The following is a Woman of Courage profile written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women.
The Ogdensburg, NY story of the Grey Nuns begins in 1863. Sister Dorothy Kirby, acting in the name of the Grey Nuns in Ottawa, Ontario purchased some property in the growing settlement of Ogdensburg. This was the Nathon Ford stone mansion. Father LeMercier, the first paster of Notre Dame church, had invited the Grey Nuns to be teachers in his parish. In September 1863 eight Grey Nuns opened Our Lady of Victory Academy, a boarding school. During this period, both the parochial and the public school systems developed rapidly in Ogdensburg. Our Lady of Victory Academy was closed by 1879.
Although the Grey Nuns first came to Ogdensburg as teachers, in 1885 Bishop Edgar P. Wadhams asked them to provide care for the orphans, the aged and the sick poor. In doing so, they returned to the original work of their community. The Grey Nuns had started as a religious community devoted to providing care for destitute and sick people. That story dates back to 1737 in Montreal and Margurerite D'Youville.
Bishop Wadhams also appealed to the civic-minded citizens of Ogdensburg to address the problem of the ill and the poor. A board of managers was elected to establish the Ogdensburg City Hospital and Orphan Asylum in the Grey Nun's Convent. The bishop assured the board:
"The Grey Nuns who own the Ford Mansion have consented to give the use of it, in perpetuity, gratis. They will take charge of it and no better guarantee could be required to insure the best of care for the sick and destitute as well as the greatest possible economy in the management of the institution. Due care will be taken that the inmates are provided with religious attendance that they or their friends may require. By this means as well as by others it is intended to have the Hospital and Asylum supply a want long felt in the city."
The Ogdensburg City Hospital and Orphan Asylum was opened in November 1885. Sister Mary Patrick came from Ottawa to be administrator of the intuition, and Sister St. Stephen was placed in charge of the hospital department. The number of patients grew so rapidly that a new building for the hospital became necessary. A generous donation from George Hall, mayor of Ogdensburg, helped the board to complete a 60 bed hospital by May of 1902. This was just across the street from the Grey Nun Convent and is the present location of the hospital.
In order to assure adequately trained personnel to care for the sick, the Grey Nuns started a school of nursing in 1902 and graduated their first class of seven students in 1905. In the early years of the school the students worked seven days a week with shifts from 7 am to 7 pm. Once a week, if possible, each student had time off between 2 and 9 pm, with three hours off on Sunday. The annual vacation was two weeks. Their pay was $5 a month and they furnished their own uniforms and books. Their residence was the fourth floor of the hospital. The school of nursing closed in 1968 after having provided training for hundreds of nurses in the North Country area.
In 1899 Grey Nuns were sent to staff St. John's Hospital to care for people with contagious diseases such as typhoid and scarlet fever. This hospital was in a house one the Black Lake Road. Starting in 1930 this hospital was used solely for patients with tuberculosis (TB). St. John's Hospital had a contract with St. Lawrence County to provide care for all the TB cases at $27 a week. About 40 patients could be accommodated. St. John's Hospital was also the headquarters for the TB clinics. As the incidence of tuberculosis declined, there was no long need for this type of intuition. St. John's was converted to a nursing home which continued until the old building had to be closed in 1955.
After a separate hospital had been erected in Ogdensburg in 1902, care of the orphans and the aged continued in the Ford Mansion, which was now referred to as St. Joseph's Home. The hospital and St. Joseph's Home became separate entities in 1917. The name of the hospital was changed to the A. Barton Hepburn Hospital in recognition of Mr.Hepburn's generosity to the building find.
With changing trends in child welfare, St. Joseph's Home had closed out its children's programs by 1960. From the time it started in 1885, the orphanage had cared for a total of 4,677 children.
The need to provide care for the aged continues. By 1960 the board of St. Joseph's Home decided that the Ford Mansion, which had served the Grey Nuns for many years, was inadequate for the growing needs. St. Joseph's Home, now a skilled nursing facility or nursing home, was built at the corner of Lafayette and Franklin Streets in Ogdensburg. It continues to be administered by the Grey Nuns under the direction of a Board of Managers. Grey Nuns were the administrators of the A. Barton Hepburn Hospital until the late 1970s. They continue to be represented on the board.
From the time the small community of Grey Nuns came to Ogdensburg in 1863, they served in whatever capacity they were needed. This was their vocation, their way of serving God. The larger community benefited from their labors. Their habit is rarely worn today, but the spirit of the Grey Nuns lives on. Two of the institutions they started, the hospital and St. Joseph's Home, continue to provide essential services in Ogdensburg.
The American order split from the Canadian order in the 1920s and added Sacred Heart to their name. The order staffed St. Mary's School in Potsdam when it first opened in 1959. The Grey Nuns concluded a long career in the North Country as administrators, nurses, social workers and teachers when their order decided to close the Grey Nuns convent in Potsdam in June, 1997.
Updated look: Grey Nuns: A 150-year history in Ogdensburg
Return to the Women of Courage page.
Return to the St. Lawrence County Branch homepage.