Franciscan Sisters of Allegany celebrate 150th anniversary

CAMDEN — Lourdes Health System recently celebrated the sesquicentennial of its sponsor, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, and 50-year anniversaries of the entry into religious life of three of the sisters.

On Friday, June 12, a prayer service was held in the lobby of Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro. Later the same day Mass was celebrated in the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Locally, in the early 1940s, Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace invited the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany to build a hospital in the Diocese of Camden to accommodate the area’s fast-growing Catholic population. Bishop Eustace knew of the sisters when they cared for his mother in New York City during her final years.

In December 1945, the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary agreed to sell a portion of their property at Haddon Avenue and Euclid Street in Camden for the construction of a hospital. Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center was dedicated in May 1950.

In 1998, the congregation became a sponsor of Catholic Health East and was instrumental in the acquisition of Lourdes’ hospital in Willingboro.

The Franciscan Sisters continue to play a vital role in the operation of the health system today. Three sisters celebrating their jubilee are Sister Helen Owens, vice president of mission; Sister Anne Lillis, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center mailroom clerk; and Sister Sandra Teevens, emergency department family care liaison at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.

A native of the Bronx, Sister Helen worked as a mission nurse in Bolivia in the 1960s and 1970s before joining Lourdes in 1979 as director of community health education. That year, she established the Lourdes Wellness Center, the first hospital-based health program geared to improve residents’ health and lifestyle.

In 1980, she founded The Bridge, a nationally recognized program that positively supports the psychological, social and spiritual needs of adolescents. In 1993, Sister Helen developed the Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies, and in 2003 was instrumental in opening Lourdes’ integrative family medicine practice, which blends complementary care with mainstream medicine. Vice president since 1986, she is responsible for promoting Lourdes’ mission, vision and values throughout the organization.

Sister Anne came from a large family in Buffalo and had a desire to teach. She consulted her brother, a Franciscan priest, and then the family contacted the Franciscan Sisters’ motherhouse in Allegany, N.Y. After training and college, Sister Anne spent the next 24 years teaching primary school. For the past 26 years, she has been at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, working in a variety of telecommunication services, the information desk and the mailroom.

A native of Woonsocket, R.I., Sister Sandy said she felt a calling to religious life and selected the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany over several other orders. Sister Sandy has served twice at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, first in the late 1970s as a registrar in the emergency department. Upon her return, she worked in patient relations but later transferred to family care liaison in the emergency department. “I love the spirit of the people working here,” she said.

Sister Sandy also has taught, ministered to the poor and homeless and served as a chaplain in a Camden County female correctional facility.

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