Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Mass On Nov. 24 Will Be Time To Say 'thank You'



It seems like we are losing some old friends as we say good-bye to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

For 131 years, they have been taking care of our elderly poor – even surrounding their bedsides as they head for heaven.

Now, because of a decline in vocations, the sisters have sold St. John's Home for the Aged and leaving Evansville.

Sister Carolyn Martin is the administrator at the home. She is melancholy about the move, and so are the hundreds of people she has talked to.  "People are telling us that we are such a part of the heart of the city … that they thought we would always be there."

The Little Sisters’ constitution mandates that a minimum of 10 sisters serve in each of the order’s facilities, and as the numbers of sisters declined they knew they had to make the tough decision to leave Evansville. All the nuns will be gone by Oct. 31.

Ide Management Company has purchased the property, and will assume its responsibility on Nov. 1 under the name "University Nursing and Rehabilitiation." Sister Maria Christine Lynch, provincial superior, said, "Their philosophy of 'Residents First, Staff Always,' makes us optimistic that they share the vision expressed by our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, that 'making the elderly happy is what counts.'"

The facility will continue to provide care for the elderly, offering a full continuum of health-related services. And while some things will change, many will stay the same.

Father Ted Tempel will continue to make his home there as the chaplain, offering daily Mass. The company will honor all agreements with current residents, and "always be open to accepting the poor," Sister Carolyn said, adding, "That is part of the condition."

The company will keep on all current employees, and invite all volunteers and auxiliaries to continue their important work, she said. The apartments will remain the same, although the 16 rooms that have served as the residences for the sisters will be transformed into rooms for the residents.

It's a painful time for the Little Sisters, Sister Carolyn says, as they say good-bye to a community that was "a very caring place; warm and caring."

Sister Carolyn and Sister Mary Augustine Woodruff laughed as they recalled stories of the early years of the Little Sisters in Evansville. The French sisters first settled on Evansville's north side. Two years later, they moved to their current east side location. "They wanted a church, so they buried a St. Benedict medal," Sister Mary Augustine said. Those prayers were answered in 1912 when St. Benedict Church was built right across the street.

The Little Sisters are known in Evansville and throughout the world for their tender care for the elderly poor, and for being with their residents as they go through the dying process. That's one of the reasons Sister Carolyn calls the home "holy ground."

She is happy to report that the residents have promised to continue the tradition of being with the dying. "They have said, 'We will step in and pray with them.'"

Hundreds of Little Sisters have spent time in Evansville during the past 131 years, including most recently Sisters Alexis James, 41 years; Madeline Santerre, 35 years; and Catherine Conaty, 28 years.

A Mass of Thanksgiving is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24, at St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville. Bishop Charles C. Thompson will be the principal celebrant.

Many of the Little Sisters will come back for the celebration, which will offer them a time to say thank you to the community. The celebration will also be a time of thanksgiving for them and the work they have done in the diocese.

Sister Carolyn hopes that the people in the diocese will continue to pray for vocations – that young women are called to live their lives following in the footsteps of St. Jeanne Jugan.