Freedmen school & monastery

Malaria & Mosquito Control

I was pretty sick last weekend, nothing unfixable, but something that definitely will have to be fixed. Immobile for 30 minutes while a machine took pictures of my insides, I contemplated 1870s medicine (and what IS that thing stuck to the ceiling?). The Benedictines at Skidaway Island’s monastery and Freedmen school were often ill from malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Father Oswald frequently writes to Abbot Boniface about the monks’ health troubles. Many religious only stayed on Skidaway for months or a year before requesting a return to St. Vincent or elsewhere, anywhere north, and away from the mosquitoes.

Studying a letter from Father Oswald at Skidaway Island to Abbot Boniface, St. Vincent Abbey, Pennsylvania, on my back porch while contemplating modern medicine.

Bro Alphons is sick in the hospital in Savannah, this day a week ago, I gave him the last Sacraments, now he is recovering, but still he will never be strong.”

Courtesy of Benedictine military school archives

Brother Alphonse Schoene is often referenced as suffering from illness but was present throughout nearly monastery’s entire existence. In August of 1878, Father Oswald administered the last sacrament, but Alphonse recovered. A month later, Father Oswald wrote, “Poor Bro Alphons is at the hospital again in Savannah, he has dispepsy in a high degree, these many years already; and the fever besides”. Alphonse’s stomach trouble (the dyspepsia) was attributed to his childhood, but not further explained.

The treatment for malaria was quinine, which is no longer very effective and therefore not recommended. Today there are stronger drugs, with pretty wicked side effects for some people. Historically, when quinine was ineffective, doctors recommended traveling north to allow the body to heal without danger of constant re-infection. This was the case with another malaria victim, Brother Ignatius. In September, 1879, Father Melchior reported, “Brother Ignatius is almost continuously sick. He has not worked one day for the last week”. By November, Father Oswald requested Brother Ignatius’ reassignment “because the Doctor told him he cannot get well again here as his system is filled with Malaria, which consists in little animals that pass from the Atmosphere into the blood and regenerate and propagate themselves in the blood, and which can be killed only by Quinine,  or a preparation of Peruvian bark”. However, quinine is not effective in everyone. Poor Brother Ignatius had been “sick continually since June” and hospitalized repeatedly. Father Oswald regretted losing him and wrote very highly of him as a modest, pious man who was the best carpenter on Skidaway. Brother Ignatius was transferred back his native Pennsylvania by the end of 1879 and spent the rest of his life working throughout western Pennsylvania including Pittsburg in 1890s and Mount Pleasant, a small town near St. Vincent around 1900.  Brother Ignatius died in 1914 at the age of 62 and is buried in the St. Vincent cemetery. 

Today, of course, we know the “little animals” are actually a parasite, which get into your bloodstream via infected mosquitos. Mosquito Control with its little yellow helicopter is not just making our lives less itchy by killing mosquitos, but reducing disease transmission by killing the mosquitos that carry malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue virus, and others. While spewing nasty chemicals everywhere can give one pause, I’ve spoken with the pilots and entomologist at Mosquito Control, and they love to talk about their mission. They have a great website too, including a “Skeeter Meeter”, a mosquito forecast for the week.

** all original sources courtesy of Benedictine Military School Archives

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