Sr. Gertrude Levy, who served at Seton for more than 40 years, recently turned 100!
All of us at the Seton Foundations would like to wish Sr. Gertrude a very Happy Birthday and say a huge thank you for all of her dedicaton to our mission and our community.
The following article sums up her compassion and caring nature towards all who she meets.
The following is an excert of an article that was originally posted on the Austin American-Statesman by Nicole Villalpando.
When Sister Gertrude Levy walks the halls of Seton Medical Center, she doesn’t get very far before she has to stop. It’s not so this 94-year-old sister can rest. Instead, she’s found someone who looks lost and offers him directions. Or she’s noticed that a light in a hallway is out and enlists a volunteer to have it fixed. Or she’s seen a waist-high child and stops to say hello and get a high-five.
Once she steps into the elevator, she turns to a man riding with her. “Do you have a patient here?” she asks.
“Yes, ma’am, I do, my wife.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She’s doing fine. She’s going home today.”
Sister Gertrude always has trusted God’s plan, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t sad to leave Seton.
And with that she offers a smile, reassuring words, and she’s on to the next task at hand.
For more than 40 years, Sister Gertrude has walked the halls of Seton, offering help and reassurance and guiding the lay leadership of the hospital.
“She’s everything to this hospital,” says Dianne Monroe, a cardiac nurse who has been with the hospital for more than 30 years. “She keeps us in line.”
Sister Gertude’s time at Seton is coming to an end, not because she’s ready to retire—don’t use that word—but because her order, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, is pulling its remaining six nuns from Austin this year and reassigning them to other locations.
It’s a decision that reflects that, after 112 years of serving the hospital it created, the order has confidence in the lay leadership’s ability.
“We’re depending on everyone to continue our ministries,” Sister Gertrude says.
Her last official day is Friday. She is going to live at the Seton Residence in Evansville, Ind. She’ll be in the independent living section, while her younger sister, also a Daughter of Charity, is living in the nursing area there.
She doesn’t plan on sitting around, though. She’ll volunteer at St. Mary’s hospital nearby.
“Going keeps me going,” she says. “It’s the physics principle: a body in motion keeps in motion.”
A life of service begins at home
Sister Gertrude grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans, though it was residential then, she assures. She was one of nine children. Her father was a musician and she was very musical as a kid, playing alto saxophone until her sister gave up the clarinet and it went to her.
Her grandfather, Marx Levy, who was Jewish, would take Sister Gertrude and her older sister with him when he visited patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans every Sunday. He would bring patients things they needed like shaving cream. While there, Sister Gertude would sit with Sister Stanislaus, who ran the hospital, and watch her work. This was her first exposure to the work of the Daughters of Charity.
When she was 16, she left home to join the Daughters and took on the name Sister Henrietta. She was following the footsteps of her older sister, who became Sister Maxine. Two years later, her younger sister became Sister Miriam. Her youngest brother became priest Father Michael.
Yet, the profession wasn’t something that her parents encouraged. Her dad, she says, put her through a lot of questions when it came to her decision.
“We did what we knew we had to do,” she says of her and her sisters. Today, the Daughters don’t take women before they have completed at least two years of college. “We were more mature,” she says.
Sister Gertrude first worked at St. Thomas School in Long Beach, Miss. Her second job was at the St. Mary’s orphanage in Mobile, Ala. She worked short times a couple more places, then went on to Maryvale Orphanage in Los Angeles, which was for children whose parents had tuberculosis. She was a math and science teacher, which took her from Los Angeles back to New Orleans.
Put aside the image of a nun with a wooden ruler. She was not that kind of teacher. She loved working with children and treated them with kindness.
When she first came to Austin, she worked at Marywood Home of Holy Infancy a year before coming to Seton in 1973.
By then she had dropped the name of Sister Henrietta and gone back to her given name. In the 1960s, when the Daughters dropped the extra large habit (think “The Flying Nun”) and started driving cars, they could go back to their given names because it was confusing to have one name in life and a different legal name on a driver’s license.
“Every time I moved from one job to another, I knew it was God’s call,” she says. “Each job had prepared me for the next job.”
A body in motion
At one point, Sister Gertrude estimated she walked 4 miles a day throughout the hospital. “I’m always on my way to something and I will meet somebody and then forget where I was heading.”
She lives nearby in a house with fellow Daughters. She drives to work every morning and likes to get in early, shortly after 8 a.m., after the school traffic has died down. She starts her day off with a Diet Coke, not coffee, as she has for years.
She spends eight hours a day, sometimes weekends, too, at the hospital. She’s been given the title “community ambassador,” but it doesn’t really outline everything she does.
Every day is different. Lately everyone wants to meet with her one or two more times before she goes.
Sister Gertrude serves on the St. Michael’s Catholic Academy Foundation board and the Seton Fund Board. She also oversees the Sister Gertude Levy Endowment fund that was started in 1999 when she turned 80 to help patients in need.
Fundraising has been her primary job at Seton, and it’s not one she minds.
“Whenever I’m talking to them, I’m going to accept the ‘no,’ and I don’t feel bad about it, but it’s good to hear them say, ‘yes.’”
She also loves to visit patients. Her access badge gets her into any room in the hospital, and she sometimes gets to go into the recovery room after surgery before families do. Usually a patient doesn’t remember that she was there, but it’s a comfort to their family. She and a nurse could say the same thing about the patient, she says, but somehow they really believe her. She never lies or stretches the truth to make it seem like the patient is doing better than he is.
“I find consoling families is a very good feeling,” she says. “I’m giving them correct information about the patient.”
Lately she’s been making lists of things other people need to do while she’s gone. She wants to make sure the statue of the Blessed Mother that sits in a courtyard is well cared for. She’s overseen keeping it clean and repaired and even once helped get it returned when it was stolen. She’s also worried about the Daughters of Charity fabric emblem that needs to be repaired and cleaned.
“I’m sad to leave the people of Austin,” she says. “I know it is what I need to do. Knowing that it’s God’s plan doesn’t relieve the pain.”
It’s a feeling that is mutual among the staff and volunteers.
“Sister Gertrude is Seton. She’s the heart and soul of Seton,” says Susan Lubin, co-chair of the new Seton Breast Care Center Steering Committee. “She’s an inspiration to us.”