Reflection: Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Founders’ Day

By Scott Opperman, Director of Mission IntegrationFounders Day Celebration

John Lewis, one of six civil rights leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington, once said: “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”

That got me thinking about Saint Mary’s 127th anniversary today. In 1893, Mary McNamara donated her house on Lafayette Ave., which the Sisters of Mercy transformed into Saint Mary’s Hospital (named in honor of Mary McNamara). From the start, the sisters desired Saint Mary’s to serve all in need well, no matter their backgrounds, and to do so in a way that conveyed God’s loving mercy.

In establishing and fulfilling Saint Mary’s Mission, those sisters left quite a legacy. And so many others who served before us at Saint Mary’s—all our founders—followed suit.

  • We have a legacy in clinical excellence, including distinguished strengths in kidney transplant, infectious disease, cancer, neurosciences, orthopedics, and maternity care, among others.
  • We have a legacy in diversity and inclusion, including caring for religiously diverse patients from the start, being the first hospital in West Michigan to employ an African-American physician, and using Evidence Based Selection in our hiring to further reduce bias in the process.
  • We have a legacy in serving the poor and marginalized, including our Browning Claytor, Clinica Santa Maria, and Sparta health care clinics, as well as our McAuley Clinic: West Michigan’s first and largest infectious disease program that cares for those living with HIV and AIDS.
  • And we have a legacy in education, which originated with our former Training School for Nurses, and now includes our medical, nursing, and pharmacy residencies, fellowships, clinical experiences in nursing and allied health, and continuing education.

A generation is estimated to be 25 years in span, so we are merely two years in to a new generation in Saint Mary’s commitment to the community. Our generation will especially be noted for how we served during COVID-19, including: the availability and quality of our clinical care; the reduction of health disparities related to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation; the care of those who are poor and marginalized; and the continuing education of patients, colleagues, and community members to reduce transmission and deaths. Hence, clinical excellence, diversity and inclusion, service to the poor and marginalized, and education remain essential to our future but the work in each area must advance and evolve. And we are called to do so in a way that conveys God’s loving mercy.

“Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”

–Scott Opperman, Director of Mission Integration

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