Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Henke, Sister Grace, SC., Interview


Grace Henke-1.jpg


Sisters of Charity of New York
Interview with Sr. Grace Henke, SC
Monday, October 28, 2019, 3:23PM • 41:24
Angelica Bullock 00:00
Today is Monday, October 28, 2019. The interviewer is Angelica Bullock. The interviewee is Sister
Grace Henke. It is about 10:49am, and we are at the ALP (Assisted Living Program).
Sr. Grace Henke 00:20
Angelica Bullock 00:21
So Sr. Grace Henke, can you please state your full name?
Sr. Grace Henke 00:25
Yes, it is Grace Cecilia Henke.
Angelica Bullock 00:30
And what was or is your religious name?
Sr. Grace Henke 00:34
My religious name was Sr. Mary Adrienne Henke.
Angelica Bullock 00:46
And what is your current age?
Sr. Grace Henke 00:49
My current age? Let's see, I was born in 1932. So what would that make me? I guess? So that would
be 1932, would be 68, 78 and 9- 87. Did you get that? All right. (laughter)
Angelica Bullock 01:14
Okay. And do you remember approximately what year you entered the congregation?
Sr. Grace Henke 01:20
Angelica Bullock 01:23
And you remember your age at the time?
Sr. Grace Henke 01:26
I think I was probably, well, that's 1932 to 1951- do that on your calculator. (laughter)


Transcribed by

Angelica Bullock 01:37
Sr. Grace Henke 01:39
I was 19. I was surprised.
Angelica Bullock 01:41
Sr. Grace Henke 01:42
I worked for a year at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which was like the annex to the Sisters
of Charity. Really, because we had to work for a year for a dowry, some kind of a dowry. So we save
Angelica Bullock 01:58
You know, I think I did hear another Sister that I interviewed...She said that she worked there.
A lot of us work there. And when we left, they knew that we were there. You know, we were there for
the year. And they gave us a party and gave us gifts. (laughter)
Angelica Bullock 02:20
And you mentioned the dowry. Was there, like, was it expensive?
Sr. Grace Henke 02:25
I don't remember. I don't remember, I think might have been a couple of hundred dollars, but I don't
Angelica Bullock 02:30
Sr. Grace Henke 02:30
It was just that you were supposed to bring some kind of money with you. And of course, we had all
graduated from high school.
Angelica Bullock 02:37
Okay. And how many years have you been in the congregation?
Sr. Grace Henke 02:43
Well, I guess that we have to do that again. 51 one today. I guess it's 67 or 68. It's a whole lifetime.
Angelica Bullock 02:57
68 years.

Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 02:58
Isn't that amazing?
Angelica Bullock 03:00
68 years is a long time.
Sr. Grace Henke 03:02
It's a long time. Do I look 87?
Angelica Bullock 03:06
No. (Laughter) I never think sisters look their age though. And I always feel like sisters look younger
than the general population. Do you think so?
Sr. Grace Henke 03:18
I think so too.
Angelica Bullock 03:19
Yeah. Okay, so going down the list. This leads us to general information, a little bit about where you
from. So where were you born?
Sr. Grace Henke 03:34
I was born in the Bronx.
Angelica Bullock 03:37
And did you grow up in the Bronx?
Sr. Grace Henke 03:38
I grew up in the Bronx.
Angelica Bullock 03:40
And what about your parents? Where were they from?
Sr. Grace Henke 03:43
My mother was from Washington DC. She was Adrienne Lemerle. And Adrian was spelt the way I
spelled my name. It is very French and my father grew up in New York. And he was Eugene Raymond
Henke. Can you imagine a Lemerle- Adrianne Lemerle, married Eugene Henke. But- they did, they had
a good life together. He died when he was 35.
Angelica Bullock 04:24
Sr. Grace Henke 04:24
So it was very hard on my mother.

