Bridgeport says good-bye to Daughters

by | Jun 16, 2014 | Daughters of Charity, News, Vincentian Family

DC-LogoFrom the diocese of Bridgeport website – St. Vincent’s says “Good-Bye” to the Daughters – During a weekend long commemoration of their 110-year history, St. Vincent’s Medical Center said goodbye to the Daughters of Charity, but not to their mission.

The Daughters of Charity who first came to St. Vincent’s in 1903 wearing their wing-like cornette headdress that morphed into plain blue habits they wear today will no longer be a familiar site in the hallways or departments.

The Daughters of Charity who first came to St. Vincent’s in 1903 wearing their wing-like cornette headdress that morphed into plain blue habits they wear today will no longer be a familiar site in the hallways or departments.

More than 25 Daughters of Charity who had worked at St. Vincent’s over the years returned to the area to celebrate their heritage, remember the Sisters who had come before them, and to say good bye to co-workers.

Two Masses brought the health services system together as a community of faith, a public Mass held at St. Patrick Church on Saturday May 17, and a special Mass for management and staff held in St. Vincent’s Hawley Conference Center on Monday May 19.

Fr. Thomas McKenna, Provincial Director of the Daughters of Charity of the St. Louis Province, USA, was the main celebrant of the Mass of St. Vincent de Paul. He was assisted by Fr. Al Forlano, a member of the pastoral care staff at St. Vincent’s, Fr. John Punnakunnel of Christ the King Parish in Trumbull, and Deacon Tim Bolton, coordinator of Pastoral Care at St. Vincent’s.

In his homily Fr. McKenna said the Daughters left a lasting legacy because “they came to heal and help people, ” and had a larger vision of service.

“They brought another world to this one, the conviction that they were bringing the kingdom of God to into the here an now,” Fr. McKenna said, adding that the hospital was part of their “dream of God in the world they wanted to bring about.”

In her remarks following Mass, Sister Louise Gallahue, Provincial of the Daughters of Charity St. Louise Province, which stretches from Texas to Maine, noted that 300 Daughters served at St. Vincent’s in the 110 years since Sister Laura Eckenrode led a small group of American Daughters from Baltimore to the Hawley Farm site, which was then on the far outskirts of the city.

“Bridgeport is still a city of immigrants, though the countries they come from have changed,” she said, noting that the Sisters who returned to the city enjoyed a drive through Seaside Park and other areas.

“We’ve been deeply toughed by the outpouring of well wishes and prayer,” Sister Louise said. “Our day to today active presence comes to an end but doesn’t bring to an end the compassion and caring.”

Earlier this year the Daughters of Charity announced that they would be moving the four remaining Sisters at St. Vincent’s to new assignments, where they will work directly with the poor and under-served.

However, two sisters from the St. Louis Province will be named to serve on the Board of Directors, and St. Vincent’s, will continued to be sponsored by Ascension Health, the Daughters of Charity health system, which includes 1,900 healthcare facilities in 23 states.

“We’re not leaving because you did something wrong, but because you did something right. That’s why we can leave,” Sister Louise said, adding that she felt good about the transition because St. Vincent’s will always be committed to protecting the sacredness of life from birth to death and caring for the most vulnerable.

Like many of the other Daughters of Charity who came to Bridgeport, Sister Louise held a variety of assignments at St. Vincent’s. She served as a nurse in the psychiatric unit and supervisor in the Family Health Center before beginning her tenure as board chair from 2005-2009.

In addition to the Daughters who worked at St. Vincent’s, the Sisters also taught at St. Anne School in Black Rock, Bridgeport, from 1935 to 1986.

“I know you, I care for you, I pray for you,” Sister Louise said in concluding her remarks. ‘Let the cross on the side of the building be a beacon for all as you look at it. May it be a reminder of our presence and spirit.”

Choir member Taylor Cervini, son of Cindy Cervini, RN, a Clinical Nurse leader in the Intensive Care Unit, provided a moment of striking beauty when his solo of “Ave Maria” stunned listeners during meditation following Holy Communion.

At St. Patrick’s Church during the public Mass on Sunday, when Fr. Peter Lenox asked how many people in attendance have been patients or treated at St. Vincent’s over the years, nearly the entire congregation stood.

The Mass attended by hundreds was followed by a soup and bread reception in the Parish Hall

St. Patrick’s played an historic role in the founding of the hospital in the 1890’a, when Catholic physicians, concerned about the health needs of the burgeoning immigrant population, contacted Father James Nihill, then Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church on North Avenue, and asked for his assistance in contacting the Daughters of Charity, a religious women’s community known for their work in hospitals, orphanages and schools. Fr. Nihill then extended an invitation for the Daughters to visit the city. The hospital was incorporated in 1903 and opened its doors in1905.

Sister Louise was introduced by Dr. Stuart G. Marcus, MD, President/CEO of St. Vincent’s Health Services who said it was a sad day but also one of transition. He said that many employees have experienced their leaving with a “heavy heart” because the Daughters have been a welcome and historic presence in the medical center

“The mission and legacy will continue in our hearts. They set standards for compassion we deliver each day. It is a big task ahead of us caring out that mission. Our job is to accept that responsibility.”

Dr. Marcus noted that the Daughters of Charity had the foresight to begin a formation program to prepare lay leadership to carry on their historic mission.

He said that on the day St. Vincent’s Hospital opened its doors in 1905, there were 17 patients, and that on the morning of the farewell Mass, the patient census was 267. In the years in between, St. Vincent’s has grown from a small hospital to health system with many facilities in the region.

In a brief interview following Mass, Sr. Louise said the Daughters are committed to serving “the poorest of the poor,” and will be working in “under-served areas” that lack basic medical care and social services.

“We need to focus more on areas that don’t have people to serve them. There are people here carrying on our mission. But we need to reach out.”

Today, there are 495 nuns in the St. Louis Province, 600 nationally and 17,000 across the world.

Following Mass the Daughters made final rounds of the Medical Center, touring departments where they had worked for many years. A reception for all employees retirees and volunteers was held later in the after noon, and the day concluded with a “Passing the Flame” ceremony for at. Vincent’s administration, board, benefactors and civil leaders.

A member of Ascension Health, St. Vincent’s Health Services includes the Medical Center, Hall-Brooke Behavioral Health Services, St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Services, Westport Campus, St. Vincent’s College, St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services, St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation and St. Vincent’s Urgent Care/Walk-in Centers. In 2010, the Medical Center broke ground on the Elizabeth M. Pfriem SWIM Center for Cancer Care, the renovated and expanded Michael J. Daly Emergency Department. As a part of a $160 million Capital Campaign, the master facilities project continues today with the renovation of all major clinical areas on Level II and a new 630-car parking garage

Ascension Health was formed in 1999 when the four provinces of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (that were Sponsors of the Daughters of Charity National Health System, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Mich. brought their health systems together. In 2002, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet became the sixth Sponsor when its health system became part of Ascension Health.

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