Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours reflect on 200 years of service

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

This whole year, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Congregation of Bon Secours! The Catholic Review highlighted the Sisters this month, and the full article is found (and linked) below. BSVM is one department of the Sisters, created so that young women and men can live into (ie share and receive) the Sisters’ charism of compassion, healing, and liberation in an intentional year of communal living, ministry service, and spiritual formation. We’re so grateful for the chance to participate in the good work of being ‘good help’ to those who have faced hardships and oppression, acknowledging that we’re all made in God’s image and we all need one another.

Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours reflect on 200 years of service
By Kyle Taylor
Published March 19, 2024 in Catholic Review

The Sisters of Bon Secours are well known for their ministry to the sick and dying, having provided healthcare and nursing services to patients spanning the globe for years.

Two hundred years to be exact.

To celebrate, the Sisters of Bon Secours, USA will host a concert on Palm Sunday, March 24, at 4 p.m. at the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center in Marriottsville. The congregation will also hold a celebratory Mass May 18 at 5 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, where Archbishop William E. Lori will be the celebrant.

This milestone is a testament to both the centuries of care provided by the sisters and the relevancy of their mission and charism.

Sisters of Bon Secours Patricia Dowling, left, and Nancy Glynn, stand inside a gym set at Unity Park March 4, 2024, one of many initiatives spearheaded by the religious order for the community of West Baltimore. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“Our charism is helping people and bringing compassion, healing and liberation into the world,” said Sister Elaine Davia, area leader for the Sisters of Bon Secours, USA. “Being with a person in their suffering can often bring healing. And when they’re healed, there’s a liberation – they’re no longer bound by sickness. Even if they’re not healed, being with them makes them feel comforted. Sometimes you can’t take away the pain, but you’re hoping that your own faith will help them. You don’t want people to suffer and want to alleviate their pain, so you hope that the person can understand that there is a resurrection after the suffering.”

The origin of the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours, which is French for “good help,” began in Paris in 1824 when 12 women of faith joined together to provide care for the sick and dying in their homes, ministering to them in the process. That group professed their vows Jan. 24 of that year, in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin in the Church of St. Sulpice and were named the Sisters of Bon Secours of Paris by Archbishop of Paris Hyacinthe Louis de Quélen.

In 1880, an American couple was honeymooning in Paris when the wife fell ill and was nursed back to health by the sisters. Upon returning to their home in Baltimore, the couple requested that then-Archbishop James Gibbons invite the sisters to America. The following year, three sisters came to Baltimore, bringing their forward-thinking healthcare practices to America. In a few years, the sisters established the world’s first-recorded formal home healthcare service as well as the first daycare facility in Baltimore.

Since coming to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the presence of the sisters has become intertwined with that of the community. Betty Norman, leader of the Marriottsville Associate Group, has been an associate of the sisters for 40 years, and has seen firsthand the role the congregation has played in the community.

“When I first started (at Bon Secours Hospital), it was after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and there were riots and the neighborhood started going downhill,” Norman said. “But the sisters decided to stay down there. It was a commitment to the community. We got to know the people in the community. You feel like you’re doing something positive.”

Norman said she has seen the congregation shift its focus from primarily concentrating on healthcare to having a more “lifecare” approach. Sister Pat Dowling, international vocation director of the Sisters of Bon Secours, concurred, saying that the focus on healing has evolved over time.

“We’ve always had an affinity for caring for people in need, especially the poor,” Sister Pat said. “Fast forward, our charism evolved based on the needs around us. The community has always been a part of who we are. We began to do outreach beyond the walls of the hospital, given the needs of West Baltimore.”

Those needs, according to Sister Elaine, consist of advocacy and supporting programs on issues such as access to affordable healthcare, affordable housing, gun control, criminal justice reform and education. She pointed to Sisters Academy, a Catholic, all-girl, fifth- through eighth-grade school founded in 2004 by four religious congregations, including the Sisters of Bon Secours, as an example of their focus on community empowerment.

“The girls who have gone to Sisters Academy are students who are graduating from college, and girls who may not have finished high school,” she said. “They come back and talk to the students. It teaches the kids about life and how to deal with the stresses of life.”

One of the challenges for the sisters going forward is drawing more women to religious vocations, Sister Elaine said. She sees the future of the congregation expanding to include more lay people here and abroad.

Sisters of Bon Secours Nancy Glynn, left, and Patricia Dowling, check on alley conditions off Baltimore Street in West Baltimore March 4, 2024. Locations such as these can be trouble spots for trash and unwelcomed activity. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)