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Six Kentucky Nuns Founded a Hospital in 1940s War-Torn India That Saved Hundreds of Thousands of Lives

April 19, 2022
00:00 50:11
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The year was 1947, and the mother superior of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth had managed to keep her order safe from the perils of World War II, and focused on the work at home in Kentucky. But when the opportunity came for a mission in one of the poorest regions of India—an area scarred by corruption and Partition violence—she saw in some of the younger nuns a keen desire to “serve the world by being fully part of it,” and to take their faith and healing skills abroad. What followed was a pioneering mission that no one could have predicted. The development of the hospital and nursing school not only upended the lives of those six Kentucky nuns, it changed the shape of the surrounding region and gave opportunities to Indian nurses who were eager to forge new paths for themselves.

Today’s guest is Jyoti Thottam, author of the new book “Sisters of Mokama: The Pioneering Women Who Brought Hope and Healing to India. Her mother travel to Mokama, in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, and train as a nurse at Nazareth. Thottam was always fascinated by this story: How did these nuns end up in Mokama, a town so small it didn’t appear on most maps of India? Why did they fill their hospital with teenage nurses from the other side of the country? Did they have any idea how radical their work would be – creating an enterprise run almost entirely by women, and determined to care for anyone, regardless of caste or religion?

With no knowledge of Hindi, and the awareness that they would likely never see their families again, the six founding nuns had traveled to the small town of Mokama determined to live up to the pioneer spirit of their order, founded in the rough hills of the Kentucky frontier. A year later, they opened the doors of the hospital; soon they began taking in young Indian women as nursing students, offering them an opportunity that would change their lives. Pain and loss were everywhere for the women of that time, but the collapse of the old orders provided the women of Nazareth Hospital with an opening—a chance to create for themselves lives that would never have been possible otherwise.

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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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