Transcribed by

Angelica Bullock 04:27
And how did you feel? I guess, losing your father so young.
Sr. Grace Henke 04:33
Well, I probably- I was only 10 at the time. So, you know, I didn't I really didn't know. I remember it was
a big thing, whether or not they were going to let me see my father and the funeral home. You know,
like it must've been traumatic or not. And I can remember they did let me go in. And like I touched him,
and I just said to myself, he's very cold. Like, because he was like, sleeping, you know?
Angelica Bullock 05:05
And did you grow up in different areas of the Bronx or just one?
Sr. Grace Henke 05:09
No, we grew up I well, Leland. Well, when I was young, we grew up in Hollywood Avenue, and went to
St. Francis de Chantel. And then my father worked for Con Edison. So, we moved to Leland day
Avenue, because he could get on the subway, the elevated subway- dance point, which is where he
worked. So, we really grew up in the Bronx really. Went to let's see, St. Francis de Chantel. And then
we moved to Blessed Sacrament. And that was very interesting because and St. Francis de Chantel,
they put you in size places in school. So because I was big girl, I was in the back. I didn't know that I
couldn't see. I couldn't get my classes- I couldn't do the homework. My father used to get very upset
with me. When we moved to Leland Avenue, we went to Blessed Sacrament, the Sisters of Charity.
And the first thing they did was give me a test for sight and told me I needed glasses. And I can still
remember, to this day, walking out on the street at night. And it was, it was Parkchester, it was like a
Fairyland, to see the lights to see everything so clear.
Angelica Bullock 06:35
So that kind of leads to my next question. When did you first know the Sisters of Charity of New York?
Sr. Grace Henke 06:43
Well, when I went to a Blessed Sacrament, that's when I met the Sisters of Charity. And I was very
impressed with them. They were very kind. I don't know what the other sisters were, but these sisters
were very kind- and I can remember going to visit them in the convent. Like I enjoyed being with them.
And it wasn't until I went to Cathedral High School, we had the Sisters of Charity. I was in the annex for
two years and had the Christian charities. And I was thinking of religious life then. The Christian
charities really were a German order. And I said, Oh, I don't want a German order, because I wanted to
stay where my mother was. So the last two years, you went to the main building, which was Cathedral
High School, and you'll hear a lot of sisters went to Cathedral High School. And it was there- I was
getting my coat and Sister Anna Mercedes came behind me. This is my senior year. And she said to
me, “You have a vocation.” And I burst out crying because, I guess I hadn't thought about it at all. I
really thought I was going to go to Hunter College and be in the science field. You know? So, after that,
when I thought about that, that's when I spoke to Father, you know, Father Dunellen, and said, “How
can I leave my mother alone?”


Transcribed by

Angelica Bullock 08:13
Did he give you any advice?
Sr. Grace Henke 08:16
He said, “If you have that vocation, you, you should pay attention to it. And let me talk to your mother.”
So he talked to my mother, and she accepted it, which was wonderful. I mean, wasn't it wonderful of
her to accept that, because she lost my father and then she lost me. But, when I was at St. Vincent's,
she used to come to visit me whenever we could at the Mount (Mount Saint Vincent), and then she
would visit me at St. Vincent's Hospital. We had a visit every month, and she would come and visit.
Angelica Bullock 08:53
And did you have any other members of your family that were in religious life at that time?
Sr. Grace Henke 08:59
I'm the only one.
Angelica Bullock 09:00
Sr. Grace Henke 09:01
I'm the only one. I'm praying now for (redacted). Who is about maybe a teenager now? Because he
seemed to be tending toward religious life. So he doesn't know, but I'm praying every day he becomes
a priest. You don't know what we're praying for you.
Angelica Bullock 09:26
Yeah, that was that was a very big sacrifice of your mom.
Sr. Grace Henke 09:31
It really was. Yeah. And that's why I thought the Sisters of Charity. I had thought about the Maryknolls
but they go to foreign missions, and they take care of a lot of bugs. So I said to myself, if I go to stay,
take a New York- New York convent. It won't be bad. I won't have a lot of bugs. And I'll be near my
mother, which was one of the reasons why I chose this community.
Angelica Bullock 10:04
And do remember anything about like when you first entered the community?
Sr. Grace Henke 10:10
People kept telling us that we were going to scrub the floor with toothbrushes. I mean, this is the kind of
thing they told you. "Oh when you join the convent." No, I remember, I must tell you it was like a few.
The three years of religious life was like a mystery to me. I did everything I was supposed to do. Went
every place I was supposed to go, but I don't remember a lot of it to be honest with you.


