Ensuring the Franciscan Values Survive

The Sisters of Saint Francis, who cared for patients alongside the Mayos and helped establish the values that guide Mayo Clinic, still influence how health care is provided today.

As students of Mayo Clinic history (and fans of Ken Burns) know well, Mayo Clinic's story is a family one. It's a story of a father (W.W. Mayo, M.D.), a mother (Mother Alfred Moes), brothers Will and Charlie Mayo, and their many, many sisters: the Sisters of Saint Francis, who cared for patients alongside the Mayos and helped establish the values that guide Mayo Clinic.

But with the number of sisters dwindling — there are now fewer than 200 living in Rochester — how will Mayo Clinic ensure that those values survive? Or, as Dan Stockman put the question recently in the Global Sisters Report, "As fewer sisters are involved, how do you ensure the enterprise stays true to its original mission?"

It's a question that's been asked in Rochester since the mid-1980s, when Saint Marys Hospital integrated with Mayo Clinic and the sisters "moved out of day-to-day operations," the publication reports. Even so, "the Franciscan spirit thrives at Mayo Clinic today despite a near-absence of sisters," according to Franciscan Media. "While we don't own or operate the hospital, we do influence the way health care is provided," Sister Mary Eliot Crowley tells the publication.

That's very much by design, says Robert Brown, M.D. "The leadership of our institution, in partnership with the leadership of the Franciscan sisters, wanted the total protection and perpetuation of our Mayo and Franciscan values, not just at Saint Marys but all throughout Mayo Clinic," Dr. Brown, a neurologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Values Council, tells Global Sisters Report. The values are "still a very integral part of who we are and who we aspire to be."

The Values Council, which reports to the Board of Governors, works to keep those values vital through education, Values Reviews and programs like the Karis Award, which recognizes staff, students and volunteers who "live out the Mayo Clinic Values in an extraordinary way." The council also sponsors an annual Mayo/Franciscan Leadership Pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, Italy, which serves to strengthen leaders' understanding of Franciscan tradition and spirituality.

"The sisters were so integral to the existence of Saint Marys Hospital and Mayo Clinic," Dr. Brown tells Global Sisters Report. "We could never just lose those connections."

For as former Mayo Clinic president, CEO and chairman of board W. Eugene Mayberry, M.D., once said, "We know who we are with the Sisters. We don't know what we'd be without them."

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