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Mayo Clinic remembers Sister Generose Gervais

Sister Generose Gervais, long-time administrator of Saint Marys Hospital and president of the Poverello Foundation died on Oct. 7 in the hospital where she served for many years.

 Sister Generose worked tirelessly on behalf of patients and the staff of Saint Marys Hospital, focusing on perpetuating the Franciscan legacy – nurturing the values of respect, integrity, compassion, healing, teamwork, innovation, excellence and stewardship among all Mayo Clinic staff.

 A native of Currie, Minnesota, Sister Generose entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester in 1938 at age 18. She trained as a teacher, but her career took a different path when she attended Stout State University in Menomonie, Wisconsin, to study nutrition. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1945 and began a dietetics internship at Saint Marys Hospital the same year. She received a master’s degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota in 1954.

 Sister Generose was named administrator of Saint Marys Hospital in 1971 – the fifth and final Franciscan Sister to hold that post in the hospital, which was built by the Sisters of Saint Francis in concert with W.W. Mayo, M.D., in 1889.

 During Sister Generose’s time as administrator, the hospital saw significant growth. She oversaw the construction of the Mary Brigh Builidng, which included 40 new operating rooms, 130 beds, two intensive care units, an enlarged Emergency/Trauma unit and a parking ramp. After completion of the building, she was named to the new position of executive director of Saint Marys Hospital.

 She served on boards including the Franciscan Health System, American Hospital Association and Catholic Health Association. In 1979 she was the first female member of the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

 John Noseworthy, M.D. (N ’90), president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, says, “Sister Generose was known for her faith, her quiet leadership, her wise counsel, her dedication to patients and staff, her sense of humor and the example of service that she lived every day. Mayo Clinic was blessed by her presence for more than 60 years.”

 Out of concern about patient needs, Sister Generose started the Poverello Foundation, a ministry to help patients of Saint Marys Hospital with medical expenses. The foundation has contributed more than $1 million annually to help patients and has assisted almost 13,000 people since its inception in 1983. She worked diligently on the annual fundraiser, where the most sought-after items were her jams, jellies and pickles.

 Sister Generose stepped down from her formal leadership position in 1985 but remained present and involved in the hospital. She was instrumental in the integration of Saint Marys Hospital with Mayo Clinic in 1986 and helped to create a sponsorship board to promote and preserve the founders’ values and the Catholic identity of the hospital. In 1993 Mayo Clinic honored her by naming its new mental health care facility on the Saint Marys campus after her. In 2011 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association of the United States for leadership that extended beyond the community and served to inspire others.

 Until her death, Sister Generose traveled the hallways of Saint Marys Hospital, providing compassionate service to patients and their families and remaining active in hospital activities. She was a popular speaker and teacher at Mayo Clinic and often said, “Values are caught, not taught.”

 Sister Generose mentored her family of Mayo Clinic staff and exhorted them to live Mayo Clinic’s primary value – the needs of the patient come first. She often referenced St. Frances to make her point: “I tell the staff what the beggar told St. Francis – ‘Be sure that thou are as good as the people believe thee to be, for they have great faith in they.’”

 Sister Generose told those close to her that the best way to remember her was “through gifts to the Poverello fund or your good works.”

Service details

 During the week of Oct. 14–21, staff will have an opportunity to pay tribute to Sister Generose and share their memories. 

Memorial services, visitation, vigils

Celebrate the life and work of Sister Generose at the following events:


Monday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Lourdes Chapel Foyer, Assisi Heights

Vigil Service — Assisi Heights

Monday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m., Lourdes Chapel, Assisi Heights

Funeral Mass — Assisi Heights

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 11 a.m., Lourdes Chapel, Assisi Heights
If you plan to attend, RSVP to

Mayo Clinic Memorial Service

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 3 p.m., Saint Marys Chapel, broadcast live to Phillips Hall, Seibens 1.
If you plan to attend, RSVP to, and indicate whether you will attend at the Saint Marys Chapel or Phillips Hall.

Closing of the Plummer Building doors, lighting of Plummer tower

The doors of the Plummer Building will be closed at the conclusion of the Mayo Clinic memorial service at 3 p.m. on Oct. 18. The doors will close at approximately 4 p.m. The tower of the building will be lighted during the nighttime hours of Oct. 17–18 in tribute to Sister Generose.

Sister Generose Gervais

Sister Generose Gervais

Memory books

Memory books will be available from Oct. 14–21 in the lobby of the Francis Building on the Saint Marys campus and in the Matthews Grand Lobby, Mayo Building, for staff, patients and visitors to share tributes and memories of Sister Generose.


Sister Generose told those close to her that the best way to remember her was “through gifts to the Poverello fund or your good works.”






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