Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hospital Sisters

Today out snowshoeing I took poles. The wind has been blowing and the drifts are high-- it was quite a trudge. As I walked I thought about Sister Colleen Haggerty. She was sitting in front of me in church this morning, recovering from knee replacement surgery. S. Colleen is in her 70s, and currently works in our development office. Her main ministry was health care, including stints on several hospital boards.

Wednesday she came by on her scooter and told us that the next day she and her brother were putting her mother, Olive, who is 98, into a nursing home. I'm assuming it's the St. Benedict Center, also founded by the nuns, but I'm not sure. Names of institutions like that are taken for granted when people at the monastery speak. Colleen said it was going to be a horrible day, although her mother was resigned to it. They were putting her into "the tiniest room on God's green earth." No singles were available, and there were seven people on the waiting list ahead of Olive. The room was tiny, and shared, no room even to take one of her chairs-- nothing but her bedding and a few pictures. Colleen said it was devastating to think of what her mother was losing.

Friday, however, S. Colleen came walking past my door, bright, no scooter. I looked sad and asked, "How did it go with your mother?"

"It was a miracle," she said. "I think it was the Goreckis. They say they didn't do anything, but I think they must have." The Goreckis are good friends of the monastery, and major donors to the hospital and college.

"Did she get a private room?"

Colleen came in and sat down and told me what happened. It seems when they arrived at the center she wanted to give a book to one of the administrators, so was waiting in a chair in the lobby. She was warmly greeted by the administrator, and then someone else very high up in the administration came by and asked what she was doing there. "We're putting my mother in here," she said. And she said he looked blank. "Where?" "On the third floor," Colleen said gravely.

"Oh, Olive Haggerty is your mother?" He told her to wait there a minute, not to go anywhere. When he came back he told her that a room had just opened up, it wasn't cleaned yet so would take awhile, but it was for Olive. It was on the fourth floor. Colleen assumed I knew what that meant, but I had to ask.

"That's the new floor," she said. "My mother was over the moon. She kept saying-- this is like a luxury hotel! This isn't like a home at all." Colleen sent her brother back for some of their mother's furniture to put in the room.

"Colleen, it wasn't because of the Goreckis," I said. "It was becaue of you."

"I know," she said quietly.
She wouldn't want me to write this, I'm sure. The Sisters are like that. They would never take advantage or press their case, and they never look for special treatment. They never even had a capital campaign to raise major funds until their motherhouse was in desperate need of renovation and they were forced to-- about five years ago. S. Colleen, and many like her, served that hospital and its ancillary partners for decades, but they would never expect their mothers to be moved up on the list. I've been thinking a lot about that humility, especially in relation to the difference between St. John's Abbey and Saint Benedict's Monastery. It's part of the gender picture portrayed in Doubt. And it's a little frightening to me, because the Sisters are going to need to be less humble, and depend on others more, if their ministries and this monastery is to survive another century.

There's a great article in the St. Cloud Times today about the relationship between the hospital and the Sisters, "A Hospital Built by Nuns." To read it, click here. We're lucky in that the archivist is a good friend of the monastery, and everything looks good and well-documented. They even refer to us by our proper name: "Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict." But really, the hospital does a great job of telling the story of their connection to the Sisters, even better than the college. And it is a sight to see-- until surprisingly recently it was nuns whose pictures were on the wall as chief administrators, and there is always a Sister on the board.

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