Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Tribute To Sisters Of Charity

Sen. Susan Collins

legislator photo

Mr. President, in 1737, Marguerite D'Youville, a young widow and mother of three, founded the Sister of Charity in Quebec, Canada. Despite her own misfortune and poverty, she devoted her life to caring for those less fortunate--the poor, the sick, and the orphaned.

Since that time, the Grey Nuns, as the sisters are known, have expanded their work of compassion throughout Canada, the United States, South America, and the Caribbean with schools, hospitals, and orphanages. St. Marguerite D'Youville, whom Pope John XXIII called the ``Mother of Universal Charity,'' was canonized in 1990, the first native-born Canadian saint.

My home State has been blessed by the works of St. Marguerite and her followers. On November 20, 1878, three Grey Nuns stepped off a train in Lewiston, ME, equipped with little more than caring hearts and determination. Within 2 weeks, they opened the first bilingual school in that largely Franco-American city, with 200 children arriving for the first day of class. Within 6 months, they opened an orphanage.

The Hospital of the Sisters of Charity they founded was often referred to as the ``Sisters' Hospital'' or the ``French Hospital,'' but the Grey Nuns welcomed all. It was the first hospital in the twin cities of Lewiston-Auburn and the first Catholic hospital in Maine. Fees for care in the hard-working mill community were low and were often paid in loaves of bread, bolts of cloth, or bushels of apples, which the sisters gladly accepted.

A major expansion of the hospital in 1902 gave Lewiston the two magnificent domes that grace the city's skyline. In 1910, the name was changed to St. Mary's General Hospital. The growth of the hospital was well underway, with the latest medical innovations and a bilingual School of Nursing.

Today, St. Mary's Health System includes a 233-bed acute care facility; a strong physician network, an independent living center, and occupational health services that reach out to businesses throughout the region. St. Mary's D'Youville Pavilion is one of the largest nursing homes in New England and a national model for elder care.

On October 24, St. Mary's General Hospital will honor the Sisters of Charity, past and present, for more than 130 years of healing for the body and the soul. I rise today to join in that tribute. Through the tender care and willing sacrifice of the Grey Nuns, the words of St. Marguerite d'Youville, ``We shall continue to love and to serve,'' still resonate today.