Along with Dr. William Worrall Mayo, another key figure in the early history of Mayo Clinic is Mother Alfred Moes (1828–1899). She was born Maria Moes on October 28, 1828. Maria took the name Sister Alfred when she entered religious life and became Mother Alfred as the head of the two congregations she founded.
Mother Alfred was born in Remich, Luxembourg, where her family had been established for many generations. Her father was a prosperous iron worker who had served in Napoleon’s army. Members of her mother’s family held responsible positions at the imposing Remich Castle that had dominated the area since medieval times.
Luxembourg is a crossroads nation, situated close to Germany, France, and Belgium. Its national anthem, composed in 1857, draws upon deeply held feelings of the people and ends with a line that is translated as “We want to remain what we are.”
Mother Alfred’s biographer, Sister Carlan Kraman, wrote:
“That same kind of determination to be her own person seems to have been part of Mother Alfred’s personality . . . she appears to have been full of energy and a zest for life.”
Maria came from a family of 10 children and was particularly close to one sister, Catherine, who traveled with her to the United States and took the religious name Sister Barbara.
The two Moes sisters received a convent education in Metz, France, where they studied sewing and other skills deemed essential for young ladies of the era.
But this sheltered environment could not diminish Maria’s natural skills in leadership. The day would come when her independence and strength of will made it possible for her to establish Saint Marys Hospital, a key component in the growth of Mayo Clinic. She even put her needlework training to use, since selling fancy embroidery was one of the first fundraising efforts to support the hospital!