January 11, 2021

Harriett Eaves and Sister Mary Leo

AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP

Harriett had never met a Catholic sister until Sister Mary Leo became her dear friend.  I was a department head at Providence Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina for over a decade.  Mother increasingly was spending more time at my home as her health declined, and she had a number of inpatient stays at Providence.  

The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine from Richfield, Ohio, ventured south to establish Providence in the late 1930’s.  My son Patrick was one of the last babies born there, as they closed their OB-GYN service and moved into cardiovascular services.  By the 1980’s, Providence was the top heart hospital in the state.

Each evening at the end of visiting hours, one of the Sisters would pray over the intercom—“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.” During the day, Sister Mary Leo would make her way down the halls from room to room, visiting those patients who wanted to talk or pray or just be seen. She came to Harriett’s bedside one day—and a loving friendship began.

Sister Mary Leo was very short with severely bowed legs that made walking difficult.  Her voice was soft and shy.  As the hospital’s Pastoral Care program became more sophisticated, she was sometimes considered irritating and not well qualified. 

But Harriett—and many other patients– loved her.  Because she too was suffering.  Because she would sit silently by her bedside, just holding her hand.  Because she would kiss her and call her “Mother Eaves.” Love doesn’t need words, special training, or an impressive physical appearance.  Sometimes touch and presence are enough to bring healing and hope.

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