Transcribed by

Angelica Bullock 10:44
And when you entered, where there a lot of girls from your high school, Cathedral, that entered the
same time?
Sr. Grace Henke 10:50
Yes, I would say- we were 41 that entered- I would say half of them are probably from Cathedral.
Cathedral High School and St. Barnabas were the two major areas. The sisters, sisters taught there.
And that's how you got to know them.
Angelica Bullock 11:09
And do you think it was easier entering, knowing that you already knew people? Like you kind of knew
some people in the community?
Sr. Grace Henke 11:19
No, I wasn't, it didn't, nothing affected me that way- it was just myself and my vocation with God, I think
is what drew me and whoever was with me, that was accepted.
Angelica Bullock 11:34
I see. So it is more your personal relationship with God.
Sr. Grace Henke 11:38
Yes. Yes, I would think so.
Angelica Bullock 11:43
And when you entered, did you feel like you're fulfilling that desire, I guess, to get closer to God?
Sr. Grace Henke 11:52
I feel that that's true. That it was our-my mission, to serve the Lord and His people. To take care of the
Angelica Bullock 12:02
I guess now we can skip to ministries...
Sr. Grace Henke 12:06
Angelica Bullock 12:07
So, I'm gonna let you take charge, and tell me about your ministry.


Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 12:13
So, when I entered it, we took the CUDA preference test. And when we were seniors, and we went into
the School of Nursing. When we first went in to, to the school, there was no place for us. There were
no-It was I think there were over 60 sisters working at St Vincent's Hospital, and there was no room for
us in the residence. So, we lived at Immaculate Conception in the Bronx, which was a school on 14th
Street. And we lived there, and every morning we would get on. If it was a nice day we'd walk over to
St. Vincent's, which was on 12 Street.
Angelica Bullock 12:50
Sr. Grace Henke 12:51
It was about maybe four, four or five blocks away. But on days that the weather wasn't good, we'd take
the bus. So that was interesting. When we went there we were in our black habits, and they gave us a
course, a crash course- taught us to be nurses’ aides. So, one of the sisters would give us- Sister
Patrice gave me hers-would give us an apron, that white apron that we'd put it on and we'd go to- we
went over in March, and we didn't start school till September. So, for those few months, we were living
at Immaculate conception and then going back and forth and working as nurses, aides.
Angelica Bullock 13:33
Okay. And did you always have some kind of desire to be a nurse?
Sr. Grace Henke 13:40
Yes. When I was a Senior I went to I went to St. Vincent's open house, and I know now it was a really a
brandy, one of the teachers and she was very quick and she really didn't want to do this open up. So
she took us in one door showed us showed us this classroom where they taught, you know, blood
pressure and goal and took us out the door. Then I went to I went to Columbia Presbyterian. Each
person that went, had a student nurse assigned to them. We had high tea. And then they took us
around the hospital. And they took us into the operating room. You know, when you look at the movies,
and you have that balcony, and we were so astonished, then they took us to their residence. Each
student nurse had her own room, and I said to myself, wow, I'm gonna go here. Of course, I entered the
lead at St Vincent's Hospital. But that was fun. So, I really was interested in nursing before. So it was, it
was wonderful. I was able to do that.
Angelica Bullock 14:53
And how many years were you a nurse for about?
Sr. Grace Henke 14:57
Well, I am a nurse. How many years have how many years have I been practicing nursing? I practice
nursing till about 2003 so if we started and in 1954 we can do that on computer, before 2003. That was
a lot of news. Yes,
Angelica Bullock 15:25
Yeah. Forty-nine years.


Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 15:27
That's a lot of years. So, from here, I don't know if you want all this, I was a student nurse and a
graduate and an assistant head nurse, and then an evening supervisor. And then I was an instructor in
the School of Nursing. I taught anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and I wrote a book called 'Med
Math.' You know, I was teaching pharmacology and this the salesman always come every and a
salesman from Lippincott came in, he said, just you're not buying a book. I said, I don't like your book.
I'm doing my own. I'm doing my own worksheets. So he said, Could you give me some? So I said, Yes,
sure. So he came back a couple of weeks later and he said, We'd like to publish your, you know, your
sheets as a workbook. So I spoke to Sister Mary Robin, who is the directed and she said, Why don't
you go ahead and do it? It's a big job to do a book. So I did 'Med Math' which was dosage calculation
and administration. And that went into five additions. In fact, it's still I think, somebody told me they saw
it at one of the, what is it place that sells textbooks? Barnes and Noble. I saw it at Barnes and Noble.
So, I did five additions and then after that, they wanted to go into a digital one with a computer. And I
said, I really wasn't qualified to do that. So, somebody has a name on, it's 'Henke's Med Math', but
somebody suing somebody from the University of Georgia is doing the computer one. So, we were
lucky. We got royalties for five years. On that I sent them to the community. What am I gonna do with
Angelica Bullock 17:26
But how does that feel to know that you have like your own textbook and students are …?
Sr. Grace Henke 17:31
Well, I wanted, you know, I'm terrible at math. So, I when I did a textbook, I did the textbook for people
who were terrible in math, so I always felt very good. In fact, I have something here. Let's see. When I
had my 50th anniversary, let me see if I can find this. Elena [Director of Communications] put it on, this
was… that's the book.
Angelica Bullock 18:02
There's a lot of chapters, thirteen chapters.
Sr. Grace Henke 18:05
Well, it was a lot to teach. Oh, here it is. So, these are some of the comments from people.
Angelica Bullock 18:15
Oh, this is nice. See?
Sr. Grace Henke 18:19
That makes that made me feel so good. And one of them way down at the end said, “I was terrible in
math, and she helped me.” I mean, just that one person. I said, “Oh, wow.”
Angelica Bullock 18:32
So, I'm reading aloud one of these comments and they're saying that you're one of the best teachers
that they ever had. A lot of people are saying that, are saying thank you to you. How does that feel?


Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 18:47
Feels very good. Now, let me tell you what happened. While I was teaching there, they started a
nursing course at [College of] Mount Saint Vincent and they made their students take a nursing drug
test dosage test. And if they didn't get one hundred, they wouldn't keep them. So, they were having a
problem because they couldn't fire or discharge these students. So, they called me and they said,
“Would you come?” I said to myself, these are very bright women. They just don't understand what it is.
So, I took a whole bunch of medicines, and a whole bunch of medicine tickets. And I said to them,
“Here is the order that the doctor ordered and this is the way the drug comes.” And they said, “Oh, so
then it was easy to figure it out.” Once you understood. The problem was they weren't doing practical
work with them. So, then they all passed. They were right, you know?
Angelica Bullock 19:49
But I mean, how does it - I'm not in the sciences at all. But I guess medicine seems like a very like lifeor-death situation, right? You can't mess up dosages right?
Sr. Grace Henke 20:05
So, that's right. I would make my students get 100%. But if they didn't get 100%, because I said to
them,”If you got 98% in this test, and the 2%, that you didn't know, was the 2% drug that you were
giving me,” I said, “Something terrible could happen to me.” So, I want you in the beginning to get 100%
to prove that you could do it and not make an error. We did a lot of work on read the label three times,
read the medicine three times, check what you're doing. So, I always felt very good about doing that,
that I was able to help people help patients by helping the students, was wonderful. It's a wonderful gift.
Angelica Bullock 20:54
Do you remember your early days of nursing?
Sr. Grace Henke 20:59
Yes. That was in the Ward building, it was called the Seton Building and I worked on the female floor.
And these were little old ladies in a room, there were 10 of them in the room, and they were all
fractured hips. And in those days when a little old lady got a fractured hip, they put her in traction. So,
she was in traction for several weeks at a time until it healed and on her back all the time. So, the
nursing care was very, very serious, because you didn't want them to get bed sores. And I was the
assistant head nurse. I put two aides on in the evening instead of one aide and two nurses. I put two
nurses so that that room would get good care. And every morning I'd come in and they pull that nurse
aid to someplace else. I would run down to nursing administration and say, “I put two aides on and you
took one, you have to think of the whole hospital,” used to drive me crazy. But anyway, that was
wonderful nursing care. And then I was moved to St. Joseph's, which was a men's room. And a lot of
them were diabetics. They were homeless men from the street. So, lots of times at St. Vincent's, this
was before insurance, we would keep them all winter. And in the springtime, we’d get them clothes and
shoes, and get social service to help them find a place to live. And then let them go out. Was a whole
different way of giving nursing then. Now, the first thing they want to see is are you covered. What's
your insurance, right? Yeah. And I think St. Vincent, I think we lost, because we would take anybody, I
mean anybody in the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay, that was a wonderful gift that


Transcribed by

we gave to people, you know, the Lord enabled us to do that. Of course, that's probably one of the
reasons why we had to close because we ran out of money.

