By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Four Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are something of an anachronism in healthcare — they still live and work at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital in South Louisville.
Sisters Alfreda Crantz, Mary Patricia Brennan, David Clare Reasbeck and Mary James Corey serve in a variety of volunteer roles at the hospital.
Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital (now part of KentuckyOne Health) was founded in 1874 by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs). Since the time of the congregation’s founding in 1812 by Mother Catherine Spalding, the SCNs have dedicated their lives to education, healthcare and social service.
Three of the sisters came to live at the hospital in the early 1990s when their convent at St. Thomas More closed, they said in a recent interview at the hospital. They took up residence on the fourth and fifth floors in the hospital’s old “E” wing. That wing was previously used as living quarters for nursing students taught by the Sisters of Charity in the 1970s. (Sister Alfreda Crantz moved into the hospital in 1982).
Sister Reasbeck has an energetic and bubbly personality that belies her 82 years. She distributes coffee and cookies to patients and families in waiting rooms throughout the hospital. She also volunteers as a hospital chaplain, a ministry she calls a “gift.” And she spends time with patients and gives them Holy Communion.
Before coming to the Sts. Mary & Elizabeth, Sister Reasbeck was a teacher and principal for 34 years in Meade County. She also worked as the coordinator for the Sisters of Charity at Nazareth Home for 16 years.
Sister Reasbeck, a devoted University of Louisville fan, said the sisters’ work at the hospital is simply their way of living out the congregation’s motto — Caritas Christi Urget Nos (The Love of Christ Impels Us).
Ken Johnson, chief operating officer of Sts. Mary & Elizabeth, said the sisters are always willing to jump in wherever they are needed.
“Whenever something significant happens in the community (such as) the ice storm (in 2010) and the school bus accident (last summer), I know I have four volunteers right off,” he said.
“For me personally they remind me why we are here. Their selfless service is an example of how we are to reach out and serve the underserved,” he added.
Sister Brennan (who turned 90 years old April 1) works in the hospital’s thrift shop and also serves as the driver for the other sisters.
Prior to her work at the hospital, Sister Brennan was a teacher for 35 years and served as principal at Holy Family School. She also was a supervisor for Catholic schools in Louisville. At the age of 55, Sister Brennan decided to go back to school to earn her nursing degree. She worked at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, Ky., and then as a registered nurse at the Motherhouse in Nazareth, Ky. She still sits with the sick and dying at the Motherhouse.
Sister Corey, 79, recently retired as the coordinator for “Candy for Caring,” the charitable candy-making project that serves area social service agencies. She now serves as a receptionist in one of the hospital’s labs.
Sister Crantz, 94, works in the hospital’s gift shop and serves in the chapel. Before coming to the hospital, Sister Crantz worked as a nurse anesthetist in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development. She also has done missionary work in Nepal and in British Honduras. For many years she worked in supervisory and management roles in hospitals.
The sisters take great pride in the fact that they are self-sufficient. The common space they share on the fifth floor is outfitted with a large dining table where they often have visitors, and it has a TV area with numerous recliners where they like to watch UofL basketball games.
“We are happy and grateful to pay for our board and the food from the cafeteria,” Sister Reasbeck said.
The sisters also clean their residence, including waxing the long hallway floors, and take out their trash.
“We like to keep the place clean. We like it to be cheerful and homey,” Sister Reasbeck said. “We have company quite a bit and play cards and dominoes.”
Shane Fitzgerald, chief mission leader for Sts. Mary & Elizabeth, Flaget Memorial and Our Lady of Peace hospitals, said to have religious sisters on site is a “powerful witness.”
“To still have their presence here is a rich part of the facility,” Fitzgerald said.
“Our focus is on spreading the kingdom of God and treating people with integrity, love and concern — and definitely helping the poor,” Sister Reasbeck said. “We are Sisters of Charity and we are proud of it!”