Posts with the tag: Charity

The Archivist’s Nook: Lawrence Flick – Medical Crusader and Catholic Historian

As historians, archivists, and librarians, we address many subjects, including the history of disease. As the world of 2020 faces the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is worthwhile to consider another serious infectious disease that afflicted the world more than a century ago—and the man who, after surviving his own diagnosis of the disease, dedicated himself to its prevention and treatment.  The disease is tuberculosis, which primarily affects the lungs with bacteria spread person to person through tiny droplets released into the air through coughing and sneezing. The person who pioneered the research and treatment of this deadly disease was Dr. Lawrence Francis Flick (1856-1938). A devout Roman Catholic and German-American from western Pennsylvania, Flick was a dedicated medical doctor as well as a serious historian of his Church. His papers, which reside in the Special Collections of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C. document his work in both his fields of interest.

Portrait of Dr. Flick as First President of the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA) in 1920. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The ninth of twelve children, Flick was born on August 10, 1856, near Carrolltown in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. His parents were German immigrants with roots in Bavaria, John Flick and Elizabeth Sharbaugh (or Schabacher). He was educated at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was also an adjunct to a Bavarian Benedictine Monastery, which trained priests for the order as well as the Pittsburgh diocese. After contracting Pulmonary Tuberculosis, the version that affects the lungs, Flick was forced to drop out and return home to recuperate. Somewhat better but still in poor health, Flick enrolled at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College in 1877, the same year that the college became one of the first teaching medical colleges in the United States. Flick graduated in 1879 as a medical doctor and interned at Blockley, the Philadelphia charity hospital. Flick also devoted several years to curing himself, including a tour of the American west and eating an experimental diet. Apparently cured by 1883, Flick returned permanently to Philadelphia and had a remarkable career as a specialist in tuberculosis, and its prevention and treatment.[1]

Anti Tuberculosis poster of the American Lung Association, ca. 1930s, Courtesy of the Museum of Health Care.

Flick’s studies prompted him to argue that the disease was contagious and not hereditary, which contradicted the current school of thought. His efforts to isolate ‘consumptives,’ as those suffering from tuberculosis were then called, in special hospitals known as sanitariums, and to register their cases, was controversial, and opposed by many within the medical profession. Between 1892 and 1910, Flick’s efforts to educate the public prompted him to found the Pennsylvania Society for Prevention of Tuberculosis; the Free Hospital for Poor Consumptives; the Henry Phipps Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Tuberculosis, where he was President and Medical Director from 1903 to 1910; and a sanitarium at White Haven, Pennsylvania, that he directed until 1935. His fellow Roman Catholics from all levels of society were generous in their contributions and assistance. Flick was also a promoter of the National Association for Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (1904) and of its International Congress on Tuberculosis (1908). In addition to his fight against Tuberculosis, Flick was also in the forefront of combating the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 in Philadelphia.

A roadside historical marker honoring Dr. Flick erected in 1959 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on Route 219 North, near Carrolltown, some 400 yards west of his birthplace. As a child I lived a few miles away and would frequently pass this sign while out driving with my family. Imagine my surprise years later, when beginning work as an archivist at Catholic University, to find we had the papers of this notable homeboy! [3] Photo courtesy of The Historical Markers Database.
Flick was the author of several books, including Consumption, A Curable and Preventable Disease (1903) and Tuberculosis, A Book of Practical Knowledge to Guide the General Practitioner of Medicine (1937). He also wrote many articles and book reviews that were published in The Ecclesiastical Review and the Catholic Historical Review. The latter published his 1927 magisterial article on Prince Demtri Gallitzin, the so called ‘Apostle of the Alleghenies,’ who did so much to bring the Catholic religion to the inhabitant of Flick’s native Western Pennsylvania. Flick died in Philadelphia July 7, 1938, and was buried in the cemetery of Old St. Mary’s Church. His son, Lawrence F. Flick, Jr., was a writer and editor of some note and two of Flick’s daughters wrote biographies of their father

What lesson then does Flick have for us in these times of uncertainty brought on by this pandemic? He is an example of how one person can make a difference in research, education, and, most importantly, the treatment of a terrible disease that resulted in its eventual mitigation. Flick said “Tuberculosis takes only the quitters,” those who got discouraged and gave up the struggle.[2] Flick was a fighter who would not be defeated. Perhaps someone reading this blog post will be such a person, a new Flick to defeat the Coronavirus, or some other as yet unheard of pestilence. We can only hope.

[1] James J. Walsh. ‘Dr. Lawrence F. Flick,’ The Commonweal, August 26, 1938, p. 445.

