Sacred Heart Home celebrates 100 years of meeting the Spiritual and medical needs of area elderly

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In 1917, Father Omer Valois, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in New Bedford, trekked north to Quebec City, Canada to request the assistance of a handful of Sisters of Charity of Quebec to run and maintain a home in the Whaling City with the purpose of providing a safe shelter for young working women.

On October 5 of that year, five Sisters arrived in New Bedford from Quebec to begin their mission at Maison du Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart Home), named by then-Fall River Bishop Daniel F. Feehan.

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The five, Sisters St. Alice, St. Albert, St. Germaine, St. Florence and St. Venant, prepared the newly-acquired home and property on the corner of Summer and Austin streets, and less than one month later, opened the doors of “Le Petit Chateau,” as they called it, to its first boarders at a price of $5 per week for room and board.

For nearly three years, the Sisters maintained the home until August of 1920 when their Superior in Quebec, Sister St. Thomas Aquinas, sent word to them that they were to return because their mission in New Bedford was “not part of the Constitution of the Congregation.” Bishop Feehan stepped in and worked with the superior to keep the Sisters in New Bedford with the agreement that the home would admit the aged and infirm.

Marie Bonneau became the first-ever elderly resident on Sept. 24, 1920 and was cared for there until her passing on May 13, 1924.

Eventually the home became filled and applicants were turned away. Following a very successful fund-raising campaign, the current Sacred Heart Home building at 359 Summer Street was blessed and opened for residents on Oct. 26, 1926.

The Dames Patronesses, established in 1925, monitored fund raising for the home and assisted with charitable acts there and remained active until they were disbanded in 1987.

Through the years, the needs and population grew and eventually three new additions were added to the Summer Street home: the first opened in August of 1949, the second in October of 1958, and the last in September of 1967.

Upgrades and renovations to the home occur when needed to ensure that the state-of-the art world of Spiritual and medicinal care is always available to the residents, which today numbers approximately 180.

By then, Le Petit Chateau was long since razed, but the small-home charm of the expansive Sacred Heart Home remained.

Now, as its 100th year comes to an end, the Sisters are no longer a visible presence there, having moved back to Quebec, but their warmth, comfort, compassion and care for the sick and elderly remain a cornerstone of the Sacred Heart Home mission.

“I am so proud to be a part of Sacred Heart Home,” administrator Jennifer Davis told The Anchor. “Like its beginnings 100 years ago, this place has a home-like environment, and not only am I proud to be a part of it, but so are our wonderful residents and employees. Those who make up the staff are family to the residents, and each other. And you don’t find that everywhere.”

Davis, administrator since July 2015, added, “Sacred Heart Home has always remained true to the mission of the Sisters of Charity, of quality of care for all people and the respect for all life. We care for the whole person and steer away from some secular views of care for terminal or elderly patients.

“One of the qualities that sets us apart from other nursing facilities is the focus of the Spiritual component here, a different focus to daily life for our residents.”

On October 26 Msgr. Edmund J. Fitzgerald, director of the Diocesan Health Facilities, of which Sacred Heart Home is a part, celebrated a mission Mass at the New Bedford site as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations. He joined the residents and staff at a reception which followed.

To help mark the celebration, Sister Theresa Bergeron, S.C.Q., former director of Nursing Services at Sacred Heart Home, wrote from the mother house in Quebec, “Today it is an honor and a pleasure for me as a Sister of Charity of Quebec to participate in the centennial celebration of Sacred Heart Home.

“The Sisters of Charity of Quebec congratulate the administration, the staff, the residents, the volunteers of the home for making time to praise the Lord in thanksgiving for the countless blessings during the past 100 years.

“Today we believe that with your love and dedication, the Sacred Heart Home will continue to be a safe haven for the elderly of the Greater New Bedford area for many years to come.”

In her correspondence, Sister Bergeron referenced Pope Francis’ October 2016 address to the Italian associations of elderly people. “The elderly represent the roots and memory of a people,” he said.

“He [Pope Francis] reaffirmed the Church’s affection and esteem for the elderly,” wrote Sister Bergeron, “which are essential elements of the Christian community as well as of society which embodies ‘the roots and memory of a people.’ Pope Francis stressed the importance of ‘fostering intergenerational ties.’ The future of a people demands that young people and the elderly meet: young people are a vitality of a people on the way and the elderly reinforce this vitality by memory and wisdom.”

Sister Bergeron further referenced the pope’s message when he said, “Today I give thanks to the Lord for the many people and structures dedicated to the daily service of these elderly people, in order to foster appropriate human contexts where each one can live worthily this important stage in his life.”

“This text of Pope Francis expresses well the Spirit with which the Sisters of Charity of Quebec engaged themselves to serve the elderly at Sacred Heart Home in New Bedford from 1917 to 2007,” said Sister Bergeron.

Even though the Sisters’ physical presence at Sacred Heart Home is no longer there, the mission continues.

Always with the Spiritual element at the forefront, Sacred Heart Home offers short- and long-term nursing for adults of all ages, and that includes folks recovering from surgeries or illnesses.

Adding to the superb medical care, a social worker, pastoral care provider, and the daily celebration of Mass, provide the residents with the best of the best.

Rehab services include physical, occupational, speech/language, and respiratory therapies. The home also provides a variety of pulmonary rehab services.

Pain management and palliative and Hospice care are also offered, all in the Spirit of quality of life at end-of-life occurrences.

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Sacred Heart Home is one of the few nursing facilities in the area to offer full-time Alzheimer’s and dementia care. “Many nursing homes have chosen not to offer Alzheimer’s care because of the strict Massachusetts regulations,” Davis told The Anchor. “But we care for the whole person, regardless of the care needed. That’s the Spirit of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec and the Spirit of being Catholic.”

Ninety-eight-year-old Irene L’Ecuyer Harnois is a resident of the home, but her connection to “Maison du Sacre-Coeur” extends back to when she was a four-year-old. “My first knowledge of Sacred Heart Home was with my mother Mary Louise (born in Quebec City) and her good friend,” she said. “We all took a trolley car up Sawyer Street to Mount Pleasant Street” and they walked the final block to the home. Harnois said her mother and her friend “went to visit and help the Sisters at Sacred Heart with the mending and sewing for residents.”

Years later Harnois became a member of the Dames Patronesses.

She said that her sister, husband and many friends eventually became residents at the home, and now she is there as well.

“I am very happy here as a resident, they are excellent to me,” she said. “I am in the autumn part of my life waiting for God to take me home.”

Bridget Sherrod, director of Consumer and Community Relations at the home, shared a testimonial from family members of a resident who spent his final months at Sacred Heart Home. “The family of the late Rudy Coles wishes to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Sacred Heart Home and its wonderful staff for the dedicated care and support provided to Rudy during his final months.

“From his first day he was treated with respect, sensitivity and empathy by what was clearly a quality and well-trained and directed staff.

“From day of admission through Rudy’s ultimate passing, we felt that we were treated very particularly as ‘Rudy’s family,’ rather than impersonally or anonymously.”

It’s impossible for any entity to remain strong and vibrant for a century without providing a quality product and personnel.

From its humble beginnings in 1917 with a handful of boarders cared for by five dedicated Sisters of Charity of Quebec, to the expansive facility, home to nearly 200 residents and 300 employees, plus numerous devoted volunteers, the focus has never changed: the Spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of its residents and their families. And there’s no sign that will change any time in future.

For more information about Sacred Heart Home call 508-996.6751. For more information about Diocesan Health Facilities and the other homes within the Diocese of Fall River, visit

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts