Our Lady of Peace
President and CEO Joe Stanislav, left, Dr. Wayne Thalhuber and Ray Wey are shown at Our Lady of Peace, which
opened in Merriam Park on the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. The hospice will celebrate its legacy
and future with an 80th anniversary event at 5 p.m. Tuesday, December 7. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Our Lady of Peace (originally Our Lady of Good Counsel) will celebrate 80 years of offering free care for the terminally ill on the corner of Cleveland and Saint Anthony avenues with an outdoor ceremony on December 7. Ray Wey remembers taking a tour of the building as an 8-year-old when it first opened on that day in 1941.

“I was dragged by my dad and my mother and my grandmother,” recalled Wey, a Highland Park resident. What he remembers most vividly about that day was the pleasant fall-like weather and the adults who were suddenly all abuzz about the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He also recalled the original Good Counsel Home was located in a converted telephone building with a large, open ward containing many beds.

Dr. Wayne Thalhuber, who served as the home’s medical director from 1968-2008, said the decades of end-of-life care in Saint Paul began with a group of Catholic Dominican nuns from Hawthorne, New York.

“Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, took some of her family’s wealth to care for destitute cancer patients on the streets of New York,” said Thalhuber, a Lilydale resident. “She and several like-minded women began to go out in the streets and take patients in and care for them. Their efforts culminated in becoming a religious order in 1900, the Hawthorne Dominicans.”

By the 1920s, he said the sisters were doing what has become known as hospice work. From New York they fanned out to open care homes in the eastern United States. Minnesota was the farthest west they ever ventured.

Minnesota celebrates 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 7, the Minnesota Military and Veterans Museum will host an interactive virtual remembrance via Zoom of the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The program will include brief remarks by Pearl Harbor survivor and WWII veteran Don Ollom, an account by local author Danny Spewak of how the University of Minnesota football team responded to the attack, and a countdown of major events to that fateful morning as chronicled by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Twomey.

Organizations taking part also include the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad, Navy League of the United States, Global Minnesota, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota & the Dakotas, and the United Veterans Legislative Council of Minnesota.

Register to receive the zoom link  at mn.gov/mdva/news/events.

Our Lady of Peace
Old hospice ward at Our Lady of Good Counsel.

The sisters came to Saint Paul at the invitation of Archbishop John Murray and quietly opened the doors of Our Lady of Good Counsel on December 7, 1941.

“There was no term for (the sisters’) work,” Thalhuber said. “But they were committed to taking care of dying cancer patients years before hospice care got its foothold.”

The modern hospice movement began in London in 1965. According to Thalhuber, British physician Dame Cecily Saunders founded Saint Christopher Hospice after a hospitalized terminal cancer patient asked for her company.

“She would go in daily just to sit with him,” he said. “She discovered the need for the dying to be with somebody. She gathered a group of nurses who were interested and they began sitting with patients.”

The first hospice in the United States opened in Connecticut in 1968. Thalhuber said no one consulted with the Good Counsel caregivers in Saint Paul.

“These nuns were completely under the radar,” he said. “They were doing their own thing. Dame Cecily Saunders gets all of the credit in the medical books, but for my two cents the Hawthorne Dominicans started it.”

“There was no term for (the sisters’) work,” Thalhuber said. “But they were committed to taking care of dying cancer patients years before hospice care got its foothold.”

Thalhuber and his fellow caregivers built their work on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. A social worker Thalhuber worked with took Ross’ ideas and developed the four hospice gifts—I’m sorry, I love you, thank you and goodbye, I’ll be OK.

According to Thalhuber, once a patient and family have reached acceptance, it is possible to work through the hospice gifts. He said it is hard to tell if the exercise is successful. “There’s no way to measure that,” he said. “When they would ask to see me back, that was kind of a tip-off.”

Our Lady of Peace president and CEO Joe Stanislav thinks one measure of success is the appreciation expressed by the patients and their families and the support from the public. In his 29 years at Our Lady of Peace, he has led the organization through many changes. In 2009, the Dominican leadership turned over operation of Our Lady of Good Counsel to the Franciscan Health Community, and in 2011 the name was changed to Our Lady of Peace. Four Franciscan nuns from India now live on site and work full shifts as part of the staff. The patient population is 21.

A new structure replaced the old telephone building in 1981. Instead of the vast open ward, separate rooms with up to four beds housed 40 patients. A desire to give patients and families more privacy led to reconfiguring the rooms to double occupancy. But Stanislav believes there is still room for improvement.

Our Lady of Peace
Sister caring for a patient in the 1940s.
Our Lady of Peace
Rendering of a future private room with funding from the current capital campaign.

Stanislav said Our Lady of Peace has launched a capital campaign and is well on its way toward raising the money needed to expand the existing building. The goal is to continue serving 21 patients in single rooms. Renovation of some existing spaces has already begun. Other rooms will be added in new construction in the court area and on a second floor. Several of the common areas will also get a facelift.

“We’ve given until the end of this year to meet our goal and I’m pretty confident we’ll make it,” Stanislav said. “Those big rooms are going to be great. There’ll be space for one family and one patient. We have visitors here 24/7. We’ll have furniture that’ll make it possible for the family to stay in the room with the patient. I think it’ll be nice for staff, too. We’ll have improved technology.”

Our Lady of Peace will celebrate its legacy and future with an outdoor event at 5 p.m. Tuesday, December 7. Stars and angels in remembrance of the more than 25,000 people who spent their final days in the hospice will be projected on the building. Neighbors and those who have supported the work of the caregivers will be saluted. Staff and families will light candles accompanied by music.

Ray Wey plans to attend the event. He will not be dragged there this time. He will, however, be praying for pleasant weather.

—Melenie Soucheray

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