Ken Burns Reveals the Mayo Clinic’s Catholic Roots in PBS Documentary

Airing on Tuesday, Sept. 25 and repeating Wednesday, Sept. 26, on PBS stations (check local listings; channel, dates and times may vary), acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns’ latest effort, The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science explores the history of the famed Minnesota hospital and medical-research facility … and finds some determined Franciscan nuns.

From the press release:

When a deadly tornado tore through their small community in 1883, the Mayos took charge of recovery efforts, enlisting the help of the nearby Sisters of Saint Francis to care for patients. Afterwards, Mother Alfred Moes, the leader of the convent, told Dr. Mayo she had a vision from God that instructed her to build a hospital, with him as its director. She believed it would become “world renowned for its medical arts.”

Blending historical narrative with contemporary patient stories, THE MAYO CLINIC: FAITH – HOPE – SCIENCE is a timely look at how one institution has met the changing demands of healthcare for 150 years—and what that can teach us about facing the challenges of patient care today.

Born in Luxembourg, Mother Alfred Moes was the founder of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, who eventually became a teaching order in the Midwest. They cared for orphans and educated girls from early childhood through their teens.

From her bio at the order’s site:

Our Lady of Lourdes Academy and several other schools under Mother Alfred’s direction were flourishing in Minnesota, when on August 21, 1883, a tornado ravished the area. Mother Alfred and her Sisters opened their schools to the victims. After this experience, Mother Alfred recognized the great need for a hospital. She petitioned Dr. Mayo to plan and staff a hospital at the expense of the Sisters. Within a few years, on September 30, 1889, Mother Alfred opened St. Mary Hospital, Rochester, Minnesota, which eventually became the renowned Mayo Clinic.

Although Mother Alfred died in St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 18, 1899, her ministry, as that of St. Francis of Assisi, “to rebuild the church” continues to this day by the Congregations known as “Al’s gals.”

It’s clear from Burns’ documentary that St. Mary’s, and the eventual Mayo Clinic, would not have been possible without the physical and fundraising efforts of the sisters, who transformed themselves in many cases from teachers into nurses.

The sisters remain involved with the world-renowned clinic to this day, which maintains a St. Mary’s Campus as part of the overall Mayo Clinic property.

Ken Burns

Burns’ documentary not only highlights the Church’s long involvement with healthcare — stretching back centuries — but shows how the involvement of a higher purposes and a higher calling can elevate science.

Said Burns; “The history of healthcare is a larger reflection of who we are as a nation. It includes advances in science and technology, but also touches on more universal themes of love and compassion. This is an extraordinary story that places our fundamental need to care for each other within the larger framework of America’s healthcare system and modern medicine.”

The two-hour documentary airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Tuesday, Sept. 25, on many PBS stations; and repeats on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 10 p.m. ET.

Also, with a PBS membership, you can watch the whole thing here; or you can buy the DVD here.

Images: Courtesy PBS

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