Florence Nightingale and the Sisters of Mercy

The first women to leave England for the Crimea were a group of Sisters from the Convent of Mercy, Bermondsey, London. The Superior of the Convent, Reverend Mother Clare Moore, was asked by Bishop Thomas Grant of Southwark, in response to a plea for volunteer nurses issued by the Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, to send a small contingent of Sisters to the East.

Clare was a dependable, intelligent, hard worker who was tolerant and understanding of others and had a calming influence on those around her. Florence and Clare worked well together and supported each other through many difficulties in grim and demanding circumstances until peace was declared.

Having become dangerously ill with dysentery and pleurisy, Clare left Scutari before all the wounded had returned home, arriving back in Bermondsey on May 16, 1856.

Florence wrote to Clare on April 29th 1856, the day after Clare left Scutari to return to England,

'My dearest Revd Mother
Your going home is the greatest blow I have had yet.
But God’s blessing & my love & gratitude go with you, as you well know….
I do not presume to express praise or gratitude to you, Revd Mother, because it would look as if I thought you had done the work not unto God but unto me. You were far above me in fitness for the General Superintendency, both in worldly talent of administration, & far more in the spiritual qualifications which God values in a superior. My being placed over you in our unenviable reign of the East was my misfortune & not my fault.
I will ask you to forgive me for everything or anything which I may unintentionally have done which can ever have given you pain - remembering only that I have always felt which I have just expressed, & that it has given me more pain to reign over you than to you to serve under me….
My love & gratitude will be yours, dearest Revd Mother, wherever you go. I do not presume to give you any other tribute but my tears….
ever my dearest Revd Mother’s
(gratefully, lovingly, overflowingly)
Florence Nightingale'

Our Bermondsey Annals, written by Clare devote over eighty pages to reporting on the Crimean experience of 1854-1856.

Florence appreciated Clare’s tolerance and understanding both during their stay in the Crimea and afterwards. Clare sent books of spiritual reading to Florence, which she treasured. They included works by Catherine of Sienna, Gertrude the Great, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Florence and Clare corresponded and visited occasionally for over twenty years until Clare died in Bermondsey on December 14th, 1874. Their care and support of each other created strong bonds between these two women whose lives were in other respects very different. Florence repeatedly expressed her gratitude for Clare’s support. She wrote to a great friend and pen pal, Benjamin Jowett in 1862:

'The most religious mind I ever knew was that of a R.(oman) Catholic Revd Mother, who was so good as to go out with me to the Crimea. After we came home I found her one day cleaning out a gutter with her own hands. I know she did it on no theory. I think she had much better have employed a man to do it, but that is what I mean by a true idea of religious life, and she the only R. (oman) Catholic too I have ever known who never tried to convert me'

Florence’s wrote to Clare on 19th November 1855:

'I cannot express to you, dear Revd Mother, the gratitude which I and the whole country feel to you for your goodness.
You have been one of our chief main-stays & without you I do not know what would have become of the work.
With love to all my Sisters, believe me, dear Revd Mother, ever yours affectionately & gratefully
Florence Nightingale'

July 3rd 1865 Florence wrote:

'I prize my dearest Revd Mother’s letters & prayers more than anything else – more than I can say.'

Again on July 22nd 1865 Florence wrote to Clare:

'… And I am not like my dear Revd. Mother who is never ruffled-
whose loving & grateful
F. N.
I always am, even when I cannot write. Pray for me.'

Two days before Clare’s death, Florence wrote to a sister in the Bermondsey community:

'Dear Sister,
I know not what to write.
Perhaps she is at this moment with God.
But this we know: She could scarcely be more with God than she was habitually here: therefore all things are well with her whether she be there or still here:
It is we who are left motherless when she goes.
But she will not forget us
I cannot say more.
I send 2 or 3 Eggs for the chance.
And I have got a little game which I send: for I think you, & perhaps others, must be so worn out with watching & sorrow that perhaps you cannot eat.
And you know she would wish you to eat.
We pray with our whole hearts to God.'

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