Celebrating and Remembering Sister Generose Gervais #ThrowbackThursday

sister-generose-16x9“One must approach evening to see how splendid the day has been. We are approaching evening now,” said Robert Waller, M.D., Emeritus President and CEO of Mayo Clinic, in honoring Sister Generose Gervais and remembering her life of service to Mayo Clinic and “really, to the world.”

At a memorial service held on October 18 at the chapel within Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, family, friends, and visitors gathered to honor, celebrate, and share recollections of Sister Generose whom they described as having lived a life of faith, justice, respect, hospitality, stewardship, and candor.

The tributes came from Mayo leaders, recipients of the Poverello Fund, fellow sisters of Saint Francis, and others.

Dr. Waller’s comments summed up the sentiments of many at the service. “Her life of service has touched so many thousands,” he said. “Day after day, night after night, she cared so much for the families—much beyond what medicine was able to provide.”

He described the last time he was with Sister Generose as “a visit to cherish and long remember.”

Those in attendance at the memorial spoke in terms that suggested that her time on this earth was much the same—a visit to cherish and long remember.

“I consider Sister Generose a treasure, not only for the Franciscan sisters and for us, but for the Diocese of Winona,” said the Most Rev. John Quinn, Bishop of the Diocese of Winona. “There was a light inside her that could only come from loving Christ and serving others. May we continue to treasure that legacy—of compassion, of caring for others, of seeing Christ in others.”

Sister Marilyn Gieger, Congregational Leader/President of the Sisters of Saint Francis, read a tribute from Sister Tierney Trueman, Coordinator of the Mayo Clinic Values Council, who was away leading a pilgrimage to Assisi. She described Sister Generose as a visionary woman of great faith who was able to see things not just as they are, but as what they can become. “She was able to accomplish things not because of the brick and mortar . . . but the soul and spirit that reside within,” she said.

John Lane, M.D., Radiology—Diagnostic, who represented the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher fondly remembered the times that he spent as a medical resident visiting Sister Generose’s office. Having grown up in the Catholic faith, he described it as “visiting Mother Superior’s office” where “instead of detention, there were M&Ms.”

Others praised Sister Generose for her true Franciscan spirit and as someone who “did not want to take credit for everything . . . or for anything.”

“Miracles happen every day, all around us—we just fail to notice,” said John Noseworthy, M.D., President and CEO of Mayo Clinic, quoting Sister Generose. “But, she was wrong, at least on one account. Sister Generose herself was a miracle among us for more than a half-century. We recognized it as she joyfully went about her life’s work, and we celebrate it today. We are deeply grateful for Sister Generose’s selfless presence and steady guidance. We know that her spirit lives on in the work we do every day to serve patients.”

A memory book, honoring Sister Generose’s life and her words, was handed out at the memorial service. Among her many notable sayings are:

  • “I never thought of the staff working for me. I work for the staff, helping to make their jobs easier, more meaningful, helping them give better quality care. The staff, in turn, work for the good of the patient. We all work for the patient.”
  • “Values are caught and not taught. I encourage the staff to ponder the question, ‘Why do I do what I do?’ Hopefully, their answer resonates with a pledge set forth by our founders over a century ago: ‘to heal the sick and advance the science and practice of medicine.’ This is true today.”
  • “Be sure you are as good as the people believe you to be because they have great faith in you. You are those people.”
  • “Care for each patient, each staff member, one face at a time.”
  • “Healing is when a person’s mind, body, and spirit are at peace, and all are well. Go forth and be well. God bless you.”

Sister Generose’s legacy and life of service were marked by the closing of the Plummer Building doors, while bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” and the carillons tolled.

“The ceremonial closing of the Plummer Building doors is one of the most profound expressions of respect accorded by our organization,” Dr. Noseworthy said. “We do it to honor the passing of significant people in Mayo’s history and in periods of national mourning. The Plummer Building doors are a symbol of Mayo Clinic—open, welcoming, and reflecting a wide diversity of human life.”

In the 88 years since their installation, the Plummer doors have only been closed 10 times.

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Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Associate at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She supports marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.