Sister M. Elizabeth Corry, OSF, president of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden for 22 years and the driving force behind its evolution from a community hospital to a regional tertiary care center, died Feb. 7 in Allegany, New York. She was 91.
One of the few female hospital executives in the region, Sister Elizabeth served as president of Lourdes 1969-83 and 1987-95. She had been president emeritus since 1995.
“Sister Elizabeth Corry was a Franciscan woman of faith, wisdom, vision, courage and grace who dedicated her life to serving all of God’s people, especially the poor,” said Alexander J. Hatala, Lourdes Health System President and CEO. “She led the institution through critical periods of growth and change. Simply put: Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center would not be here if it were not for Sister Elizabeth.”
Michael Camardo, longtime chairman of the Lourdes Board of Trustees and one of the first lay people to govern the hospital, called Sister Elizabeth an icon who was “the strength behind Lourdes for a long time.” He recalled Sister Elizabeth coming to the board seeking to build the hospital’s first cardiac lab.
“She said that we didn’t have $1.5 million, but God will provide. A few months later, we were unexpectedly given a $1.5 million gift. Now cardiology is the crown jewel of Lourdes. She was quite a person,” Camardo said.
Born in Jersey City to the parents of immigrants from County Clare, Ireland, Sister Elizabeth attended Catholic schools and was the captain of her high school girls’ basketball team. She entered the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York on Feb. 2, 1948. She intended to be a teacher, but changed her mind after spending time at one of the Sisters’ hospitals in New York.
Sister Elizabeth earned her bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and her master’s degree in hospital administration from Columbia University. After having served as leader of Catholic hospitals in New York and Boston, Sister Elizabeth arrived at Lourdes in 1966 as assistant administrator. She assumed the role of president in 1969.
Sister Elizabeth resisted calls for the hospital to leave Camden. Yet she realized that in order to support its mission to the City of Camden, Lourdes would need to develop regional centers that would draw patients from throughout southern New Jersey.
In 1969, Lourdes opened an outpatient dialysis unit, and later a center for organ transplantation. In 1972, Sister Elizabeth saw the value in expanding Lourdes’ cardiac program—now one of the largest in the Delaware Valley and nationally recognized for excellence. Sister Elizabeth also led a fight to establish a Level III regional perinatal center in South Jersey, as well as expanded the Lourdes Regional Rehabilitation Center.
“My wife and I first met Sister Elizabeth at a golf resort in North Carolina. She and Sister Paracleta went down, and we were in Fort Bragg at the time,” said Dr. Courtney Malcarney, a longtime Lourdes OB/GYN. “She was very supportive in the development of our mother/baby units, and our fight to become a neonatal center and for maternal-fetal medicine overall.”
In 1983, Sister Elizabeth left Lourdes to take care of her sister and was reassigned by her order to another facility. She returned in 1987.
“She committed to build several tertiary service programs at Lourdes that have saved tens of thousands of lives over the years, and also helped to make possible the hospital’s long-standing commitment to serve the poor and underserved of Camden,” said Scott Share, former Lourdes vice president of communications, now with Trinity Health. “Her convictions, her sheer will and her faith helped to successfully guide Lourdes through some very challenging times, and enhanced the hospital’s ability to be a beacon of hope to so many in Camden and surrounding communities.”
Over the years, Sister Elizabeth recruited physicians, built clinical programs and expanded the hospital in size. But her special focus was on caring for the poor and underserved. She established the Osborn Family Health Center, Child Development Services, The Bridge (a program for at-risk teens) and other community outreach programs. In 1995, her commitment was recognized as Our Lady of Lourdes was awarded the Foster G. McGaw Prize, presented annually by the American Hospital Association to one hospital in the nation in recognition of its outstanding achievements and dedication to community health improvement. Our Lady of Lourdes remains the only New Jersey hospital to achieve this honor.
Each year, Lourdes recognizes Sister Elizabeth’s commitment to the health system and the community with the Sister M. Elizabeth Corry Award, the highest honor given to a staff member for his or her dedication to its mission.
Friends and colleagues recalled Sister Elizabeth’s love and connection with staff members at every level of the organization. Many remembered a bright sense of humor.
“Elizabeth was larger than life. She was a dear friend, wonderful mentor and someone who embodied the spirit of St. Francis in everything she did and everyone she met,” said Sister Helen Owens, OSF, director of spirituality programs, who with Sister Elizabeth in 1979 founded the Lourdes Wellness Center, one of the first hospital-based services of its kind. “When I came for my interview, as we walked the halls, she smiled at everyone, knew them by name and something about them. Yet she was never afraid to make her opinion known and work hard for what she knew was right. She was a brilliant woman and she truly believed in caring for the mind, body and spirit.”
“She considered herself one of the associates. She happened to be the captain of the ship but she knew that without each and every team member, the sick would not be loved or cared for the way they should be,” said Sister Rosemarie Kolmer, OSF, who knew Sister Elizabeth for nearly 35 years. “She truly loved Lourdes.”
“Sister Elizabeth was a saint. She knew and loved everyone. She had time to speak to every employee and knew their families. Like Bob Hope, she visited everybody,” said Sister Anne Lillis, OSF. “At Christmas time, she would go out and collect toys for Osborn’s children (the hospital’s associated family health center). She loved that part of her job best. Sister Elizabeth, thank you for being a great teacher!”
“Everyone in the hospital was important, from the surgeon to the person who cleans the floors,” said Camardo. “She treated everyone with the same respect.”
“I often recall in my early years here, she would call me into her office. Not so much to discuss hospital operations, but life, and the importance of knowing everyone who worked here. Not just their names or what they did here, but their lives, their families,” said Hatala, who succeeded Sister Elizabeth in 1995. “It is a lesson that I endeavor to continue.”
Retired Lourdes internal medicine specialist Vincent McDermott, Jr., MD, noted Sister Elizabeth was not afraid to have fun.
“We held variety shows in the ‘60s in the auditorium. She did a tap dance with Sister Elizabeth O’Leary, who ran the records room. It brought the house down,” he said.
A funeral Mass was held Feb. 12, at the St. Elizabeth Motherhouse in Allegany, N.Y. Plans are underway for a memorial Mass and celebration of Sister Elizabeth’s life to be held this spring at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.
Donations in Sister Elizabeth’s memory may be made to the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York, 115 East Main Street, Allegany, NY 14706 or the Lourdes Health Foundation, 1600 Haddon Avenue, Camden, NJ 08103.