The Archdiocese of New Orleans will assume ownership and sponsorship of Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center, a senior skilled-care facility on the West Bank of New Orleans, on Jan. 1.
The 138-bed facility was opened in 1999 as a collaborative effort among 16 religious congregations serving in the archdiocese to care for its aging members, along with other seniors.
From the original 16 congregations that developed the original vision for the facility, six became the corporate owners – the Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits, Dominican Friars, Dominican Sisters of Peace, Sisters of Mount Carmel and Marianites of Holy Cross.
Sister Ann Lacour, congregational leader of the Marianites of Holy Cross, said the decision to transfer ownership to the archdiocese will both expand the archdiocese’s healthcare services for seniors and keep intact the Catholic nature of caring for those most in need.
“I don’t use the words ‘divine providence’ very often, but for me this is a true sign of divine providence in the world,” Sister Ann said. “The six congregations knew we had to do something, but the central thought was what was best for Our Lady of Wisdom, and especially for the residents of Wisdom, as well as for the staff. We wanted to make sure the spirit of Wisdom would continue to live.”
Our Lady of Wisdom will expand the health care options offered by the archdiocese. The archdiocese now will have three skilled-nursing facilities to care for seniors: Chateau de Notre Dame in New Orleans next to Notre Dame Seminary and Wynhoven Health Care Center in Marrero.
The archdiocese will retain the existing staff of Our Lady of Wisdom.
A legacy preserved
“It’s a true collaboration,” said Wayne Plaisance, chief executive officer of Chateau de Notre Dame, which will run all three facilities. “Wisdom is truly a gift from the religious communities that founded it 17 years ago. It’s a wonderful legacy to be handed over and entrusted to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. We’re excited to work together.”
Plaisance said the agreement expands the geographical reach of the archdiocesan health care system. All three skilled-nursing facilities – Chateau, Wynhoven and Our Lady of Wisdom – are rated five stars by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“We are essentially making quality nursing home care available to a larger group of people,” Plaisance said.
The original goal of Our Lady of Wisdom was to serve aging members of religious communities across the archdiocese and also to serve other seniors if space were available. In the early years, Sister Ann said, about 85 percent of Wisdom’s residents were members of religious congregations.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the percentage of religious residents using Our Lady of Wisdom decreased. Some congregations, such as the Dominicans Sisters of St. Mary and the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic, merged with other Dominican communities to form the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Aging members of those communities who left after Katrina remained in their new locations.
Other communities also decided to care for their aging members outside of an area susceptible to hurricanes.
“A number of factors played into it,” Sister Ann said. “Katrina, of course. There were mergers of congregations happening, and that had a major impact on Our Lady of Wisdom.”
Respect for spiritual tradition
Sister Ann said instead of selling the facility to “the highest bidder,” the six communities felt it was “far more important” to find a sponsor who fully understood and respected “how special Our Lady of Wisdom is.”
“We are confident that the archdiocese will preserve Our Lady of Wisdom’s Catholic identity and uphold the outstanding quality of services that it provides,” she said.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond said he was excited the archdiocese could assume ownership of the facility and expand its health care offerings.
“Caring for the elderly is an important part of our ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” he said. “As Jesus cared for the elderly and the sick, we must do the same in his name.”
Sister Ann said in the next several months, the Chateau de Notre Dame board plans to invite some members of the Our Lady of Wisdom board to become new members of the Chateau board. Religious communities will continue to have the option to care for their aging members at Our Lady of Wisdom or at the other skilled-nursing facilities, she said.
“The Ursulines now have five or six sisters there even though they were not part of the original group that developed Wisdom,” Sister Ann said. “Wisdom has continued to invite religious priests, brothers and sisters to be part of the mix of residents. With there being three facilities now, it will really be a decision based on where can we best meet the needs of a person.”
Archbishop Aymond will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving Feb. 13, 2017, at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of Wisdom, followed by a reception. The chapel has 16 small windows honoring the religious communities who collaborated in its founding.
Our Lady of Wisdom’s 127,000-square-foot campus is located at 5600 General de Gaulle Drive in New Orleans, adjacent to the University of Holy Cross. Visit www.olwhealth.org.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.