Today we celebrate the Feast of Florence Nightingale, the nurse and social reformer who helped revolutionize patient care and is widely recognized as the founder of modern nursing. Though her views on religion were unorthodox, she became a member of the Church of England later in life and devoted herself to serving God. At seventeen, she wrote in her diary that “God spoke to me and called me to his service,” though she had no clear picture of how that service might look.
Over the next decade she traveled extensively and came to believe that she was called to the field of nursing. Against her family’s wishes, Florence pursued medicine and visited a Lutheran community in Germany that ministered to the sick. It was here that she received the training informed the rest of her work. In 1853, Florence was appointed superintendent of London’s Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen, transforming the sanatorium from a grotesquerie into a place of healing and comfort.
Florence is best remembered for her contributions during the Crimean War. She was horrified by the conditions for wounded soldiers and worked tirelessly to improve the health of the patients in her care. She reformed the hygiene practices of medical professionals in war hospitals, set up systems by which soldiers could send money home rather than spend it on alcohol, created comfortable spaces for the injured to read and write, and brought in lectures to keep the wounded soldiers engaged. Walking the halls of the hospital every night to check on patients, Florence became known as the Lady with the Lamp.
In her later career, Florence set up training schools for nurses, wrote medical texts in plain language, and advised the British government on matters of the health and well-being of their citizens and soldiers across the world. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross and was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. Her legacy can be found in the numerous hospitals and medical institutions which bear her name, as well as the pledge that nurses across the world take as their finish their training.
In honor of the Feast of Florence Nightingale, we offer the following prayer for our nurses:
O God, who gave grace to your servant Florence Nightingale to bear your healing love into the shadow of death: Grant to all who heal the same virtues of patience, mercy, and steadfast love, that your saving health may be revealed to all; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.