Sister Alice Louise Potts
“It is not easy to talk about Sister Alice Louise’s life and contributions — not just because she entered the community 69 years ago, but because those years were filled with so many varied ways that she interacted and helped everyone with whom she came in contact. Sister Alice Louise’s life as a young girl was marked by two things: the first, that as a young child from a non-Catholic family she decided on her own to become a Catholic and went to Mass frequently with a young friend of hers; and second, that she was forced to integrate her father’s random murder into her understanding of what life was. Maybe those two things were the foundation for her often repeated recommendation: live in the present moment because the past is gone and the future is not yet here,” said Sister Jeanne Knoerle in her commentary for Sister Alice Louise Potts, who died March 8.
Alice Louise Potts entered this world Aug. 3, 1924, in Chicago, to Ernest and Alice (Harvey) Potts. She had one brother and two step-brothers. She attended grade school at Delano and St. Mel and high school at Providence, all in Chicago. Sister Alice Louise entered the Congregation Feb. 2, 1943, and professed first and perpetual vows Aug. 15, 1945, and Aug. 25, 1950, respectively.
Sister Alice Louise’s first teaching ministry was at St. Ann, Terre Haute, Ind., in 1945. In Indiana, her classrooms were also located at St. John the Baptist, Whiting; St. Joseph and Immaculate Heart, Indianapolis; St. Leonard, West Terre Haute; and St. John the Baptist, Newburgh. In Chicago, she taught at Maternity BVM and Our Lady of Sorrows.
“Her next assignment, in 1968, was a new kind of assignment for a Sister of Providence. We had never been organized into provinces in the past, but we had decided at that time to create four provinces as a better way to govern the Congregation, which had grown in numbers. And Sister Alice Louise was named first counselor at St. Joseph Province in Chicago, where in 1971 she became co-provincial,” said Sister Jeanne.
“But that assignment was fairly short-lived, and in 1975 she began her study at St. Joseph Hospital in Houston, since for a long time she had wanted to study Clinical Pastoral Education and become a hospital chaplain. This study eventually led her to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. And, as they say, ‘the rest is history.’ And a wonderful history it was!
“As much as Sister Alice Louise had influenced her students as a teacher, she found a new challenge and a new gift within her, ministering to those suffering from cancer and to their families — and for 30 years she spent countless hours sharing her faith and her love with those persons, who came equally to love her. When she started her work there, there was no chaplain’s office and therefore, no money to pay her. But she knew how much a chaplain was needed and decided to do her best to make that happen. Finally, the need was recognized — largely as a result of her contribution to the patients — a chaplain’s department was formed, and Sister Alice Louise continued her work, now as a recognized (and paid) staff chaplain, until she retired to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2007,” continued Sister Jeanne.
“As a way to recognize and thank Sister Alice Louise for her unique contribution to M.D. Anderson and its commitment to cancer patients, in 2007 the Society of Surgical Oncology presented her with the James Ewing Layman’s Award. This award is given annually to a non-physician who has made a significant contribution to the prevention of cancer and to improving the care of cancer patients. The hospital also established the annual Sister Alice Potts Endowed Lecture Series. On hearing this, not one of us was surprised, but we were absolutely delighted that this well-recognized organization saw fit to recognize Sister Alice Louise for her determination to open a chaplain’s office where once there was none, and to commit herself to work to bring the love of God personally to each patient and each family who needed to know that love was there,” said Sister Jeanne.
“One of the most interesting stories about Sister Alice Louise was one she herself told about ministering to a young man who had died of cancer. He happened to belong to a motorcycle gang and his group asked her to do the eulogy and also to ride on one of the motorcycles to the cemetery! And she did!
“Those who were there at Sister Alice Louise’s farewell from M.D. Anderson saw unbelievable lines winding around the long corridors, people waiting nearly an hour to say thank you, doctors coming from surgery, nursing staff, kitchen staff, security, cleaning staff, patients, spouses, anyone who had come in contact with her. And, interestingly, during the dinner that followed, her cell phone rang and it was one of Lady Bird Johnson’s daughters calling to thank Sister Alice Louise for all her years of service in Texas and to acknowledge her extraordinary work there,” said Sister Jeanne.
“So we say goodbye to a woman who was simple, dedicated and loved by these many different people. Thank you, Sister Alice Louise, for your many years of beautiful service given with so much love,” concluded Sister Jeanne.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Alice Louise was celebrated March 14, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She was preceded in death by all her siblings.
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