From left, Sr. Ann Delaney, Sr. Thérèse Meunier, St. Michael’s Hospital president Dr. Bob Howard, Sr. Mary Anne McCarthy, city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Sr. Georgette Gregory cut the cake at the hospital’s 125th birthday celebration. Although the Sisters of St. Joseph are no longer in control of St. Michael’s Hospital, their legacy lives on at the downtown Toronto hospital. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Sisters of St. Joseph's mission continues at St. Michael's 125 years later

  • June 27, 2017

It has been 27 years since the Sisters of St. Joseph relinquished control of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, but the mission they began in 1892 hasn’t wavered.

It’s all about responding to need, said Sr. Thérèse Meunier, the congregational leader for the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Toronto, and the hospital is doing it in a big way with the announcement of a new multiple sclerosis wing and the recruitment of a world-leading MS researcher.

“It is marvellous because they are again responding to a need,” said Meunier during the hospital’s staff appreciation day on June 21 that marked the 125th birthday of the health care facility.

“When (St. Michael’s Hospital) started, the sisters who were there and the staff who volunteered, they made a difference to those people they served and here 125 years later they are making a difference still,” she said.

“It is very touching ... and I’m really proud of them.”

A big step in the hospital’s move toward being a global leader in MS research and care is landing Dr. Xavier Montalban, in partnership with the University of Toronto. He comes to Toronto after serving as the chairman of the Department of Neurology-Neuroimmunology and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Centre of Catalonia at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

“It is a Canadian disease,” said Dr. Bob Howard, president and CEO of the Catholic hospital. “There are more Canadians with MS than any other country in the world so you could argue that we have a responsibility in Canada to lead the way with the proper treatment and with discoveries on how to treat that patient population.”

To support the research and the two-floor wing construction, St. Michael’s is seeking to raise $30 million, two-thirds of which has already been donated from John and Jocelyn Barford, Patricia Barford-Mann and Jon and Nancy Love.

“(They’re) recognizing that here is the world leader in MS research coming to St. Michael’s and maybe we can give him some resources to elevate his game and allow St. Michael’s to arguably say we are the top MS care and research institute in the world,” said Howard, adding that by this time next year the construction of the new wing should be well underway.

“Part of our mission and whole charism is to meet the needs of those who are in need: the homeless, the poor, the marginalized. To respond to those needs is why we are together, it is our mission as a community,” said Meunier.

Although the hospital has grown significantly from its early days of fever sheds to handle an outbreak of typhus among Irish immigrants, that commitment to the most in need continues, she added.

“They continue to live the mission and values,” said Meunier. “I have been here a number of times to visit people and I’ve seen homeless people sitting in the hospital lobby and everybody was so respectful of them. It is very touching.”

The sisters relinquished control of the hospital in 1990 when Sr. Christine Gaudet stepped down as CEO.

Howard said the only way to truly understand what Meunier described is to see it.

What’s kept the legacy alive, according to Howard, has been constant awareness of the core values left behind by the sisters.

“The sisters created a culture,” he said. “They left us a very clear mission statement with core values that we’ve never stopped talking about ... so that everybody understands that’s the core of who we are and what we are about.”

The five core values, he said, are human dignity, compassion, social responsibility, community of service and excellence.

“On July 1 we are 125 years old and that legacy we have never wavered over the 125 years,” Howard said. “The sisters have been gone for a while now so it is important for those of us who stayed behind to sort of emphasize the mission and those core values. One way you do that is through the strategic plan, that just keeps it front and centre in everybody’s consciousness.”

Although those values and the missions are rooted in the Catholic faith, Howard said they transcend religion.

“You don’t have to be Catholic to believe in the mission and the values, what St. Michael’s is all about,” he said. “In fact, our staff, if you watch them come through the door in the morning, represent every aspect of our society and every one of them is committed to that mission and to what we do. It is tough work and they do a great job.”

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