.

October [date unknown] 1918

The Sisters did a great deal of good.  On two occasions two of them had to remain with a family of children until the Health Officers found some one to take care of them, as the father and mother were so sick they had to be sent to the Hospital. They did a great deal of good among these poor sick people, and were the means of getting some little children baptized and of bringing the older people back to the practice of their religious duties.

October 26, 1918

Mrs. McGinty the devoted wife of our good doctor, Dr. McGinty, died of the Influenza leaving two little children one of whom was a day boarder. The doctor himself was sick at the time, but managed to keep up until after the death of his wife when he was prostrate with the dreadful epidemic.

October 27, 1918

Rev. Father Thornton, SJ, sent a telephone message from Santa Clara University asking our dear Sister Superior to let the Sisters spend a half hour in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in order to pray for the sick students about 50 of whom were down with the influenza and one had died the night before. Towards evening our dear Sister Superior received word that the others were very much better. The sick students were at the Sanitarium and those who were well were sent home to their parents.

November 1, 1918

About half-past nine a.m., dear Sister Agnes Aloysius who was stricken with a light attack of the Influence was taken to the sanitarium to prevent contagion as it was the only case here at the Convent. Sister was one of the privileged ones who went out to care for the sick.  Dear Sister Mary of the Assumption left in the afternoon to take her place in this charitable work.

November 9, 1918

The Sisters who had been taking care of the sick in town were discharged of their duties, and were sent to Saratoga for a weeks rest.