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The Borromean Sisters and the Home of St. Charles in Repy

K Šancím 50, 163 00 Prague - Repy
Phone: + 420/235 301 176
Fax: + 420/235 302 720
e-mail: sekretariat@domovrepy.cz
http:// www.domovrepy.cz
GE Capital Bank, Praha Smíchov
Bank account: 174-1950304-504/0600

We would like to introduce the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo, and our Home where old and disabled people find a charitable haven in their helplessness.

Origins and Vocation of the Borromean Sisters

Originally, a pious association of ladies was formed in 1626, to help the sick in the hospital of St. Charles in Nancy (Lorraine, France), and was formally constituted in 1652. The Thirty Years´ War was devastating the town with pestilence, cholera, famine, and all kinds of misery, when five generous women took up the care of the sick and dying. Who would have thought at the time that they stood at the threshold of a great work that would last over the centuries? Even today the Congregation spares no effort in the aid of the needy and to combat pain and misery.

There are several independent branches of the Borromean Sisters. The Czech branch dates back to 1837 when the Sisters founded a small hospital and their mother-house under the Petřin Hill in the Lesser Town of Prague. Despite very tough beginnings, the number of the Sisters grew. They worked in many charitable and medical institutions, and founded many of them. In 1946, before the Communist take-over, the Congregation worked in 33 hospitals, 12 nursing homes, many orphanages, and other institutions including a female prison.

History of the Home in Repy

In 1858, the Congregation acquired a site in Repy (now a part of Prague) called Taizman´s Court in order to establish an orphanage. Soon, the Sisters had a spacious edifice erected to house 400 children. After four years of work, an epidemic of trachoma led to the closure of the orphanage. At the time, eye infection had been frequent in children coming from unsanitary homes. Although the Sisters immediately sent he children to Hospital under Petrin to cure them and thus they had managed to eradicate the disease in the orphanage, the home-towns and villages (which were obliged, by Czech Law, to care for their orphans) used the illness as a pretext, for the most part refused further financing of the stay of the children in the Home, and insisted on their return. Only a small number of children remained in the care of the Sisters, and the Congregation decided to place them in a small house in Karlin (now a part of Prague), which the Sisters bought and refurbished.

The building in Řepy was therefore empty, and the Sisters sought a new purpose for it. In 1865 they leased it to the Government which established a female prison there, entrusting the Congregation with its administration, including guard duties. A somewhat strange occupation for religious sisters, perhaps?

For the Sisters, the convicted women were just another type of needy people. Condemning someone to prison is not an act vengeance: the main purpose of the prison sentence is to turn the convict around, to give him or her a new hope, and an opportunity to work on its realisation. Kindness can change convicted criminals. The Sisters were good psychologists, and they created an efficient system of reformation work with the convicted women. They employed them in hand-craft workshops, in the nearby fields, in the garden, in the household, in the kitchen, and in the laundry room. The produce helped in the running of the Hospital under Petřin.

It is a matter of historical interest that the famous highway robber, Vaclav Babinsky (1796 -1879), lived, worked, and died in the Repy Home. After serving his hard 20-year term in Spielberg Castle in Brno, his hometown refused to accept him (according to Czech Law, civic status with respect to the State was in a way secondary, and depended on being first and foremost a citizen of a town or village). The Sisters gave him, therefore, the job of gardener in Řepy. He led a peaceful life under the name of Antonin Muller and was buried in Řepy cemetery.

After the Communist coup, the authorities decreed that prisons may be run and guarded only by uniformed Prison Wardens. As a result, on 30 November 1948 the Prison in Repy was closed, after 83 years of existence. The Sisters decided to turn the house into a charitable home for adults, and started extensive construction work to remodel the building accordingly. In 1950, however, the Communists suppressed all religious Orders and Congregations, incarcerating their members in concentration camps, without even bothering to present any legal grounds for such draconic measures. The Sisters from Repy were taken to a concentration camp in the devastated borderland. From 1958 the house in Řepy started to be used by the Research Institute of Agricultural Technology.

The Recent Past...