Angelica Bullock 23:22
What do you think that's the conversation now? And universal health care and caring for those who
don't have insurance? Because when you're at St. Vincent's, that was kind of like the pioneer for all the
stuff that's being talked about.
Sr. Grace Henke 23:40
So now, we do have these sponsored works that we do, we still have St. Joseph's Hospital [Yonkers,
NY]. We have St. Vincent's Harrison [Westchester, NY], which is a mental health pavilion, and we do a
lot of work, helping people get insurance. That's part of our work now. You know, with the different
sponsored works that we have. And people who come in like Casa Esperanza [Multiservice Center,
Yonkers, NY], you know, helping people to learn English and giving them all kinds of supportive
services, POTS (Part of the Solution) is another one. We're not in the hospitals now. I think that we
were trying to figure out when we went to the last wake, how many nurses were left? I think there may
be five of us, five of us in the whole, we were never a large group, you know, in the Community. But if
you look at us now, we're all in ArchCare. So that's using the Archdiocesan work. So, we're benefiting
from our own help. You know, I can remember when we had an Assembly and the question was would
we go into social security? And there was a big to do about that. There are a lot of sisters who said, we
shouldn't be going into Social Security, because that's for the poor, and we should be able to take care
of ourselves. And I think some sisters left the Community on the head of that. But thank God it was Sr.
Margaret Dowling [President, 1971-1979] I think, who brought us into that. And at St. Vincent's, we
were working, but we were like, when I was teaching, we were getting a good salary, but we never saw
it, it went into the Community. So, in fact, we weren't getting it, I think we were getting a stipend, and
W. R. Grace was the chair of the Board of Trustees. And he said to Sr. Loretta Bernard [Mother Loretta
Bernard Beagan, 1960-1966; Administrator, St. Vincent’s Hospital], 'Your sisters should get the money
from the work that they're doing because they are doing professional work, and that money was what
enabled us to pay back all the the Social Security for all the sisters who had taught. So that's how we
get the minimum social security. But can you imagine what a great gift that was?
Angelica Bullock 26:15
I want to know why you mentioned that some sisters didn't want you to have those benefits?
Sr. Grace Henke 26:22
They felt that it belonged to the poor. And we shouldn't be using the money of the poor. That's what
they felt. They were very strong. I think some sisters really left the Community. You can ask other
people what they thought about that. But where would we go? If we didn't have Social Security now.
We were living with Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, we're on supplemental insurance. We
even get something here we get a card from CVS [drug store], which is $50 a month. And there are
certain things that you can buy with that like toothpaste and stuff like that. If you don't use that $50 a
month, you lose it. And then you get $50 for the next month. Can you imagine? We'd be with getting
that with your taxes. Thank you. Thank you.

- 10 -

Transcribed by

Angelica Bullock 27:28
But I think that's good, right. I mean, you spent all of your life but still, helping other people.
Sr. Grace Henke 27:35
Well, like when Obama wanted insurance for all, it should be insurance for all people shouldn't have to
not have insurance, they should be able to go. Okay, we're one of the worst countries in the world for
health care.
Angelica Bullock 27:53
Okay, I'm going to switch now to the paper I see in front of me about the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Award. Do you want to talk a little bit about receiving that award?
Sr. Grace Henke 28:06
Well, as I said to you, at St. Vincent's Hospital, when we had them, it was really a fundraising thing. It
was, I think it was the Alfred E. Smith [Memorial Foundation] fundraising and there had to be a Sister
every year. So I think after a few years, we were running out of sisters at the Hospital. So I don't take
any I don't take any big, I don't feel excited about it. I just say, 'It was my turn.' You can read this award.
But this is what this is what I said. One of the things that I did in the School of Nursing, which was
wonderful, we weren't accepting people who didn't meet our admission requirements. And I said to
Sister Robert [Sr. Mary Robert Nagle], we really should do something about that. So, I got money from
the Gilroy Foundation, and from where else? The United Hospital Fund. And I started what's called, we
called it a TAP program, and that meant Tutorial Assistance Program. So, we would take women who
didn't meet our admission requirements, we'd bring them in, in the summertime, and tutor them. Get
them into the idea of studying and help them. Some of them didn't even know that Manhattan was an
island. You know, like, if your family loved you, they kept you home. You went to school, and then you
stayed home. So, they didn't have a lot of experience. So, we gave them some experiences of being,
you know, around the city. And then we tutored them in the School of Nursing and over 10 years
period, is I wrote that down over 10 years period, we had 70 women who graduated and received their
R.N.'s (Registered Nurse). Isn't that wonderful? And then I started a bioethics course, because we
really needed ethics and nursing. So they asked me from the college, we didn't call it pharmacology, we
called it pharmaco-physiology. And I did that for several views. That was very interesting; it was fun.
And then one of the sisters asked me, Sister Marion Hunt, no it wasn't Marion Hunt, it was Kathleen
Hunt, asked me if I would teach with her in philosophy. They wanted to two instructors in each course.
so that they could make the course more, what's the word I want? Not more interesting, more valuable,
more tuned. So, she would teach philosophy and I would do bioethics. So, I did that for three years with
Angelica Bullock 31:21
What exactly is bioethics?

