May 9, 2014

Sisters say goodbye after 133 years of health care ministry in archdiocese

Daughters of Charity pass along mission to ‘serve poor and vulnerable’

Daughters of Charity sisters of the St. Louise Province in St. Louis, Mo., to which the sisters in Indiana belong, listen to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s homily at the farewell Mass in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on April 28. The Daughters of Charity, which have operated the St. Vincent Health network of hospitals in Indiana for 133 years, are leaving the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Lafayette. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Daughters of Charity sisters of the St. Louise Province in St. Louis, Mo., to which the sisters in Indiana belong, listen to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s homily at the farewell Mass in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on April 28. The Daughters of Charity, which have operated the St. Vincent Health network of hospitals in Indiana for 133 years, are leaving the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Lafayette. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

In 1881, four Daughters of Charity arrived in Indianapolis to establish a “house for the sick” in an unused seminary downtown. So began what is now known as St. Vincent Hospital.

As in 1881, there are now four Daughters of Charity in Indianapolis. They will leave in June, thus ending 133 years of service of the order in the archdiocese.

During those 133 years, more than 300 Daughters of Charity have ministered, leaving behind the legacy of St. Vincent Health, a system of 21 hospitals statewide.

The withdrawal of the sisters from the archdiocese and from the Lafayette Diocese, as well as several other areas around the country, was announced in a press release last October.

“We were shocked,” said Daughters of Charity Sister Mary Kay Tyrell, sister-servant, or leader, of the order’s local community. “But this is our life. We are called to be flexible and mobile.”

According to the press release, the decision for the withdrawal was due in large part to the decreasing number of sisters in the order. At the time, six sisters were serving at St. Vincent Health facilities in the archdiocese and the Lafayette Diocese.

A Mass of thanksgiving and farewell was celebrated for the Daughters of Charity on April 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

“Today, sisters, we thank God for you,” said Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin in his homily at the Mass, which he concelebrated with Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette.

Archbishop Tobin commented on “the impressive legacy that [the Sisters] leave behind, which certainly is a tribute to [Daughters of Charity co-founders] St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac—a health system that will continue to provide care for the underprivileged, the poor and the marginalized.”

After its founding in 1881, the hospital made its first move in 1889 to another downtown location.

In 1913, St. Vincent Hospital moved again, this time to a new, large building on Fall Creek Boulevard on the city’s near-north side. That building is now part of the Ivy Tech Community College campus.

After more than 60 years at that location, land was purchased in 1974 on the northwest side of Indianapolis on 86th Street, where a new hospital was built. The site now holds a four-building medical complex.

The hospital has grown into St. Vincent Health network, a system of 21 hospitals throughout the state. The network is part of Ascension Health, an umbrella organization comprised of more than 1,900 health care facilities nationwide operated by the Daughters of Charity and several other Catholic orders.

“[St. Vincent Health] is one of our strongest ministries in Ascension Health,” said Daughters of Charity Sister Louise Gallahue, visitatrix (provincial) of the St. Louis, Mo.,-based St. Louise Province, which includes Indiana. “The Daughters are very proud of what’s been done here.”

For many years, the sisters have been forming the lay leaders of St. Vincent Health in the mission of the Daughters of Charity. That mission is “to serve those who are poor and vulnerable,” said Sister Louise.

“They know the mission,” she commented. “They’ve had lots of years working side by side with the Daughters of Charity. I think they’re really well-gifted to carry on that mission. That’s what gives us the confidence that we can leave here.”

Included in that mission, she said, is a “great focus on wellness, keeping people healthy in the community, and in attending to the whole person: body, mind and spirit that the three doves [in the St. Vincent logo] represent.”

Daughters of Charity Sister Catherine Kelly, who ministered at the network’s St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo in the Lafayette Diocese, served for 10 years as vice president of mission. She is confident that the sister’s mission will continue despite their lack of presence.

“I was very sad at the reality that the Daughters won’t be present here,” she said. “But having served in the area of mission integration, which includes spiritual formation of our lay counterparts, I was very proud in the fact that we have intentionally for many years had a very intensive formation program so that we could develop and train our lay leaders to really embrace and understand both the Daughters of Charity legacy and the Catholic identity.

“I know that the people at St. Vincent and in all of our hospitals that we’re leaving behind in positions of authority really are very Vincentian and embrace everything that we’re about,” Sister Catherine said.

Kyle DeFur, president of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, has benefited from the sisters’ mission formation.

“They’ve taught us what it means to live out Catholic health care,” he said. “Their confidence in the associates, the physicians and the leadership to continue that work, even in their physical absence, means a lot to us.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm to make sure that that torch is carried, to live out the mission even in their absence.”

But, he added, “We’re going to miss them terribly.”

Gratitude for the 133 years of service of the sisters in the archdiocese was a central theme of Archbishop Tobin’s homily.

“We want to send you forth … with a wish that comes from none other than St. Louise, who wrote once, ‘I hope that your gratitude will place you in the disposition necessary to receive the graces you need to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion in imitation of our Lord, who acted this way with the most unfortunate.’

“In the bigger picture, the Daughters aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “You’re going to continue to enrich the Church across the world, and your legacy will be a shining light for our local churches.

“Thank you, sisters.” †

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