|Patricia Kyger, second from left, has been a supporter and friend of the Daughters of Charity her whole life. The Daughters, who founded Saint Thomas Hospital in 1898, are leaving Nashville to take on new assignments elsewhere. Saint Thomas will continue to operate. Pictured with Kyger are the last three Daughters of Charity assigned to Nashville, Sister Naomi Libiak, left, Sister Jean Maher, center, and Sister Sherry Barrett. Photo by Andy Telli|
For 116 years, the Daughters of Charity have brought Nashville compassionate care to the sick, an encouraging word to the student, a smile of friendship to the stranger, food to the hungry, respect to the poor.
In May the last of the Daughters will leave Nashville for new assignments leaving behind a city that has been changed by their ministry.
Saint Thomas, the hospital and the healing ministry that the Daughters founded in Nashville, will continue to operate maintaining the principles learned from the religious order that is dedicated to serving those in need.
Since the first Daughters of Charity arrived to establish Saint Thomas Hospital in 1898, more than 200 Daughters of Charity have served in Nashville. In that time, there have been “a lot of lives touched,” said Sister Jean Maher, D.C., one of the last three Daughters remaining in Nashville and the coordinator of the community here. “And the people of Nashville have touched our lives. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to serve here in this community.”
Saint Thomas Health and the Nashville community will bid farewell and extend their thanks to the Daughters at a special Mass at 12:10 p.m. Monday, May 5, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, with a reception to follow in the Fleming Center. The Daughters also will be honored at the Seton Foundation gala at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.
Saint Thomas hosted a reception for the Daughters on April 11 to mark the 116th anniversary of the hospital’s founding.
|A Daughter of Charity, in right photo, and a nurse care for a newborn baby at Saint Thomas Hospital in this undated photo.|
Bishop Thomas Sebastian Byrne, the fifth Bishop of Nashville, asked the Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Md., to bring to life his dream of building a Catholic hospital in Nashville.
On April 11, 1898, Saint Thomas Hospital opened in the Ensworth mansion on Hayes Street in what was then the western suburbs of Nashville. The Daughters had purchased the property from Judge Jacob McGavock Dickinson.
The 26-bed hospital quickly outgrew the mansion, and in 1902 a new, modern, 150-bed hospital was built on the same site. In 1974, the Daughters of Charity opened the current 541-bed Saint Thomas West Hospital on Harding Road.
St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity in 1633 in Paris, France, to organize and train young peasant women to care for the poor. Their mission quickly expanded to include educating children and caring for the sick.
“From the very beginning Daughters (have gone) to those who have been abandoned,” said Sister Sherry Barrett, D.C., who works at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, where she serves as a translator for Spanish-speaking patients. “The first sisters went to the galley slaves, visited the prisons, the hovels of the poor. That’s our spirit.”
Soon after arriving in Nashville, the Daughters of Charity expanded their ministry beyond health care. The Daughters have served in schools in the diocese, campus ministry, prison ministry, and serving the poor and needy through Catholic Charities of Tennessee. They also founded the Ladies of Charity in Nashville, who for more than 100 years have been helping the needy.
“Saint Thomas is our main institutional presence here, but we’ve been involved in other ministries,” Sister Jean said. She is on her second assignment in Nashville. The first was nearly 50 years ago, when she worked at Saint Thomas as a nursing supervisor. Today she works at Room In The Inn helping homeless men find work.
‘Boots on the ground’
“Nothing gets between them and God’s poor,” Patricia Kyger said of the Daughters of Charity. “They’re boots on the ground, they’re in the trenches extending a hand up. Their community is a wonderful combination of individual and community spirituality and service to the poor and sick.”
Kyger has been close to the Daughters her whole life. “My mother and my grandmother were always friends with whatever Daughters were at the hospital,” she said.
Kyger was born at Saint Thomas as were two of her children, and her husband Kent was an extern at Saint Thomas while a medical student at Vanderbilt University.
She has carried on her family’s involvement with the Daughters. “They have been the inspiration for the charity work I’ve done,” said Kyger, who serves on the board of directors of the Saint Thomas Foundation, is a lifetime member of the Ladies of Charity, and has served on the board and been a key supporter of Catholic Charities.
In 2007, Kyger became an affiliate of the Daughters of Charity. “It’s among the highest honors I’ve ever received.”
“They made Saint Thomas what it is today,” Kyger said of the Daughters of Charity.
In 2002, Saint Thomas and Baptist Hospitals came together as Saint Thomas Health. A faith-based ministry with more than 8,000 associates serving the area, Saint Thomas Health’s regional health system today consists of five hospitals: Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital (formerly Baptist Hospital), Saint Thomas West Hospital (formerly Saint Thomas Hospital), and Saint Thomas Hospital for Spinal Surgery in Nashville; Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital (formerly Middle Tennessee Medical Center) in Murfreesboro; and Saint Thomas Hickman Hospital (formerly Hickman Community Hospital) in Centerville. It also includes a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures in diagnostics, cardiac services and ambulatory surgery as well as medical practices, clinics and rehabilitation facilities.
Saint Thomas Health is a member of Ascension Health, a Catholic healthcare organization that is the largest not-for-profit health system in the United States.
“They have brought a spiritual dimension to health care,” Kyger said of the Daughters of Charity. “The Catholic tradition of healing everyone regardless of status in life has been their goal, their high achievement. It’s a Christ centered ministry of healing.”
The Daughters of Charity have been preparing for their departure from Nashville for a long time. Leaders of the order recognized that declining numbers would leave them unable to serve in their hospitals at the same level.
In 1994, John Tighe became the first lay person to serve as Saint Thomas’ chief executive officer. Over the years, the Daughters have shifted their roles from administration to being involved in promoting the mission of the hospital, governance on the board of directors, and to other areas of service.
To maintain the Daughters’ vision of health care as a ministry and their commitment to serving the poor, they developed a formation program for the executives in their hospitals so they can understand Catholic social teaching and how that might impact the hospital and their jobs.
“There’s a Daughters of Charity approach to service that can be picked up and carried on,” Sister Jean said. “The approach is characterized by respect, integrity, simplicity and I think, a certain transparency, and boldness.
“It’s always served us well if we’re bold in the right ways to get service to the people in need,” she added.
The hospitals in the Saint Thomas Health System are ready for the transition, Sister Jean said. “The health care leadership where we’re leaving is capable, competent … with the values of Vincentian service.”
As the Daughters leave their health care ministry behind, they are moving to other ministries of service to the poor, said Sister Jean, who will be moving to Philadelphia.
Sister Sherry will be moving to Georgetown, S.C., to work with the poor in that area, and Sister Naomi Libiak, who has long worked at the North Nashville Outreach Program through Catholic Charities, will be moving to the Emmitsburg, Md., to work at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the American founder of the order. Sister Jean and Sister Naomi will be the last to leave on May 10.
There is a tinge of sadness surrounding the Daughters’ departure. “I’m not only losing spiritual models, but I’m losing girlfriends,” Kyger said.
“Leaving is part of our life. We’re trained to be obedient, mobile and flexible,” Sister Jean said. “The difference here is we’re all leaving together. That’s an added challenge.”
“We’re crying” about leaving, Sister Sherry said. “What else can you do but cry? … It’s so hard when people say you’ve made such a difference.”