Their story is our story.
People still remembered Sister Blanche Ress more than 50 years after she stepped down as superior and administrator of St. Charles Hospital.
Some remembered her for the quiet leadership she showed. During the 1940s, she was able to get the community to help build a new St. Charles Memorial Hospital. Less than three decades before that same community had an active Ku Klux Klan whose invective was aimed largely at Catholics.
“It was because of her that we did get the people behind us to build in the 1940s,” said Sister Catherine Hellmann years later.
Sister Blanche came to Bend in the last days of 1917. She was among the first five Sisters of St. Joseph who left their convent in Tipton, Indiana, to establish a Catholic hospital in what was then a very remote area. Like the others, she knew it would be a long-term commitment. She ended up serving at the hospital until 1952.
For 17 years, from 1935 to 1952, she served as the hospital’s superior and administrator. To date, hers is the second longest tenure in that position, surpassed only by Sister Catherine’s 20 years.
Sister Blanche’s legacy is more than longevity or the ability to get community support, however. In many ways, she established the character of St. Charles’ hospitals. The institution was founded on the principles of the Catholic Church and her order. But the human touch, the philosophy that all patients must be treated with dignity and respect was ingrained through Sister Blanche.
“Her spirit has carried on. You plant those values, that spirit, and it carries on,” Hellmann said. “Even without the sisters there, the spirit of love and compassion continued in that place.”
Hellmann said Sister Blanche served as her role model when she came to St. Charles as a young nurse in 1948.
“Everything came from the heart. She was willing to do anything she could to help us,” Hellmann said. “I just thought she was the most wonderful person I ever worked with.”
Sister Blanche continued to be a role model for Hellmann when she returned to Bend to become administrator of St. Charles in 1969.
“When I came here, I often thought about how Sister Blanche would do it,” Hellmann said. “I went to her grave several times when it got tough and said ‘what would you do?’”
Sister Blanche’s words still greet people who enter the lobby of St. Charles Bend:
“The doors of St. Charles shall never be locked against anyone in need of service.”