Remembering Sister Generose
Values are caught, not taught
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Sister Generose started the Poverello Foundation, which helps patients of Saint Marys Hospital cope with medical expenses. The foundation has assisted nearly 13,000 people since its inception in 1983.
Sister Generose Gervais, longtime administrator of Saint Marys Hospital and president of the Poverello Foundation, passed away peacefully Oct. 7, 2016, in the hospital she served for many years. She was 97.
Sister Generose will be remembered for her tireless work on behalf of patients and staff. Her hospital ministry focused on perpetuating the Franciscan legacy, specifically nurturing the values of respect, integrity, compassion, healing, teamwork, innovation, excellence and stewardship.
"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," says John H. Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO, Mayo Clinic. "Mayo Clinic was blessed by her presence for more than 60 years."
A native of Currie, Minnesota, Sister Generose entered the congregation of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1938 at the age of 18. She trained as a teacher when she first entered the convent at the College of St. Theresa. At the request of the Mother Superior at the time, she studied nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Stout (then known as the Stout Institute). After receiving her bachelor's degree in 1945, she began a dietetics internship at Saint Marys Hospital. In 1954, she received a master's degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota.
In 1971, Sister Generose was named administrator of Saint Marys Hospital. She was the fifth and final Franciscan Sister to hold that post in the hospital that had been built by the Sisters of Saint Francis in concert with Dr. William Worrall Mayo in 1889.
Sister Generose was the face of the Poverello Foundation, working diligently on the annual fundraiser, where sought-after items included her jams, jellies and pickles.
During Sister Generose's time as administrator, the hospital saw significant growth. She oversaw the construction of the Mary Brigh Building, which included 40 new operating rooms, 130 beds, two intensive care units, an enlarged emergency-trauma unit and a parking ramp. At that time, the new building was the largest single hospital building project in Minnesota. Following the completion of the building, Sister Generose was named to the new position of executive director of Saint Marys Hospital.
As a leader of Saint Marys Hospital, Sister Generose was said to be as comfortable with the complexities of blueprints as she was with making jellies and pickles, one of her favorite pastimes.
Her business acumen was clearly demonstrated as she served on numerous boards, including the Franciscan Health System, the American Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association of the United States. In 1979, she was the first female member of the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Always concerned about patient needs, Sister Generose started the Poverello Foundation, a ministry to help patients of Saint Marys Hospital cope with medical expenses. The foundation has contributed more than $1 million annually to help patients and has assisted nearly 13,000 people since its inception in 1983. Sister Generose was the face of the foundation, working diligently on the annual fundraiser, where sought-after items included her jams, jellies and pickles.
"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," says Sister Lauren Weinandt, who worked with Sister Generose for many years and organized the annual Sisters 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."
Sister Generose was a popular speaker and teacher at Mayo Clinic who often said, "Values are caught, not taught."
Sister Generose stepped down from her formal leadership position in 1985 but remained present and involved in the hospital. She was instrumental in the integration of Saint Marys Hospital with Mayo Clinic in 1986, and helped to create a sponsorship board to promote and preserve the founders' values. In 1993, Mayo Clinic honored Sister Generose 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. Until her death, Sister Generose continued to travel the hallways of Saint Marys Hospital and inspired others by providing compassionate service to patients and their families while 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 was always welcome. … And you never left that office without receiving her blessing," says 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," says 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.' "