(The remarks of this interviewer are in italics. An earlier and very helpful interview was done by Sister Pat Worley.
“In God’s good time.” With these words Sister Alfreda Crantz, until 1968 Sister Mary Arthur, summed up her quite remarkable life. Each happening in her life in Community, each change of ministry she now sees in the light of God’s Providence. Her long life is a story of generous service and strong determination.)
Alfreda’s parents were Ferdinand Arthur and Mary Margaret Orler Crantz. She was born in 1921 in the small town of Vulcan, Michigan, the “farthest point north before being out of the United States”. Both her parents and brother also were born in Vulcan.
Her home life and childhood she remembers as happy and normal. Since her father was one of twelve children, there were many cousins with whom to have fun. With her only sibling, brother Chester, Alfreda often played outdoors and attended the local public school with perfect attendance. She loved school and learning. Reading was her passion and at the end of her high school years she was the class valedictorian.
The only Catholic education Alfreda received was at the time of her First Communion and Confirmation. It would be years later and religious life which would allow her the opportunity for further religious education.
She was very close to her mother whom she remembers as a wonderful, enterprising woman. Alfreda comments, “Mother would go out to the rural areas to sell her Avon products because those ladies did not have many chances for shopping in town.” Her father was a miner and died at the early age of forty-four after a serious work accident.
Alfreda went to Chicago for both her three years nursing education at Mother Cabrini Hospital and for her three years education in anesthesia at Ravenswood Hospital. During this later study she worked as a nurse at the same time so as to cover the cost of her anesthesia education. After graduating she was employed in Chicago.
Alfreda remembers” I had been in Chicago for a few years and wanted to make a change. The Director of the School of Anesthesia knew I was interested in doing this. She called me one day and told me that there was a wonderful opportunity for an anesthetist in Little Rock, Arkansas at St. Vincent Infirmary. I didn’t know anything about Little Rock except that it was the capital of the state. The offer was fine and the salary was tremendous but I decided that I would make some other investigations.”
She was planning to go to Honolulu and learned that the Director of the School of Anesthesia at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu was also attending the same anesthesia convention as Alfreda. An interview was arranged and Alfreda was offered a position at Queen’s Hospital. Her travel expenses would be paid if she agreed to stay for two years.
For Alfreda this was a “no-no.” She declined the offer because she did not want the time restriction. A doctor who was a patient of the hospital of her employment in Chicago knew of St. Vincent Infirmary through a physician friend of his. When the friend was asked,” Is it a good hospital? “, the answer given her was the assurance,” St. Vincent Infirmary is the best hospital in the State.”
Alfreda’s decision to accept the position in Little Rock would change her life and bring a new member to the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She worked there as a lay nurse anesthetist for five years. She recalls that her work brought her into close contact with two special SCNS, Sister Charles Adele Wells director of the Laboratory and Sister Mary Regis Griffin who was the Operating Room Supervisor. Alfreda also knew Sister Michaella Duke, the Administrator of St. Vincent’s.
God used a beautiful new car – grey with red trim –as the instrument of her call to religious life. She had so looked forward to having this car, and then came the realization, “So what?”. She knew that she wanted something else in her life.
Mary Margaret, Alfreda’s mother, was heartbroken about this decision. She knew nothing of religious life and feared the loss of her cherished daughter. She knew she would miss her yearly visits home in the summertime. Alfreda, with no fault on her part, had been in a car accident on the trip home to tell them. This only heightened the concern and sadness for her family. Her brother Chester was also unhappy with her. After leaving home, Alfreda would not see her mother and brother again until her vow day.
Her very dear friend, Carline Hilpert, later Sister John Edna, was also a nurse anesthetist at St. Vincent Infirmary. She entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in January, 1950. Alfreda followed Carline into the SCN Community in June, 1950. She was thirty-two years old.
Admittedly, novitiate life was not easy for a mature young woman who had already had the experience of education, professional employment, and independent living. Her novitiate companions were mostly still in their late teens.
(Alfreda reminded Sister Maria Vincent, this interviewer, that she and Sister Mary Damien, later Elizabeth Finn, were the first novices she met. On the day she entered Alfreda had been given the mindless task of raking fallen magnolia leaves. She couldn’t understand why the two novices were not talking to her. It happened to be two to three in the afternoon -sacred silence time.)
Another interesting fact that Alfreda shared is that while in the novitiate she herself correctly diagnosed her need for an appendectomy. Alfreda went to Flaget Hospital in Bardstown, Kentucky for the surgery. She received the habit on December 7, 1950 and made first vows on December 8, 1952.
(Amazingly, she did not need another hospital stay until 2017. As you would expect, she continually thanks God for her good health).
Alfreda believes that the best way to appreciate a Sister’s mission experience is by overview rather than detailing each one. We shall honor that approach.
Her personnel card at Nazareth lists these places of mission:
Memorial Hospital, Chattanooga, Tennessee
St. Joseph Hospital, Lexington, Kentucky
St. Joseph Infirmary, Louisville, Kentucky
St. Peter Orphanage, Memphis Tennessee
St. Vincent Infirmary, Little Rock, Arkansas
Marymount Hospital, Kentucky, London, Kentucky
Nha Trang Hospital, South Vietnam
Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky
Hazelwood Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky
Faith Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri/ Honduras for Hurricane Fifi Relief
Nazareth Home, Louisville, Kentucky
Flaget Hospital, Bardstown, Kentucky
Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, NepalL
Louisville Province Community Service
SSME -Volunteer service
In these missions Alfreda was often required to organize a department or unit. After her hard and successful work, she received a change. This seemed to occur in mostly cycles of three years. (Alfreda said to Mother Lucille Russell, “It must be because my name begins with an “A” that I get so many changes.” Alfreda gave me example after example of this happening in her various missions.)
In her missions of service Alfreda has served in supervisory positions in Medical/ Surgical, Emergency Room , as an anesthetist and Director of Nursing and Instructor in the School of Nursing. She had fond memories of St. Peter Orphanage and the children. (A St. Peter boy, now a grown man, called while we were having this interview.) She also spoke about the beautiful letters she received from the Sister residents at Nazareth Home after a difficult leave taking. She visited every Sister resident every day and missed them greatly when she left.
There are other mission experiences which require more explanation. Alfreda spent time as Chief Nurse in Saigon during the Vietnam War. This came about after many conversations with an assistant administrator at St. Joseph Infirmary who had previous experience in the Peace Corps. These talks interested her in a missionary experience for herself, “Why not?”, she said. She contacted the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. and was sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She applied and was accepted after being checked by the FBI and after six months of studying the Vietnamese language. She was assigned to South Vietnam as Chief Nurse Advisor to the Vietnamese. She remembers, “The military personnel were very good to me and assisted me with medical supplies since sometimes all we had was aspirin. I really Ioved the gentle, loving Vietnamese people.”
Alfreda returned to the States and a mission at Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital. She was assigned the reorganization of the emergency room. She left SSME and went to serve at nearby Hazelwood Hospital, a facility that cares for severely handicapped children.
In 1973 Alfreda was asked by Mr. Keith, formerly Director of Hospital Services for the SCN Community, to come to St. Louis, Missouri. He and two other gentlemen were buying a hospital and he invited her to be the new Director of Nursing. It was called Faith Hospital, now Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. While there she requested a three week leave to serve the people of Honduras suffering from the effects of Hurricane Fifi.
After serving at Flaget Hospital and Nazareth Home, Alfreda again answered a missionary call, this time to the country of Nepal. “She saw an ad in the Courier Journal for an opportunity for foreign employment. She inquired but was told that she was over qualified. She agreed to accept the position, anyway. She worked there with the Dr.Tom Dooley Foundation. Again she had to study Nepali, the native language. She shares, “I was there in Nepal about two years and worked in Bir Hospital in Kathmandu. I had the honor of meeting the King and Queen of Nepal. The Queen came to Bir Hospital for gall bladder surgery. I loved it there in that extremely poor land. I would have to say that, Nepal is a “fourth world country.”
Back in Louisville, Alfreda lived at Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital and ministered in Community Service She assisted Provincial Sister Marilyn Spink by visiting the Sisters in the Louisville area, and checking on all Sister hospital patients.
Amazingly, Alfreda, despite her age number, now volunteers at Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital in the chapel as sacristan, the gift shop, and Saintly Treasures Thrift Store and lectors at Saints Simon and Jude Church and Blessed Sacrament Church. She manages her own housekeeping and has a nicely organized apartment there at SSME. There are beautiful pictures everywhere – some related to the SCN Community, some of Vietnam and Nepal.
She recently competed thirty years of volunteering at Kentucky Center for the Arts. She knows she has been blessed with good health and safety in traveling, which has given her the ability to keep on giving and serving. She remembers and has made notes of the interesting places in the world she had been fortunate enough to visit. She shares, “The times I visited other countries I went with a very small suitcase and dressed simply. I stayed in ordinary lodgings and with care ate the food of the locals.” She has kept small but very well organized photo albums of her family, some of her missions and travels. She has a special picture and personally handwritten note from Mother, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who established a mission in Nepal while Alfreda was there.
Alfreda is very close to her only niece, Judy Pollard, now enduring a diagnosis of cancer. Judy and her family live in Michigan and Alfreda visits them when she can. There she is greeted by family and friends as “Dolly,” a long time childhood name.
We finished our time together with her saying, “I appreciate what the Community is doing. We have involved ourselves in so many things that the world needs today. I love the medical field and have never considered a career change. Nursing ministry is not easy. God has guided and cared for me all along the way and I want to keep on serving as long as I can. Most of all, I have learned that God moves slowly.”
(What wise words with which to end the story of a woman now in her nineties! It was not easy to persuade Sister Alfreda that her story was worthy of being told because it, like all of ours, is a revelation of “What God has done!)
Sister Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN