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Sr. Mary Irma Hilger SSM (1917-2003)

Sr. Mary Irma Hilger SSM (1917-2003)

Sr. Mary Irma Hilger SSM, better-known to St. Lucians as “Mother Irma,” died in the United States on Saturday 22 February, 2003 at the age of 85. Sr. DeLourdes Lopez SSM, of the Pastoral Care department of St. Jude Hospital has called her the “Florence Nightingale of St. Lucia’.  “People of St. Lucia remember Mother Irma” she says, “as a friend, sister, mother, administrator and to date still enquire about her with love, respect and joy.”

Sr. Irma was born in the USA on the 12th July, 1917.  A nurse by profession, she came to St. Lucia as a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (SSM) in 1960 and worked at Victoria Hospital (VH) with other Sisters of her community.  “Her life was one of total dedication and service to her God, her Community, her Church and God”s people in St. Lucia” recalls Sr. DeLourdes, “She was thrify, always setting aside something for a rainy day.” At Victoria Hospital she started the first Nursing School on the island.

While on a trip around the island in 1962, Mother Irma was shown the ruins of the American military hospital at Beane Field, Vieux-Fort, which was closed down in 1947.  According to the St. Jude Hospital Commemorative Book 1966-86, “Mother Irma was interested in the base hospital because she had been approached several times by local Catholics asking the nuns to start a Catholic hospital.  In early 1964, the Devaux family donated 1.4 acres of land to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother for such a purpose” (p7).  Mother Irma began negotiations with government to reactive and operate the abandoned hospital.  On the May 1, 1965 an agreement was reached which was legally finalized and signed on 5th September, 1965.  The rest is history.

Mother Irma galvanized the resources of her community local and overseas to refurbish and equip the hospital at the cost of several hundred thousand US dollars. On 26th October, 1966, the new hospital named after St. Jude was officially opened.  “She succeeded in bringing the hospital to a well-renowned health facility where vounteers, doctors and other health personnel from around the world came and shared their skills in giving quality care to all of St. Lucia” Sr. DeLourdes condolences to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in St. Lucia and worldwide on the passing of Sr. Hilger, and thank the Congregation for the gift of a pioneer in the field of healthcare in St. Lucia.  As Sr. DeLourdes has so aptly summed it “We thank God for the life of a hardworking, strong and industrious nun, and the guidance, support and help she so willingly and joyfully offered to the people of St. Lucia…During the last few years of her life, she was always so contented, grateful to God for everything and was the perfect picture of serenity.” (See Editorial on the ‘St. Jude Hospital Issue’)

Source: Catholic Chronicle March 2003 46th Year Nos. 3

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