- 11 -

Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 31:23
Bioethics says, when you're researching a situation, this person is in coma, should we turn off the life
support or not? Should we do this? Should we do this surgery or not? So bioethics is, right decisionmaking. in this situation. What's the best thing that I can do, what's the best outcome that I can ask for
in this situation? So it helps you sometimes, especially when we did it, we had a bioethics program in St
Vincent's Hospital. And we would go around, anybody could ask us, a nurse could ask us to please
come, or a doctor could ask us to please come, or a visitor or anybody could come. And there was a
group of us and we would apply these principles of bioethics.
Angelica Bullock 32:22
I never thought about that before, but I guess that seems very important. It's not only like the medical
Sr. Grace Henke 32:35
You're doing it all the time. We're doing it all the time, right? It's not only medical, it's everything.
Angelica Bullock 32:46
You think that learning bioethics as a nurse, or your students, makes you more compassionate or more
Sr. Grace Henke 33:00
It makes you more ethical, it makes you more logical in terms of decision-making, because sometimes
you're not sure. Should I do this or should I do that? What should I do? So as a professional, it was
important for them to be exposed to that.
Angelica Bullock 33:23
What else would you like to talk about, Sister Grace?
Sr. Grace Henke 33:27
I'm looking to see. Okay. I just wanted to say this. When, when I was at St. Vincent's, it was a
community hospital. It was very small and charity was very strong. I told you we served anybody who
came in whether they were poor or able to pay. And St. Vincent's, the other thing that we did was, AIDS
became rampant when we were at St. Vincent's. And we were the hospital that was known as the AIDS
hospital. The doctors and nurses we all got together, and different groups and we said,” AIDS is not a
social disease. It's a disease, and it should be treated as such.” So we would have whole floors of AIDS
patients that we took care of. And the Village [Greenwich Village] always appreciated us with a Catholic
hospital. So when they didn't need us, they didn't come. But for AIDS, they came. And we were proud
of that, that we were known as an AIDS hospital. And now it's wonderful because the medicines that
they have now are really good. In the beginning, they had no medicines that worked well.
Angelica Bullock 34:48
I guess, how did it feel working there at that time when HIV AIDS was so rampant, and people didn't
know a lot about what it was? I think in my time, it seems like you can have HIV and it's kind of

