Sister Fact

The former convent.

On the left side of the administration building, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary, and next to it, the entrance to the former convent. When the Hospice Central was created in 1855, the sisters of the Congrégation des Sœurs Hospitalières de Sainte Élisabeth, whose motherhouse is in Luxembourg City, were responsible for its running. Given that some members of the congregation were already responsible for the beggars’ home (Dépôt de Mendicité) found in the capital, it was decided to send four sisters to the Hospice Central in Ettelbruck, including a Mother Superior for the sisters of this institution. There, they would work under the same conditions as in the beggars’ home.

What were their tasks? The provisional regulation of the establishment, confirmed in 1856, provides information on the matter (BUFFET, pp. 138-141). The sisters were responsible not only for “taking care of patients”, but also for “household” activities and for the “surveillance of the women in charge”. This way, they were monitoring the treatment of the sick like, for instance, the “distribution of medication” and of food. In addition, they were responsible for the work in the kitchen, the laundry, the lingerie, and the sewing workshop (“projet de réglement”, chapter 7 § 85). Moreover, the Mother Superior was in charge, by subscription (“par voie d’abonnement”), of the acquisition of food and of materials such as firewood, alongside everything that was necessary for the religious service. In short, the sisters had to be ubiquitous in the Hospice Central (DE BROUWER/ ROEKENS, p. 135)! Besides, they were occupying a very special place: According to the above-mentioned regulation, disrespect towards the religious could have resulted in the termination of employment! On the other side, the sisters, including the Mother Superior in Ettelbruck, were subordinate to the director or the doctor (DE BROUWER/ ROEKENS, pp. 132-133).

Nurses on the terrace of a pavilion (Terrasse du pavillon 29), scan from Maison de Santé Ettelbruck. 1855-1955, Luxembourg 1955, s.p.

The number of nursing sisters changed during the two centuries: Whilst there were only four sisters at the beginning, including the Mother Superior, it was only from the 1930s that their number exceeded 20, a number that would be maintained, more or less, until at least the 1960s. It must also be kept in mind that the position of nurse was not aimed at the religious only; in addition to the male nurses, obviously lay, there were more and more lay female nurses, their number being traceable from the 20th century. In 1901, when the Hospice Central became the Maison de Santé, there were less than 10; their number grew to the point where it outpaced that of the sisters. Starting in the 1950s, their number was twice that of the nursing sisters, i.e. around 40! Already in 1940, the deputy Jean Origer raised the question during a meeting of the Chamber of Deputies whether nursing sisters were being disadvantaged in favour of lay nurses. After having been informed by the Minister René Blum about the matter, the médecin-directeur Albert Hansen responded in a letter that this was not the case and that the sisters’ schedule, as determined by their religious duties, would complicate the “normal running of the nursing service”.

The sisters undertook certain training procedures to keep up with the required level of knowledge (MAERTZ, p. 60). However, in 1989, they permanently left the institution, after a presence of 135 years, due to the lack of replacing personnel (DUPONT, p. 89). Already in 1955, with the occasion of the centenary of the Maison de Santé, the Director of Public Health Émile Colling described the 100-year presence of the Elizabethans as “unique in the history of our religious orders” (COLLING, p. 6).

Several archives and documents have been consulted in order to provide the numbers of sisters working in Ettelbruck: Archive of the CHNP: different lists from the second half of the 19th century; the dossiers “Relevés du personnel” (1916-1939 and 1940-1964); Archives nationales du Luxembourg: Dossier AE-00237: Culte catholique – Soeurs hospitalières de St. Jean à Luxembourg, devenues plus tard la Congrégation de Ste. Elisabeth: Approbation des statuts; personnification civile, Les Soeurs de Sainte Elisabeth du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, f. 0133-1034; “État des fonctionnaires et employés de la Maison de Santé de 1901 à 1955″, in: Maison de Santé Ettelbruck. 1855-1955, Luxembourg 1955, pp. 54-57.

Sources concerning Origer’s intervention in the Chamber of Deputies: Archive of the CHNP: Kammer der Abgeordneten. Kurzgefaßter Sitzungsbericht, Nr. 21 (1940); letter by René Blum for Albert Hansen (24.2.1940); reply by Albert Hansen (4.3.1940).