For nearly 40 years the religious sisters were not allowed to work in schools or hospitals. In 1989, the fall of Communism marked a turning point in their life. The Borromean Sisters returned to their Hospital under Petrin, officially renamed in 1993 ”Hospital of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo”, its original name. The Nursing Home of St. Anthony in Moravske Budějovice, and some other institutions were also returned to the Congregation.

After 1990, a great shortage of nursing homes became obvious in Prague. At the initiative and with the help of the Prison Service, the Congregation took up the general repair of the dilapidated building in Řepy in order to give it a twofold purpose: the care of old people, and an occupation for female convicts. Thanks to the gifts from sponsors and many people of good will, and after very costly reconstruction and refurbishment, the Home was partly opened in 1996, and completed the following year.

... and the Present.

The St. Charles Borromeo Home offers comprehensive care - psychological, social and medical - to chronically ill and disabled elderly people. The wards comprise two-bed or three-bed rooms, the latter being for permanently bed-ridden patients, the former for mobile patients. Our rehabilitation therapists provide the residents with modern means for the recovery of a maximum level of mobility - to help them to be selfsufficient and be able to walk. An attractive and varied programme of occupational therapy allows the patients to have a fulfilling time either in the wards or in the day-care centre. The comprehensive approach includes organising frequent concerts and other cultural events in the Home. If they wish, the patients may also attend religious services in the church or they may listen in, using headphones. For spiritual matters, there also is a chaplain and religious sisters at their disposal. We strive to provide terminal patients with a pleasant and loving environment. We offer assistance to families caring for their own members by providing respite care, legal counselling, and other support. The day-care centre is at the disposal of out-patients, as well as of those who are staying in the Home. In a large hall, full of light, and in the adjoining workshops with a potter´s kiln, sewing machine, and other utilities, there always is something interesting to do. The programme includes musical therapy, physiotherapeutical activities or cooking in the kitchen, there is a lot of laughter, singing with the guitar and the piano - this is only a small glimpse of the day-centre in our Home. It is not easy to care for a permanently bed-ridden patient, but the atmosphere of charity and solidarity characterizing the Home makes it a very rewarding task. We are very happy that all our staff are dedicated and have a real team spirit. Our greatest joy is the improvement, both physical and mental, visible in our patients. They appreciate that we do not just care for them, but really care about them.

Women´s Prison Anew

The family atmosphere is created not only by the joint effort of our staff and of the Borromean Sisters, but also of the female convicts. The Prison for female convicts is within the Home. Similarly as in the past, we offer the convicts occupation in the kitchen, in the laundry room, and in providing the necessary cleaning of the Home. But in addition, they may also help in the wards. We organise St. Zdislava Training Courses for them in the Home so that they may become qualified medical orderlies. Kindness, work in an interesting environment, the opportunity to attend various cultural events and musical courses represent efficient means of changing the convicts´ outlook on life. Growing into the habit of regular work, and confrontation with the real world provide a suitable environment for resocialization. It is often for the first time in their lives that the convicts witness old age, helplesness, and dying. This experience exerts a profound influence upon their way of thinking. The Home is thus a focal point where several very diverse worlds meet: the ill and disabled, the religious sisters, the professional staff, and the convicts. This project is unique. Several years of experience show that this project is a success, without parallel anywhere in the world.

We are grateful for the assistance of the innumerable donors. It is thanks to them that we have been able to launch this project, and to fulfil our mission. We extend our thanks also to all of those who are helping us at present. With the help of God and with the contribution of people of goodwill we shall endeavour to continue our care for the elderly and the ill, to create a loving environment for them where they may feel accepted, and to comfort them in the distress of old age and illness.

“Mercy is especially to be attributed to God, as seen in its effect, but not as an affection of passion. In proof of which it must be considered that a person is said to be merciful [misericors], as being, so to speak, sorrowful at heart [miserum cor]; being affected with sorrow at the misery of another as though it were his own. Hence it follows that he endeavours to dispel the misery of this other, as if it were his; and this is the effect of mercy.”
(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Pars I, q. 21, a. 3).

K Šancím 50/6, Praha 17 - Repy, 163 00,sekretariat@domovrepy.cz
tel: 235 323 248 (vrátnice), 235 301 209 (sekretariát)
©Dominik Turchich