Franciscan Health Community to assume operation of St. Paul cancer home pending Vatican approval
After 67 years of providing free care for terminal cancer patients at Our Lady of Good Counsel Home in St. Paul, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne are turning over leadership of the cancer home, according to a Jan. 6 press release.
Franciscan Health Community in St. Paul will assume operation of Our Lady of Good Counsel Home, pending approval by the Vatican, the release said.
Franciscan Health Community provides senior housing and services, including skilled nursing care, home health care, transitional care, meal delivery and hospice. It is an affiliate of Catholic Senior Services, the outreach program created by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to meet the growing need for quality senior housing and services.
Joe Stanislav, president and CEO of Franciscan Health Community, said he began negotiations with the archdiocese about six months ago.
“Our goal is as much as possible to try to follow [the sisters’] legacy there,” Stanislav said in a phone interview. “There will probably be some minor changes, but all in all we think the care and the reputation of the home have been so wonderful all these years. We really thought, as an organization, that we’d love to see that continue, and we feel like we have the means to do that.”
Stanislav said under his organization’s leadership, Our Lady of Good Counsel Home will continue to provide free care for patients and their families.
Our Lady of Good Counsel opened on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, with five sisters. Over the years, the home has served nearly 10,000 patients, according to Kay O’Keefe, OLGC chairperson.
In his column in this issue of The Catholic Spirit (see page 2), Archbishop John Nienstedt said that the order’s provincial informed him of the decision to leave Our Lady of Good Counsel last May due to declining membership in the order, reducing the number of cancer homes the sisters run in the United States and Africa to four. In recent years, the order has closed two cancer homes — in Ohio and Massachusetts.
The six Hawthorne Dominican sisters currently serving at Our Lady of Good Counsel Home will return to their motherhouse in New York.
When Joan Decker, who began volunteering at Our Lady of Good Counsel Home 28 years ago, learned that the sisters would be leaving St. Paul, she said, “It broke my heart.”
Over the years, the junior-high religion teacher at St. Agnes School in St. Paul has volunteered at Our Lady of Good Counsel in different capacities, such as ironing the sisters’ habits and organizing a softball tournament to raise money for their ministry.
The sisters are like part of her family, said Decker, whose son, Dominic, 21, is named after the sisters’ order; her son, Patrick, is named after the late Sister Mary Patrick, with whom Decker was especially close.
The sisters attended important family functions, such as graduations and first Communions, and also cared for Decker’s father in his final days before he died from lung cancer in 2004.
“On any given day, you’d see the sisters rubbing the backs of the patients and just comforting them in their final hours and treating them just like they were our Lord,” said Decker. “Their love for their patients, just to help them pass to eternal life, was always so beautiful to me.
“I’d say to them, ‘How can you do this day in and day out and be so joyful?’” Decker added. “And they’d say, ‘Because we’re helping people get to heaven.’”
The sisters declined to comment on the transition until the Vatican gives them permission. Catholic Spirit
Archbishop John Nienstedt devoted his Spirit column to the the Hawthorne Sisters and their work at their free cancer home.
| Ministering to the sick
The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne ministered for 67 years here at Our Lady of Good Counsel Free Cancer Home on St. Anthony Avenue in St. Paul, near Cretin Avenue and I-94. Their religious community was founded in 1900 by a Catholic convert, Rose Hawthorne, who vowed that she and her sisters would dedicate themselves to serving the incurably sick.
She was also determined not to take any money from her patients, their families or the government. She would simply rely on the charity of outsiders. And that is indeed how her sisters have ministered here for these many years.
I first entered Our Lady of Good Counsel a short time after my installation as bishop of New Ulm in August 2001. Bishop Raymond Lucker, my predecessor, had fallen in his room at the Leo C. Byrne Residence and had voluntarily entered the home for hospice care. He received excellent attention and care there.
The patient rooms, the hallways and the bathrooms were immaculate. Nurses were on constant call and responded immediately to every need. Bishop Lucker’s death was made so much easier by the sisters and staff who stood vigil by his bedside, praying him through his passage from this world to the next.
For 67 years, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne ministered at Our Lady of Good Counsel Free Cancer Home in St. Paul
Subsequently, Father Ed Wojtowiez took sick and was given the same room as the late bishop. He, too, met his death with great dignity due, in large part, to the marvelous ministry of the sisters and their staff.
Recently, the provincial council for the sisters evaluated their service at all their locations around the country and noted that more and more members of their community were functioning in “administrative roles” rather than “hands-on” nursing care with patients. A number of new vocations has not been forthcoming and their ranks are aging. In fidelity to their charism, they made the difficult decision to call their sisters back to New York.
When the provincial met with me last May to discuss the decision, she informed me that an announcement to leave would be made the next day. I pleaded with her for one week’s time to see if we could ask another Catholic health care system to replace them.
I am pleased to say that, pending the approval of the Holy See, the Franciscan Health Community has agreed to take over the administration of Our Lady of Good Counsel so that it might continue to be a strong Catholic presence in this local church.
This arrangement was facilitated by our new Catholic Senior Services. I believe we are all indebted to Franciscan Health for their generous willingness to do so.
On Friday, Nov. 21, 2008, I celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the sisters, staff, volunteers, benefactors and friends at the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul. The church was nearly full at 2:30 p.m. That turnout said more than words could express as to how much the sisters are appreciated and loved.
I assured these good sisters of our continuing support in friendship and prayer. Their witness to serving Jesus in the suffering and dying lies at the heart of our Catholic faith. Farewell, good sisters. We will miss the presence of your dedicated witness!
God love you!