OGDENSBURG A Roman Catholic religious order that championed charitable causes in Ogdensburg and helped start the citys hospital is finding itself in need of charity.
Faced with a dwindling number of working nuns and a growing number of retired and infirm members, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart recently sold their motherhouse in Yardley, Pa., to stay financially afloat. They sold the property to Holy Redeemer Health System, and will lease the property for the next five years. No decision has been made about where they will live next, said Sister Julia C. Lanagan, Grey Nuns president.
We need to find something less expensive so we can manage to have enough money to care for all of our sisters and continue having them do the ministry work we do, she said.
In 1885, the Grey Nuns of Ottawa, the orders predecessor, helped to start the Ogdensburg City Hospital and Orphan Asylum, now Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center. They continued to staff the hospital well into the 20th century, as well as operate the A. Barton Hepburn School of Nursing, which closed in 1969.
The orphanage later became St. Josephs Nursing Home. By 1960, when the institution discontinued childrens services, the orphanage had cared for 4,677 children.
The Grey Nuns also staffed Holy Cross Elementary School, St. Marys Academy, and Notre Dame and St. Peters schools in Ogdensburg, along with St. Marys School in Potsdam. They were nurses, administrators and educators at Claxton-Hepburn and St. Josephs Home, and teachers in the Catholic schools.
We are and always have been grateful for the time we spent in Ogdensburg. Many of us worked up there at the hospital. I did, and I loved every minute of it, Sister Julia said. The people there are wonderful, and were grateful for all theyve done for us.
The order is still represented on the Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center board of directors. The Rev. Thomas T. Patterson, a member of the board, said the Grey Nuns support of and contributions to the hospital have always been important.
The hospital has come a long way over a lot of years, and the nuns have been right there to support us, he said. I think we have all benefited from the Grey Nuns affiliation with Claxton-Hepburn for the last 126 years. The community has benefited tremendously because of that.
Sister Julia said fewer new members not only means less income, but less community support.
We worked for minimal stipends so the poor could be taken care of and the churches could be built up, and children educated, she said.
In those days, the people of the parishes, because the sisters got paid so little, collected food for them and helped them when they could. As there were fewer sisters, we lost the kind of support we used to have because we werent right there in the parishes. It wasnt that anybody decided to make that change. Its just the way it worked. We dont have a large number of volunteers like we once did.
As health-care systems became better established, the nuns role changed, Sister Julia said. The nuns are still active in helping the poor and sick in impoverished countries like Haiti.
There were always large numbers of sisters working in Ogdensburg, said Monsignor Robert L. Lawler. Its sad to see their numbers dwindle.
Monsignor Lawler said the Grey Nuns are fortunate to be able to stay in their home until they come up with a plan for the future.
I think theyve still got some good, clear thinkers helping them in these difficult days, he said. Its a problem among all religious groups because there are so many elderly members and so few to provide for them. It would be good for people to understand the problem and the contributions theyve made. The older people certainly know it.
Contributions to the Grey Nuns are tax-deductible and may be made via the orders website, www.greynun.org. More information is available online or by calling the Congregational Advancement Office at 1 (215) 968-4236, ext. 1200.