- 12 -

Transcribed by

Sr. Grace Henke 35:10
It's manageable. See, in those days, if you got AIDS you we're going to die. It was just no two ways
about it. But we were able to take care of them. You're right. Now STD (Sexually Transmitted
Diseases), know all those things. Now they just know that they're there because they know there are
drugs that work. It's a whole different attitude. And in those days AIDS patients were frowned upon. I
mean, people looked at them and said, “Oh, you know, what are they doing to themselves? What have
they done?” But we didn't; we never turned them away. We took care of them. It was wonderful.
Angelica Bullock 35:53
And did the patients ever express their gratitude towards you or the families? Did they have families?
Sr. Grace Henke 36:02
Oh, yeah. Well, because they had significant others. And they were allowed into the hospital they were
allowed to take care of them. Yes. You know, people even today, you know, so many years later,
people will say to you, well, you were the AIDS hospital. You know, it was wonderful. I wrote down here
in the late 60s, remember, how still at St. Vincent's the world changed, and the Congregation changed
with it. The Sisters were leaving schools to begin other works. And the Congregation began to change.
So that's really true.
Angelica Bullock 36:40
How does it feel then when the Congregation started changing?
Sr. Grace Henke 36:46
Well, let me think about that because, that's true. People were leaving the works that they were in.
Sisters were leaving the works that they were in to do other works like social work. Like the things that
we're talking about, you know, the sponsored works into housing and into caring for refugees and
people who needed different kinds of activity and leaving hospitals and leaving schools. And the
problem with leaving schools was to my mind, the idea of a Catholic school is very important to teach
religion so that people grow up knowing some kind of background in religion. And now we don't have
that. There aren't Sisters in schools anymore. There are different kinds of work. So that was a big
problem. Because the question was, were you going to leave nursing? You know, to do something else.
And I said to myself, well, this is my vocation. So, I felt very strong in my vocation, and I stayed with it
until I retired actually. Either nursing itself or toward the end of my career, teaching, you know, teaching
and writing.
Angelica Bullock 38:16
Did most Sisters who were nurses stay nurses or do they go and do other things?
Sr. Grace Henke 38:22
Most of the people who were nurses did nurse, and what happened was some of the Sisters who had
been teaching who really wanted to nurse asked, and all the different things that came was poverty,
chastity and obedience; were the three vows that you took. And after Vatican II, it became poverty,
chastity and discernment. So, discernment meant you pray to God, you talk to other people, and you
decided really what would be the best thing for you, a whole different ballgame. So, I am a

- 13 -

Transcribed by

Heinegeplatz German (obedient) German. So poverty, chastity, obedience meant a lot to me. So, when
people were discerning, I was getting distressed because they were leaving schools and see what I'm
saying. But I stayed with nursing. But they were very happy. And God was calling them to that. So now
I look, when I look at the changes, I don't know did you attend the last Assembly? I don't know, if you
ever get a chance to go. What's happening now is they're wonderful. I must read something that I wrote
here. We have begun to change and it is exciting. Sisters are energetic and focused on continuing the
mission. And I love how the assembly is evolving and the Leadership is developing.
Angelica Bullock 40:02
It sounds very positive and inspirational.
Sr. Grace Henke 40:05
It's wonderful. It's, so I'm saying now, and the fact that we're here, like I said to Sr. Margaret O'Brien
[Treasurer and Councilor, Congregation Leadership], “Is this helpful that we're here? Because we could
be any place, you know.” But when she said, “Yes, it's helpful,” so that's my mission now; is to be here.
Prayer is my mission in this place, and to be present to the people who live here and work here. Just
being here as a Aister is good. We get a list from the Development Office every month for people who
are asking for our prayers, and we are very grateful when they write and say something positive
happened. Most of the time we don't know. But we keep praying. That's our thing.
Angelica Bullock 40:54
That's very nice, because I think a lot of people do want people to pray for them.
Sr. Grace Henke 40:59
Yes. Yes. And if you ask me to pray for you, I ask you with, what the first name of the person is, and I
put that in my prayer envelope. I say, 'Lord, I may forget, but you remember.' So, we say the rosary
every day for all those people who have asked for our prayers, and we mention if we need other
intentions, we mention them too.

- 14 -

Transcribed by

Dublin Core


Henke, Sister Grace, SC., Interview


Henke, Sister Grace


Sr. Grace Henke, SC, details her formative years as a novice and extensive career as a nurse and instructor at St. Vincent's Hospital School of Nursing. Sr. Grace authored 'Med-Math: Dosage Calculation Preparation and Administration' to simplify measurement of medications needed for patients. Sr. Grace developed a program to tutor underprivileged students to become nurses. She was part of the team that treated AIDS patients in the Greenwich Village hospital during the early years of the crisis.


Henke, Grace, SC
Bullock, Angelica


Sisters of Charity of New York




Mindy Gordon (Transcriber, Editor)


Permission for reproduction or quotation must be obtained through written application to: Director of Archives, Sisters of Charity of New York, 6301 Riverdale Avenue, Bronx, New York, 10471. This permission is valid only insofar as the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of New York, as owner or custodian, has any rights in the matter and does not remove the responsibility of the author, editor, and publisher to guard against the infringement of any rights; including copyright, that may be held by others.






Oral History


Henke, Sister Grace, SC, Oral History


New York City

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bullock, Angelica


Henke, Grace, SC


The New Jewish Home, Kittay Senior Apartments, Bronx, New York

Original Format





Henke, Grace, SC Bullock, Angelica , “Henke, Sister Grace, SC., Interview,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>

Document Viewer