WATERVILLE — The transfer of Mount Saint Joseph’s longtime sponsorship is bittersweet for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon, a move prompted by the advancing age of the order’s nuns, the order’s low membership growth and the increasing complexity of the health care system.

Mount Saint Joseph Residence and Rehabilitation, which is on 7 Highwood St., was started in 1966 in line with the sisters’ mission of doing charity work that benefits their neighbors.

“We worked there and we lived there and we died there, so there’s a rich history there,” Sister Gilla Dube, the provincial of the religious order, said in an interview Friday. “The letting go of that was bittersweet, and yet we know that was exactly what the Mount needed to live beyond us.”

The nursing home will now be governed by the Mercy Community’s Sisters of Mercy, which is part of the Trinity Health Senior Communities, the second-largest Catholic health care system in the country.

The Mount, a nonprofit, has 147 residents and 220 staff members, according to Admissions Director Adam Duvall. The nursing home’s latest tax form 990, filed in 2014, shows the vast majority of its revenue comes from program services.

The sisters started talking about the transfer six years ago, Dube said.

“Stand-alone facilities, in terms of health care, have a great deal of difficulty surviving,” Dube said, adding that the Mount will be stronger for the future now that it is part of a larger group.

Part of the reason for the transfer is to ensure the nursing home always will have people to run it. While some of the sisters still volunteer at the facility, it’s “not at all in the way that we once were,” because they’re getting older and losing energy, Dube said.

Membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon has declined over the years, coinciding with a national decline in religious sisters. According to Dube, the international order has about 750 members in 16 countries, and 24 are in Maine.

Nationally, the number of religious sisters in 1965 was 179,954, according to data from CARA, a Georgetown University-affiliated research center that focuses on the Catholic Church. In 2014, that number had dropped to 49,883 — a decrease of 72.3 percent, according to the research center.

“Our presence will still be there in some ways,” Dube said. “We just need to be looking at what that’s going to look like, given our own reality.”

The sisters are looking at the needs of the Waterville area and how they can serve those needs best in collaboration with other community groups.

“How do we respond to the needs of God’s people, if you will,” she said.

In 2012, the sisters started working under a management contract with Trinity, and on July 1 this year they officially transferred the facility’s sponsorship. The change won’t affect the day-to-day operations of the facility, said Christine Looby, director of community relations for the Connecticut-based Mercy Community.

It also won’t affect the mission of Mount Saint Joseph, Dube said.

“The Mount will remain the same in terms of the vision, spiritual tradition and values,” Dube said.

The process lasted six years so the sisters could build a relationship with Trinity and see whether it was the right fit for the Mount.

“We really found a kindred spirit with Trinity,” she said. “The Mount is much, much stronger as a result of the changes that were made these past years.”

While the sisters no longer own the facility, they also did not receive any financial benefit from the transfer, beyond knowing the Mount is in “excellent hands,” Dube said. Trinity also assumed the multimillion-dollar debt the facility incurred in the 1990s when it was renovated, she said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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