Sunday, August 8, 2004

Nuns, too old and too few, leave hospice

The Associated Press

PARMA - For nearly 50 years, the Dominican sisters of Hawthorne have fed, bathed and cared for more than 12,000 cancer patients at the Holy Family Cancer Home.

But their work there will soon end when lay staff take over their duties and the nuns return to their New York convent.

"Obviously, there is a certain sadness," said Tom Mullen, who leads the Cleveland Diocese's health and human services secretariat. "But when we said, 'Let's talk about the transition and keeping the mission alive,' you could see the joy return to their faces. I have such respect for these women. We stand upon their shoulders."

One of those women, 80-year-old Sister Mary Benedict, came to Holy Family in 1968 when the hospice was licensed to care for 100 patients. Today it can take 37, even though only 12 beds were filled this week.

Catholic Charities last week agreed to keep the hospice open with lay staff. The nine nuns working there will return to their motherhouse in Hawthorne, N.Y., to be reassigned.

The order runs five hospices, but the sisters' dwindling numbers and advanced ages make it too difficult to continue running all of them. Of those at Holy Family, only two nuns are able to provide bedside care.

"Good Irish genes," said Sister Kevin, 76, one of those who continues to bring meals and medicine to the patients.

Their order is down to 65 members from a peak of 125. The number of Catholic nuns in the United States has decreased from 180,000 in 1965 to 73,000 last year.

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