Sisters of St. Benedict forever remembered for compassionate service

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 5:18 p.m. MDT

Sister Stephanie Mongeon reacts as a monument is unveiled honoring the Sisters of St. Benedict and their legacy at Ogden Regional Medical Center, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

OGDEN — Their legacy of compassion and Christlike service has long-lived in the hearts and hands of patients at Ogden Regional Medical Center, but now a monument stands outside the hospital to remind everyone where it came from.

The mission and names of nearly 150 Catholic sisters of St. Benedict are immortalized in stone, marking 69 years of their devotion to the community and to their Benedictine rule — to care for the sick "as if they were Christ in person."

"They established a spiritual environment, an environment of hope, an environment of kindness and of love," said Dr. D. Joan Balcombe, who specializes in emergency medicine at the hospital. "There was not a day that their spirit, prayers and kindness did not influence and touch me in my work."

When Balcombe began working at the facility, formerly St. Benedict's Hospital, she said she had no idea what the presence of the sisters would mean.

"It affects everything here," she said.

And that impact was evidenced by the throngs of hospital employees, community members and patients who turned out to see the five sisters — Sister Stephanie Mongeon, Sister Luke Hoschette, Sister Mary Zenzen, Sister Danile Knight and Sister Jean Gibson — who most recently served there and returned for the monument unveiling Thursday.

Carson Weyland, 12, had checked in at the hospital about a year ago for knee surgery. He was wary of the procedure, but a Spider-Man blanket brought to him by Mongeon was comforting and remains so to this day.

"It's like his favorite blanket now," said his mom, Michelle Weyland, who also works as a nurse at the medical center. "He carries it around with him at home and still sleeps with it. It meant so much to him. It changed the experience."

Weyland said that when she saw the nuns in the hospital Thursday, "it was so comforting. It was like they never left."

As countless memorials now stand in memory of their contribution to the city, the sisters did leave Ogden earlier this year and returned to their mother home of St. Joseph, Minn.

"These incredible women have given so much for so many years," said Vickie McCall, who heads the hospital's board of trustees. "Wherever they saw a need, they stepped up to the plate."

The nuns arrived in Ogden in 1944 to reach out to the community and build a medical presence there. They opened the hospital just two years later. They also began teaching and opened a nursing school in 1947, which later merged with Weber State University.

A foundation in their name has provided millions of dollars to help patients, specifically women, children and families in crisis situations. The sisters also led the charge to build the new hospital in Washington Terrace.

In June, they ended their turn of service in Utah, but each of the surviving sisters remains fond of her time spent in Ogden.

"We all know we are loved here," said Knight, who came to Utah as a pharmacist at age 32. She spent 49 years in the state, serving as a pharmacist and in other capacities for the local diocese.

"It was home to me for that long," she said. "We thought we'd die here. None of us ever thought we'd leave."

The number of sisters helping at the hospital had dwindled from a bustling 30 at one time to just eight in 2011, meaning the order had to be re-evaluated. Knight, who is now 83 years old, said the nuns had to think of their futures.

"God called me to this life," she said, adding that she knew there were other responsibilities at hand. "I had to do in the church what was needed at the time."

The stone pillars and landscaped courtyard that stand in memory of Knight and the other women who served at the hospital, which is now part of the Hospital Corporation of America and the local MountainStar Healthcare network, is "far beyond anything any of us ever expected," Knight said. "We are truly standing on the shoulders of some really great women."

"The community knows very well the value these sisters have brought here," said Ogden Regional Medical Center CEO Mark Adams.

The monument and its location, outside the main entrance to the hospital, will forever serve as a spot for visitors "to reflect and be inspired" by the heritage and legacy of caring the sisters instilled there, Adams said.

The sisters have gone on to serve in various capacities in Minnesota, including working with the elderly at a retirement center and with students at a local college there.

They also stick to their prayer schedule, offering thanks to God several times each day.

"We will be praying for all of you," Knight said. "All of you at this hospital are in my heart and in all our hearts forever."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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