Buying a house is a normal transaction — unless the buyers happen to be the 16 Sisters of the Daughters of Charity.
For the most part, the Sisters of Hotel Dieu have always lived in an institutional atmosphere, since they left their own homes to enter the religious community. Domestic work was of no concern in an institutional set-up, such as their quarters in the Hotel Dieu School of Nursing.
WHEN THE SCHOOL was sold to the University of Texas System Nursing Department, the search for a permanent home began for the 16 Sisters, according to Sister Isabel, Superior of the Community.
The Daughters of Charity were confronted with a variety of choices. To begin with, they studied the possibility of building their own home. Hotel Dieu owned some land adjacent to the School which would be a perfect site. The price, however, was beyond their limited financial situation.
The Sisters, then, looked into the feasibility of leasing an old hotel near the hospital. Again, the stumbling block was the owner's high price, coupled with the fact that the cost of remodeling and repairing the place was high.
MAY, 1973 — the deadline for the complete take-over of the Austin System — was approaching rapidly. The Sisters had to find a new home at a cost sufficiently reasonable to be accepted by the Council of the Daughters of Charity in St. Louis.
"A reasonably priced apartment house on Arizona and Campbell was purchased. A kitchen had to be equipped and individual sleeping quarters provided. By adding four bedrooms and two baths, the L-shaped building became a square, with a patio in the center," said Sister Isabel.
The final complex consists of 16 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, a living-dining room area and kitchen, together with two small rooms for laundry and sewing. A little reception area, separated from the rest of the house, closes the square.
A NEW HOME means a new style of living for the Sisters, some of whom had not lived in a real home for 50 years. Their house is adequate and functional, but the Sisters must do a lot of their own cooking and cleaning as well as their usual outside jobs. Some have never learned to cook, some have forgotten this art and others feel consoled by the fact that they "know how to read the recipe, anyway!"
Before moving in, many of the Sisters had reservations about this new kind of "homeliving" prominent among them was the fact of limited space and security. In an institutional living situation, not many persons are going to break into a room on the seventh floor. Extra precautions have been taken to alleviate this fear.
SMALL JOKES also began to circulate, partly as a tension reliever. One was the idea of the Sisters building a swimming pool in their small patio and using the roof as a diving platform.
Of course, the Sisters had to make the usual decisions concerning the features of the house, as would any family. Fortunately, the Daughters of Charity are very flexible people: how else could 16 women agree on the same things?
When their home was completed, His Excellency Bishop Metzger blessed it and the Sisters gathered their belongings for the final move. Each Sister has added individual touches to her room. One Sister bought material for a bedspread and curtains. Since she could not find enough of any one color; she chose three different patterns, much to the chagrin of the lady who had volunteered to sew them. "You are just going to have to go back and find, at least, the same color," the seamstress protested.
ONCE SITUATED, the Sisters decided on the household job they wished to undertake. They hired a cook to make lunch and dinner during the busy weekdays, but on weekends and for breakfast, they are on their own.
"At first, breakfast was difficult! Have you ever tried to fit 15 people into a 7'x7' kitchen, at one time? Needless to say, we had to arrange a schedule, yielding the place to the Sisters who had to be at work early. Once, Sister Louise, the hospital administrator, got up at 4:45 a.m. to fix pancakes and had breakfast ready for us by the time we awoke," said Sister Marie Therese, occupational therapist.
"THANK HEAVEN for Sister Helen Marie from England and her delicious spaghetti, because it makes up for the 'almost' baked potatoes we got," she continued.
The Sisters even take care of their own lawn, with Sister Louise as head gardener: "We've tried many things with our garden and lawn just like in the kitchen. Some have been near disasters, but things are beginning to sprout now," exclaimed one Sister.
The Daughters of Charity came to El Paso in 1892 to establish a hospital for tuberculosis victims, who had swarmed to the area for the climate. Before the Sisters established Hotel Dieu, these people lived in a "tent town" on the side of Mt. Franklin.
SISTER ISABEL remarked, "We have been part of this community for almost a century, but until we moved into our 'home', we were more apart from it. While we are working in the yard the neighbors talk to us, children visit and the mystery of the 'convent' is gone."
The neighbors are so enthusiastic about the Sisters moving next door that they gave them a party to welcome them to the "neighborhood;" a neighborhood they had really been part of since before there was one.
THE DAUGHTERS of Charity have 60 Provinces around the world. As with most orders currently, they are reviewing and revising their Constitutions, together with much of their life style. When this each is done, each order will be able to adapt to the life of their country.
This is being done "in the spirit of Christ, instead of the spirit of the law," as Sister Isabel phrases it.