As you’ve no doubt noticed, I often like to use this space to write about the feast day of some saint or another – and this week I struggled to decide between two: Clare, Abbess of Assisi (1253) on August 11, and Florence Nightingale, Nurse and Social Reformer (1910), on August 12. In good Anglican fashion, I decided not to address this in an “either/or” fashion, but instead with a “both/and” mentality – and so talk about both of them!
Clare Offreducio came from a well-to-do family in Assisi, but when she heard a sermon by Francis of Assisi she decided (at the ripe old age of eighteen) to vow to live a life of poverty. Her family was against it, but Francis helped get her set up in a nearby convent. Over time a house was found for her burgeoning order, which came to include several friends, two of her sisters, her widowed mother, and even members of the wealthiest family in Assisi. The order came to be called the Poor Clares, though officially they were the Minoresses (after the name of the Franciscans, who were known as Friars Minor). They embraced radical poverty, prayer, and ministry to the sick and to those who were poor and on the margins.
Nursing the sick, of course, is the first thing many of us think of when we hear the name Florence Nightingale. And though her family was British, in another similarity with Clare, Florence was also born in Italy – in Florence, of course! She trained as a nurse and after volunteering to serve during the Crimean War, she organized the first modern nursing service in British field hospitals. Her strict standards greatly improved outcomes and reduced the mortality rates in the hospitals – and led her to establish a nursing school at St. Thomas Hospital that was partially responsible for the professionalization of nursing. Her devotion to her Anglican faith and to spiritual exploration led to her being seen in her later years as a healing and holy person, in addition to being the founder of the modern profession of nursing.
Like Clare and Florence, nearly all of us are called to be caregivers in some form or other during our lives. We may not be nurses or doctors, but we may care for children, or aging parents, or close friends – even if it is just taking someone to the doctor, or visiting during an illness. As followers of Christ, we all participate in his ministry of healing!
A Prayer for Caregivers and Others in Support of the Sick
Lover of souls, we bless your Holy Name for all who are called to mediate your grace to those who are sick or infirm. Sustain them by your Holy Spirit, that they may bring your loving-kindness to those in pain, fear, and confusion; that in bearing one another’s burdens they may follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.