New 1918 Pandemic Documentation: Scranton, Pennsylvania

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Passionists and the 1918 Spanish Pandemic Influenza. By Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D. Passionist Historian, St. Paul of the Cross Province. March 15, 2020. Email [email protected]

Scranton Passionists and the 1918 Pandemic. Part One is a short introduction. Part Two describes the historical eventPart Three is the archival document

PART ONE The present 2020 COVID-19 virus has been compared to the 1918 Spanish Influenza. On Friday March 13, I spent the morning digging through the Passionist Historical Archives located within the Special Collections at The University of Scranton. I also delved into the in-house archives at St. Ann’s Monastery, Scranton.

In the days ahead, I will post some historical summaries and supporting documents from the Passionist Historical Archives which will show how the 1918 Pandemic impacted Passionists in Pittsburgh, PA; Brighton, MA, Baltimore, MD, Scranton, PA, Louisville, KY and Corpus Christi, TX. 

You might ask why this is of value? Because, for the foreseeable time, it seems to me that this 2020 Pandemic reminds us that we all have something in common. At this moment what is most certain is uncertainty. The history of the 1918 Influenza reminds us how suffering can suddenly enter our lives. At such times, how do we respond with compassion and care? Such moments do test our faith. At the same time, history reminds us to be humble. History reminds us to be courageous. History reminds us to be wise. History reminds us to respect our common humanity. I suggest that a solemn and sacred understanding of the 1918 Pandemic is a window for us to view this 2020 COVID-19 virus.

This year, as the Passionists celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding (1720-2020), we recall that this pandemic is one of the many ways that the Passion of the Cross is part of everyday life. With faith, let us lift up and carry our personal crosses; when possible let us find creative ways to assist others to carry their cross as well. With confidence, let us as ask God to provide peace and healing for those in need.

PART TWO: The historical event

The Spanish Influenza of 1918 hit St. Ann’s Monastery Passionist community in Scranton, Pennsylvania with intensity, The Retreat of St. Ann’s Chronicles Vol 1. 1900-1927 explains that on October 6, 1918 “The public authorities, state & local issued orders a few days ago looking to controlling and preventing the spread of influenza which has become a plague over the country. These orders forbade the assembly of the people in any place including churches. It was observed so rapidly that Mass was omitted & then celebrated with closed doors. On all the churches notices were placed by the police notifying people the flu was blamed.”

However, the epidemic persisted. “The next week between Oct 6 & 13 brought the influenza to the monastery & some ten students [seminarians] and three of the priests were taken down. The Bishop strengthened the public authority & directed that Masses be not celebrated in churches on October 17.  

On October 7, 1918 “The spread of the influenza has necessitated the postponing of all missions & Forty Hours Devotions. This means all the [Passionist] Fathers at home.

            According to the entry of October 11.  “The month of October formed without any church services. The quarantine continued all that time. Thank God St. Ann’s Parish fared pretty well; while there were a number of cases there were but two or three deaths. In the monastery we were likewise fortunate. There were eighteen infected, but all are well.”  

The month of November “began with churches closed for All Saints & First Friday & All Souls & Sunday Nov 3.”  Then on November 9, the “closing churches etc. was lifted at noon today. St. Ann’s Church was then thrown open & Masses will be as usual tomorrow.

            During the month of October, Oct 11, a letter from the Provincial dispensed matins, deciding these hours be said after the Rosary & the observance of the Rule, directed the students to take an hour cessation after Vespers; the celebration of a Novena of Masses & the celebration of a novena of  November These dispensations whilst until Nov 12.

PART THREE: to view a copy of the actual archival document, click on

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