Mayo Clinic family mourns the passing of Sister Generose Gervais - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Mayo Clinic family mourns the passing of Sister Generose Gervais

Sister Generose Gervais Sister Generose Gervais

A towering figure in the growth and evolution of Saint Marys Hospital and Mayo Clinic passed away peacefully Friday evening.  Sister Generose Gervais was 97.

Sister Generose was the administrator of Saint Marys Hospital from 1971 to 1985, and was in charge during the construction of the Mary Brigh Building with its 40 operating rooms, 130 beds, two new intensive care units and larger Emergency/Trauma Unit.  She was the fifth and last Franciscan Sister to hold that role in the hospital built by the Sisters of Saint Francis in 1889 to help Dr. W. W. Mayo bring medical care to Rochester.

“Sister Generose was known for her faith, her quiet leadership, her wise counsel, her dedication to patients and staff, her sense of humor and the example of service that she lived every day,” said John Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO, Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic was blessed by her presence for more than 60 years.”

Even after she stepped down as the person in charge at Saint Marys, Sister Generose maintained her residence in the complex and continued a daily active role in the goings-on of the massive hospital facility.  A Mayo spokesperson noted that she "focused on perpetuating the Franciscan legacy, specifically nurturing the values of respect, integrity, compassion, healing, teamwork, innovation, excellence and stewardship among all Mayo Clinic staff."

Sister Generose was a native of Currie, Minnesota, and entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester in 1938 at age 18.  After training as a teacher, she studied nutrition at Stout State University in Menomonie, Wisconsin and was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1945.  She achieved a master's degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota in 1954. 

To help patients at Saint Marys pay medical expenses, Sister Generose established the Poverello Foundation in 1985 and over the years it helped more than 13,000 people. She was the first female member of the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“She was a mentor, a friend and a sister. She loved her faith, her religious community, her family and her ministry of healing at Saint Marys. She showed that love through her generous spirit, her sense of humor and love,” said Sister Lauren Weinandt, who worked with Sister Generose for many years and organized the annual Sister Sale. “She served on so many boards and organizations, but her pleasures were simple. She enjoyed life, a cup of cappuccino and a cookie, peanut M&Ms, a Twins game and a good joke in the afternoon.”

Sister Generose stepped away from her administrative role and helped integrate Saint Marys Hospital with Mayo Clinic in 1986.  In 1993, Mayo Clinic honored her by naming its new mental health care facility on the Saint Marys campus after her. In 2011, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association of the United States for leadership that extended beyond the local community and served to inspire others.

Until her death, Sister Generose continued to travel the hallways of Saint Marys Hospital, providing compassionate service to patients and their families and remaining active in hospital activities. A popular speaker and teacher at Mayo Clinic, she often said “Values are caught, not taught.”

“Her door was always open, and anyone who passed by and wanted to stop and visit (and so many did) was always welcome … And you never left that office without receiving her blessing,” said Sister Tierney Trueman, coordinator of the Mayo Clinic Values Council. “In her warm and welcoming hospitality, she was the embodiment of our Mayo/Franciscan values of respect — treat everyone in our diverse community with dignity.”

Sister Generose mentored her family of Mayo Clinic staff and exhorted them to live Mayo Clinic's primary value: the needs of the patient come first.  She often would reference St. Francis to make her point. “I tell the staff what the beggar told St. Francis — ‘Be sure that thou are as good as the people believe thee to be, for they have great faith in thee,’” she said.

“Sister Generose was honest and firm, gentle, caring and compassionate. She demanded the same integrity and excellence from others that she consistently modeled in herself,” said Sister Tierney. “Her empty office echoes the message Francis left his followers: "I have done what is mine to do, may God give you the strength to do what is yours."

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