Four large, iron crosses stand side-by-side in Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall.
They mark the final resting places of four Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion who gave aid and comfort to others before meeting their own untimely deaths.
The crosses are stark reminders of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 that claimed an estimated 50 million lives worldwide, including about 670,000 in the United States.
“I heard people still speaking about those four ‘French Nuns’ from Kansas City when I was serving as a new priest at St. Peter in Marshall in 1985,” said Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general for the diocese and pastor of St. Michael parish in Russellville.
St. Peter parish dates from 1869, when Father Edward Hamill, pastor of neighboring Immaculate Conception parish in Shackleford, began visiting Marshall and offering Mass there.
A group of Sisters of Loretto established what is now St. Peter School in 1884. It was known at that time as St. Savior’s Academy and taught boys and girls.
Father Francis J. O’Neill was pastor when the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, a French order of nuns, arrived to staff the school in the summer of 1917.
The “French Nuns” renamed the school the Academy of Our Lady of Sion and went about educating girls and young women there.
When the pandemic took hold in 1918, the people, especially children, stayed home as much as they could and waited for it to subside.
Sister Marion de Sion died on April 23, 1918.
Sister Mary Maximin de Sion died on March 16, 1918.
Sister Mary Edwarda de Sion died on May 9, 1918.
Sister Mary Cornelius de Sion died on May 2, 1919.
They were laid to rest near the edge of the area that used to be set aside for Catholic burials in the cemetery.
Their dates of birth are not noted on the crosses, and St. Peter parish has no record of how old the sisters were when they died.
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion sold the school property back to the parish in 1925 and the Sisters of Mercy were invited to take over the school, then known as Mercy Academy.
St. Peter School now has 184 students enrolled in pre-school through eighth grade.
In order to help slow the spread of another deadly virus, COVID-19, the students at St. Peter and the diocese’s 36 other Catholic grade schools and three Catholic high schools are staying home to learn.
Public Masses are currently suspended.
Masses are livestreamed to Facebook using Father Mark S. Smith’s iPhone, a tripod and a few rubber bands.
Fr. Alber is senior associate pastor of St. Peter parish in Marshall.
Mrs. Whitney is a lifelong parishioner and former parish secretary.