[2] Raymond Schmandt. ‘The Friendship between Bishop Regis Canevin and Dr. Lawrence Flick of Philadelphia,’ The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine (61:4), October 1978, pp. 284-286.

[3] Special Collections at CUA also houses the records of many Catholic organizations fighting disease and disaster, including the National Catholic War Council, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Also, thanks to TSK and staff for their assistance.

The Archivist’s Nook: An Apostleship of the Laity – The St. Vincent de Paul Society

An Apostleship of the Laity: The St. Vincent de Paul Society

Later this month, a mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. At that time, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will gather in celebration of their 175th year of existence. Though the Society’s name comes from their patron Saint, Vincent de Paul, a seventeenth century servant of the poor, Ozanam was the chief force behind the establishment of the organization in Paris, France, in 1833. As such, the Society became a member of the Vincentian Family, a group of Catholic organizations that includes the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

On January 26th, 2020, a 30” x 20” mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Vincentian chapel or “Miraculous Medal Chapel,” of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. The above is a likeness of the 4,000 stone mosaic.

Ozanam took his Catholic teaching seriously. A scholar of Catholic social doctrine, he was once accused of being all talk and no action. His response was to found a group of men whose goal was direct service to the impoverished of Paris. Soon after the founding, the members carried food and other necessities directly to the homes of the poor. Key to the Society’s identity is the “apostleship of the laity,” hence members were parish based and comprised of lay members who ministered to their own communities. Their 1834 annual report noted that:

We understand very well that charity must be done in secret, that the work must be unobtrusive. Here we are not strangers to one another; what we have done has been accomplished with the cooperation of one another. The principal end of our association is to do everything with one heart and one soul, of a sort that we recount to one another the different services we have delivered not to be adulated but to give advice and mutual encouragement, to give better service.[1]

“Frédéric Ozanam Accepted the Challenge of 1833,” cover, (Society of St. Vincent de Paul United States, 1933). This pamphlet commemorates the centennial of the establishment of the Society in the United States, emphasizing that they “accepted the challenge” to the lay apostleship to serve those in need.

Reflecting the necessity for such services, particularly in a rapidly industrializing world, the Society expanded rapidly outside of France. When Bishop John Timon of Buffalo, serving in St. Louis at the time, visited France and saw the work of the Society, he went about establishing the group’s first conference in St. Louis, Missouri in 1845.[2]

The Society’s rule called for “visiting the poor in their dwellings” and the distribution of “moral and religious books” especially to children, but in the United States, these activities expanded from activities like supplying food to needy families and distributing rosary beads to running thrift shops, day nurseries, and youth camps, visiting nursing homes, among other activities.

Modern photograph of the interior of the “Old Cathedral of St. Louis, Missouri, birthplace of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the U.S.

The National Council in the United States began sponsoring foreign Councils in third world countries with its twinning program during the 1970s-1990s. Long-serving executive secretary Dudley Baker served thirty years, from 1955-1985, and helped establish many modern charitable organizations. Baker not only aided several presidents during his tenure, but also helped to modernize the society in America. Though the society in America has focused on disaster relief throughout its history, a greater emphasis has been placed on this recently, especially through the training of Rev. Ronald Ramson and the National Council’s Charity Seminars.

 

The Society is organized into five levels. The first level is the International Council in Paris, France that oversees the organization throughout the world. The second level is the National Council, which oversees each individual country’s society. The third level is the Diocesan Councils, of which there are 51 in the United States that oversee individual Councils in the society. The fourth level is the District council which oversees all the individual conferences throughout the United States. Lastly, at the fifth level are the conferences, based on the parish level. Headquartered in St. Louis, the Society has nearly 100,000 members in the U.S., and more than 800,000 members worldwide.

Thousands of young people from cities across the country have attended St. Vincent de Paul camps. Here, boys from Detroit learn to use the bow and arrow, circa 1970s.

The Society’s records offer an extensive collection of organizational files, but includes also publications and audio-visual equipment from the society. Among the files are organizational correspondence, records from executive meetings, yearly reports and bulletins, membership files for the society and regional files from different councils, and financial files for the Society’s thrift stores. Many of these materials date back to the beginning of the Society in the United States. Also, there are videotapes and audiotapes of society meetings.

 

See the finding aid for the records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here

For blogposts on other Catholic charitable activities, see these posts on Monsignor John O’Grady, pioneer in Catholic charity: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9465/ and https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9315/ as well as this post on the history of the National Catholic School of Social Work at The Catholic University of America: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/10957/

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Raymond Sickinger, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), chapter 3, “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” 61-62.

[2] The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, Michael Glazier and Thomas Shelley, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) p. 1249-1251.: