Home Health Angel of Mercy
By Peggy Jones, RN (SCNA)
I met Sister Miriam Elizabeth Brown, RN at the home of my sister in Washington Co. Kentucky. My sister was fighting cancer and members of SCN Home Health Agency Staff were ministering to her needs. A young mother of 32, dying, with five heartbroken children and a bewildered husband surely did need the loving care of these angels of mercy. I saw these nurses address her medical needs, toss a load of clothes in the washer, put a meal on the table, and console a grieving family–all with a smile. I promised myself, her grieving sister, that one day I would be a part of this group.
I took a job with the Sisters in 1974 and experienced a life change. I traveled over gravel roads and through creek beds in a jeep to visit the patients served by Nazareth Home Health. Sister Miriam Elizabeth was my supervisor. When I became pregnant, it was necessary for me to stay home with my children. Sister encouraged me to continue my education in nursing and so it was that, when I returned to work as an RD for Nazareth Home Health in 1990. S. Miriam Elizabeth became a professional colleague as well as a great friend.
Miriam Elizabeth Brown was born in Paris, Ky., the second of five children and the eldest daughter. Her siblings are still living and she spends time traveling with them and visiting their homes. Her father was a bookkeeper and, as she says with pride, her mother was a stay-at-home mom. The family lived in Olive Hill, Ky. for seven years and before moving to West Virginia. The children continued their education in a Catholic elementary and high school and were close to the Sisters. After graduation Miriam Elizabeth entered St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Lexington Ky. where she met two other nurses, Sally Griffin and Dorothy Peterson, with whom she would later found a unique ministry in rural Kentucky. She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Bardstown and made first vows in 1944. She loved her new ministry at St. Joseph Infirmary in Louisville where she also continued her education earning her BSN in 1971.
SCNs Sally Griffin and Dorothy Peterson, both working at Visiting Nurses Association in Louisville, invited Miriam to join them in implementing a Home Health Mobile Unit for rural Nelson and Bullitt Counties. S. Miriam says, “I knew nothing about home health but with the pioneer spirit of Catherine Spalding, coupled with the compassion of St. Vincent and Louise, I was more than willing to give it a try!” The agency called, at that time, Community Health Services, was a huge success, and eventually not only encompassed 12 counties, but by 1985 had satellite offices in Louisville and Elizabethtown. Sister remained with the program as Supervisor of Home Health Nursing Aides and later Coordinator of Discharge Planning in hospitals ensuring continuity of care from hospital to home care. Currently the Agency is titled “Caritas Home Health” and is a jewel in the Catholic Health Initiatives crown.
On the day of her retirement party at Caritas Health Services, S. Miriam Elizabeth was given a bronze leaf for the Tree of Life, which read “In gratitude for 33 years of faithful service as a founding Sister of Caritas Home Health Agency.” An anonymous donor dedicated a paving stone to the sky chapel to her.. Sister responded, “This is too much!” All of those who love her dearly know that it is not nearly enough!
S. Miriam says, “My good health and love of community life have blessed me with the strength to carry on this ministry.” Sister loves to travel, work crossword puzzles, and just be with people. She has always practiced social justice values in every phase of her ministry!
The final piece of my relationship with Sister Miriam Elizabeth comes together as I continue my journey to becoming an SCN Associate. With my sister and brother associates, I will now be a peer in community with this amazing group. A great “dream come true” for me is having been part of an immersion group traveling to Belize in April. Wherever I go, I carry love for S. Miriam Elizabeth with me. Indeed, she is my inspiration!