Thursday, September 2, 2004
Southern Cross, Page 3
“Death and sickness have left only one
Catholic priest at his post in Savannah”
Twenty-two years after the deaths of Bishops
nun was “a native of Augusta, Georgia; was
Francis X. Gartland and Edward Barron during
eighteen years of age and had entered on the
Savannah’s 1854 yellow fever epidemic, another
second year of novitiate. Her name in the world
wave of the fever claimed the lives of many reliwas Miss Kate Lysaught. Blessed are the dead
gious of the next generation. On October 16,
who die in the Lord.”
1876, the Savannah Morning News carried an
Sister Mary Joseph McGrath of the White
alarming dispatch from the Charleston News
Bluff orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy,
and Courier confirming the seriousness of the
was thirty-four when she died of yellow fever on
situation: “The news has been received that
October 24, 1877, a year after the epidemic
death and sickness have left only one Catholic
peaked. The author of Catholicity in the Caropriest at his post in Savannah. Rev. John
linas and Georgia, Father J. J. O’Connell, states
Schachte of Charleston will go at once to
that the unfortunate sister contracted yellow
the stricken city.”
fever while residing at Port Royal.
Though the 1854 Savannah epidemic
which killed Bishop Gartland and his
Father J. B. Langlois, a native of
friend, Bishop Barron, claimed close
Canada, was appointed pastor of the Cato a thousand lives, the 1066 fatalities
thedral of Saint John the Baptist in May,
tallied during the 1876 outbreak of
1876, while Bishop William H. Gross,
CSSR, was traveling in Europe. Formerly
yellow fever in Savannah surpassed that
pastor of Saint Hubert’s Church in
number. Present in other parts of the
Rita H. DeLorme Montreal, and later professor of theology
state besides Savannah, the fever
at Pio Nono College in Macon and pastor
felled priests and sisters who tended
at Milledgeville, Father Langlois died on
the sick. Yellow fever infection produced unmisOctober 14, 1876, three days after being stricken
takable, devastating symptoms: fever, pain, proswith yellow fever. The Savannah Morning News
tration, yellowing of the eyes, the signature
commended Langlois’ “sincerity, zeal and devo“black vomit,” hemorrhages, and kidney and
tion” and his “continuous labors in the care of
brain damage.
the charge imposed upon him.” and numbered
Victims were sisters and priests
him among the first to visit local yellow fever
Among religious known to have contracted
yellow fever during the 1870s were Sisters Mary
A Philadelphian, Father James A. Kelly, was
Martha Manning, Mary Berchman Wheeler (or
ordained by Bishop William H. Gross, at the
Whelan), Mary Blandina Lysaught, and Mary
Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist on March 12,
Joseph McGrath, and Fathers J.B. Langlois,
1876. It was a halcyon year for the youthful and
James A Kelly, James Murphy, Stephen Beyvisionary Bishop Gross, still in his thirties.
tagh, John O’Neill, Gabriel Bergier, OSB, and
Bernard Barron, OSF.
Neither he nor Father Kelly could have foreseen
that, by summer 1876, Savannah and other parts
Their sacrifice long overlooked, these heroic
of the diocese would be battling yellow fever.
religious of the diocese merit further identificaEqually unforeseeable was the tragedy of the
tion. Sister Mary Martha Manning, of the Order
young priest’s death seven months after his ordiof Saint Agnes, died of yellow fever on Septemnation, on October 15, 1876. Father Kelly, 23,
ber 26, 1876, nine days after her arrival in Sawas buried at the Cathedral Cemetery as the
vannah. A native of Fon du Lac, Wisconsin,
Catholic Cemetery was then called.
Sister Mary Martha was twenty-two when she
Father Kelly’s contemporary, Father James
received the last rites of the church from Father
Murphy, died at Macon on July 29, 1877, in a
P. J. O’Keefe.
continuum of the 1876 epidemic. A native of
Sister Mary Berchman Wheeler (as listed by
Liscarrol, Ireland, James Murphy studied at All
several sources) or Whalen (as set in stone upon
Hallows and was ordained on January 14, 1877.
her grave), was a native of New York State, who
Like Father Kelly, Father Murphy was only
lived in Savannah from childhood. Sister Berseven months into his ministry. He was mourned
chman, nineteen years old, was studying at the
deeply by his parishioners.
convent of the Sisters of Mercy when she died
The death of Father Stephen Beytagh, another
of yellow fever on October 14, 1876.
victim of yellow fever, was erroneously attribSister Mary Blandina Lysaught succumbed to
uted to his having anointed a woman from Sayellow fever on October 9, 1876, at the convent
vannah who had the disease. The first resident
of the Sisters of Mercy in Savannah. Sister
pastor of Albany, Beytagh, 24, was at this post
Blandina’s obituary notice (Savannah Morning
for scarcely a year when he died on October 5,
News, October 10, 1876) relates that the young
1876 in Americus. A native Savannahian, Father
Photo courtesy of the Diocesan Archives
ellow fever epidemics in Savannah and neighboring cities often began in the steamy days of summer and ended in the waning days of fall. The fever was thought to be contagious, to waft in on
impure air, to travel via the U.S. mails and—closer to the truth—to lurk in swamps or rice fields.
Benevolent associations offered assistance to its victims and, as of 1878, the United States Post Office
fumigated letters sent from cities where the disease was rampant. Supposed “remedies” for the killer
disease included the wearing of Holman’s Preventative Pad or dosing with Simmons’ Liver Regulator.
Bishop William H. Gross, CSSR, was Bishop of
Savannah during the outbreak of Yellow Fever
in 1876.
Beytagh is buried at the Catholic Cemetery a
short distance from the rows of simple headstones which mark the graves of other deceased
priests of the Savannah Diocese.
Unlike Father Beytagh, little is known about
Father John O’Neil, who died of yellow fever
early on in the epidemic. Father O’Neil died on
February 17, 1876, shortly after his ordination at
Pio Nono College, Macon.
Order priests whose deaths are attributed to the
yellow fever epidemic of 1876 include the stalwart missioner, Father Gabriel Bergier, OSB, who
was 37 years old when he died on October 4,
1876, and the Father Bernardine Barron, OSF,
who died on November 6, 1876, of yellow fever
and was buried in Savannah.
A single, deadly bite
Priests and sisters of the Diocese of Savannah
who lost their lives to yellow fever in the mid1870s suffered and died years before their true
killer was tagged: the female aedis aegypti mosquito. It was this insect, breeding in standing
water, which was able to end the promising lives
of these religious with as little as a single, deadly bite.
RITA H. DELORME is a volunteer
in the Diocesan Archives.