By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — The Bon Secours religious community celebrates 175 years of service in health care, this year.
Seven sisters came to Charleston Feb. 24 to join locally assigned Sister M. Gemma Neville at a special liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Sister Gemma is the director of Pastoral Services and supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education at Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital, West Ashley.
Bishop David B. Thompson celebrated the Mass for the Bon Secours religious who were joined by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, founders of St. Francis Xavier Hospital. The congregation was also filled with doctors, administrators, nurses and the myriad of other people who work in health care or are connected with the CareAlliance Health Services who wanted to show their support.
The Sisters of Bon Secours were created in Paris by Mother Josephine Potel in 1824, following the devastating French Revolution. Our Lady Help of Christians is their patron. They left their cloisters to nurse the sick in their own homes . Bon Secours translates as “good help” and the Sisters purpose was to bring compassionate care to the sick and dying and relate the message, “There is a God who loves you.” They became part of the community in which they lived and their care was devoted to the environmental needs. Today, the dwindling number of vocations focuses the sisters’ ministry on where they can have an effect on hospital policies, according to Sister Anne Marie Mack, president of the Sisters of Bon Secours of the United States.
“We want our sisters in a level where all the decisions are being made,” she explained. “You don’t see as many sitting at the bedside as you did 20 years ago.”
Sister Anne Marie was attending the Charleston celebration from Marriottsville, Md., where the American motherhouse is located. She and several others participated in the international celebrations in Paris in January.
“That kicked off a year of celebration and joy, thanksgiving and opportunity for the future,” she said.
Sister Anne Marie also explained the focus of the Bon Secours sisters as the help guide the future of their hospitals.
“Our view is that we want to strengthen Catholic health care,” she said. “We want to partner with organizations who are compatible with ours and have like values.
“Our values and principals are the foundation of everything we do,” added Sister Anne Lutz, senior vice president of sponsorship for Michigan, Maryland and Pennsylvania. She is also assigned at the motherhouse.
“The difference between other hospitals and Bon Secours organization is that the bottom line gets put back into the community we are serving,” Sister Anne said.
The Bon Secours congregation serves wherever there is a need and ministers to the sick in Ireland, Great Britain, the United States, Peru and Ecuador.
In his homily, Bishop David B. Thompson spoke for all when he congratulated the sisters. He referred to the flowers they wore, irises which symbolize their origins in France and the fleur de lis, as an ideal logo.
“Iridescence of person, a rainbow of service, widespread and bright,” he said. “They have an eye for the Gospel of service for those in need, compassion of service in action.”
The Liturgy at the celebratory Mass was from the Feast of the Annunciation.
“There was no more greater or important message delivered here on earth than where God invites Mary to be the mother of Christ here on earth,” the Bishop said. “Mary is presented as a person on a journey of faith as the Bon Secours community have been from France to Baltimore to Charleston.
The Bishop proffered a verbal play on the name saying bon temps (good times) and how it was fashionable to live in a cloister in 1824 but the Bon Secours wanted to give help.
“And the word was made flesh,” he went on. “Humanity was emphasized, the Bon Secours gave service to man … one hundred and seventy five years ago they said, ‘here we are Lord we want to do your will.’
He described the sisters as celebrating the sacrament of faith, hope and love.
“Their service to others is bring us the good news of the Gospel,” he said. “The locale of their annunciation was their coming to Charleston.”
Bishop Thompson also noted that in the health care community, the Bon Secours hospitals are partners and not rivals.
” Iris — Thank you for your iridescence, radiance and rainbow of presence,” he said. “Bon Secours means good health but just for today make it tres Bon Secours, very good health.”
During a reception, sponsored by CareAlliance, that followed the Mass, Ed Berdick said the presence of the Bon Secours sisters reinforces the common mission and value systems among all of their organizations. Berdick is president and corporate executive officer of the health system that includes Roper Hospital, Roper Hospital North, Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, Roper Rehabilitation Hospital and Roper Berkeley Center.
“The Bon Secours sisters have helped instill a greater appreciation for the holistic approach to medicine, particularly in programs dealing with the latter stages of life, and in death and dying,” he said. “This celebration just helps give us a greater respect for how we can bring their ministry about and how we provide health care.”