Monday, September 9, 2013

September 9 - The Martyrs of Memphis

They had come to Memphis, Tennessee, to provide education to local young ladies at the St. Mary's School for Girls. They were prepared for the lives of teachers at a religious school and excited about the possibilities that their future held. They had committed themselves to God's service and felt that it was God's guiding hand that had led them to Memphis to teach and guide young people. These Episcopal ladies followed after their headmistress Constance in the living of their lives and the administration of the school. In some ways they were entirely unprepared for what awaited them, while in other ways they had been guided to this point by the unerring hand of God.

They had been teaching for five years and experiencing moderate success. The cathedral they were associated with--St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral--had become a religious center for the city by regularly keeping its doors open and its sacraments and servants available to those who would come. But, the women began to notice that some of their students were not showing up to classes. Others appeared sick and jaundiced. Telltale signs of sickness and ill health began to confront them repeatedly as they went about their lives. Word began spreading that Yellow Fever was spreading quickly through the city of Memphis. The masses panicked and fled but for many it was too late. So many people died and fled that Memphis no longer had enough people to maintain its charter as a city and would not be reorganized for another fourteen years. However, while able bodied people were fleeing and carrying their loved ones with them, the ladies of the Episcopal school, led by Constance, stayed behind to care for the sick. They were joined by Roman Catholic and other protestant Christians. Unexpectedly, but quite encouragingly, they were joined by some local prostitutes, as well.

Many people came to the cathedral seeking healing and sanctuary from the plague and pestilence that stalked by day and night. For many, the only thing left to do was to provide comfort and love as they died. They did not know that it was the mosquitoes spreading the disease and assumed it was human contact. For the ladies and men who stayed behind to tend to the sick and dying, they were tending to the sick that they would soon become. By staying in the area, they were steadily increasing their chances of contracting the disease. They provided care for the people at the cost of their lives because they were convinced that they had been called to Memphis to take care of its people. They could not flee because they belonged among the sick and needy and the sick and needy could not leave, either. So, they stayed. Consequently, they died. Though their reason bid them flee with the rest, their faith and Lord bid them stay and lay down their lives for others. In this, they loudly proclaimed that life was more than simply "not dying"--life was the very breath of the one who had formed and called them.

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