Now There’s a Cornette!

The Grey Sisters
The Grey Sisters

I am a Registered Nurse by profession. After I graduated with a BSN from Indiana University’s, School of Nursing, the first hospital I worked at was St Vincents in Indianapolis, Indiana. It is a 1000 bed teaching hospital. There were so many good things about working at this hospital that it is ranked as the best place I ever worked.

One of the first things that I was fascinated with was the nuns. Now, according to the website for the Daughters of Charity, St Vincent De Paul, the nuns no longer wore their cornettes as part of their religious wear after 1964. I was at St Vincent’s well after that time, in the 1980’s and 90’s and believe me I saw nuns at St Vincent’s dressed like this. That was a really a big head piece!

Who are the Daughters of Charity?

In 1633, a French priest, St Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac, a widow, founded the Daughters of Charity, wanting the sisters in this new religious order to work among the sick and the poor, taking their vows yearly, so they did not have to be cloistered and could leave the convent at any time. This order was very appealing to older widowed women who wanted to do charity work. The organization was so successful that it spread from the rural districts to Paris, where noble women joined to help the poor of Paris. These women maintained their mobility and availability and lived among the poor they served.

By the time Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul died in 1660, there were more than 40 houses of Daughter of Charity in France and the sick-poor were cared for in their own dwellings in twenty-six parishes in Paris.

The newly formed Daughters of Charity set up soup kitchens, organized community hospitals, established schools and homes for orphaned children, offered job training, taught people how to read and write and worked to improve prison conditions.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, a widow with children, founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, following the guidelines of the Daughters of Charity in France. She was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

But what about their clothing, you ask?

The Grey Sisters
The Grey Sister is on the Right
The Grey Sisters
The Grey Sister
The Grey Sisters
The Grey Sister in White!

The cornette was especially popular from the 15th century to the 17th century in France. The wimple consisted of a large starched piece of cloth that was folded upward in a way to create the resemblance of horns on the wearer’s head. The word cornette comes from the french word (cornes/horns) So this was the headpiece the village women were wearing, probably pinning the cloth back to keep it out of the way. The traditional habit of the Daughters of Charity was one of the most conspicuous of Catholic Sisters. The sisters wanted to resemble ordinary middle-class French women as much as possible in their clothing, including wearing the cornette. They wore a grey habit with wide sleeves and a long grey apron. The head-dress was at first a small linen cap, but in the early days of the order they added the white linen cornette. At first it was used only in the country, being in fact the headdress of the Ile de France district, but in 1685 its use became general. They were known as the “Grey Sisters.”

Karol Tichy, Elegy, The National Museum of Warsaw
Karol Tichy, Elegy, The National Museum of Warsaw

When I was at St Vincents, it was a teaching hospital for interns from the  Indiana University Medical School. I never did a clinical rotation there as a student nurse. But, I did know I wanted to work at a large, technically advanced hospital with many learning opportunities and nursing options.  I was willing to drive an hour each way to work at this hospital with the Sisters of Charity. I thought it had so much to offer me and I was right. When I went to work at St Vincents I could not believe the benefits package available to me. It was called “Cafeteria style” at the time, allowing you to pick from many benefit options that were right for you. So everyone had their own personal package. In addition to many health benefit packages, they offered in-house gym packages, stress management programs, charity programs, and many, many more.  Picking and choosing was overwhelming. My biggest surprise was my first Christmas there. In my paycheck I got a big bonus……. St Vincent Hospital is a non-profit hospital, so at Christmas we all got a share of the profits the hospital had made. The money was divided among all of us equally regardless of the job we filled: nurses, clerks, cleaning women, cooks, groundskeepers, everybody. The Sisters were still doing what they started out to do, help everybody!  Are you kidding me? They did not tell me about this when I was hired, so it wasn’t a recruitment tool. What a great surprise that was!  I worked there from the time I was a Level 1 staff nurse until I became Head Nurse. I left St Vincents to become a traveling nurse, to see the world. But, it remained the best hospital I ever worked at.


This is my post for JustJotItJanuary! It sounded like fun and one can never have enough challenges! This is a blog challenge where we are to write/post something for each day in January.  Today’s prompt is Hospital.  It is brought to you by Charlene Bullard and here is her blog!




One Comment Add yours

  1. BuntyMcC says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for this history lesson.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.