Shortly after professing her temporary vows in 1916, Ursuline Sister Antoinette Krampe was sent on her first mission to be a housekeeper to the sisters teaching at St. Columba School in Louisville. No one considered it heroic.
By 1918, Sister Antoinette’s heroism was no longer in question. Along with Ursuline Sisters Jerome Cooper and Agatha Beaven, they became three of 88 women religious in Kentucky to volunteer as nurses at Camp Zachary Taylor during the flu epidemic that killed 50 million people worldwide.
Sister Antoinette recorded the events of that mission shortly before she died in 1980. It became the subject of the first “Her Story” lecture on Oct. 11, 2018, by Heidi Taylor-Caudill, the archivist for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“I knew we had a lot of amazing, inspiring stories in the archives, and we needed to be seeking them out,” Taylor-Caudill told a group of sisters, staff and visitors who gathered in the St. Ursula community room.
Camp Zachary Taylor was the largest Army training camp in the country in 1918 but had so many soldiers with the flu that it could not treat them all. The chaplain put out a plea for women religious to volunteer as nurses, and 88 responded from seven communities, despite the fact that this strain of the flu was most dangerous to young adults. One Sister of Loretto died from the flu she contracted there.
The sisters were responsible for tending to 125-130 soldiers per their 12-hour shifts, Taylor-Caudill said. There were as many as 1,800 patients at a time. The sickest of the soldiers were transferred to the base hospital, where registered nurses treated them, but the ones cared for by the sisters were treated with “aspirin and whiskey,” Sister Antoinette said in her interview.
Sister Agatha worked three days before contracting the flu, and Sister Antoinette and Sister Jerome worked eight days before they also caught it. All three survived.
“It made me realize the importance of living close to God,” Sister Antoinette said in her interview.
She went on to serve in New Mexico, training as a nurse for a while, and served in other ministries in Kentucky and Missouri. Most of the sisters in attendance who knew Sister Antoinette remember her from the 17 years she spent in charge of the Guest House from 1960-77.
Taylor-Caudill said she hopes to do four “Her Story” talks a year, with the next one on Sister Eugenia Scherm, author of “Born to Lead,” in January 2019.