In memoriam: Sister Manette, nurse, gardener, friend dies

Sister Manette Durand, CSJ, born on March 2, 1937, and named Dorothy Jeanette Durand, died Oct. 11. She began her lifelong ministry in healthcare, serving in North Dakota and Minneapolis. Feeling a draw to serve in areas where there are fewer medical resources, she accepted a scholarship from the Edmundite Home Missions to study for an master’s of science in nursing at the University of Alabama. She also obtained certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner in exchange for her agreement to work in their mission in Selma, Ala, for five years.
When she finished her service with the Edmundites, she responded to the request to reopen a clinic in Jonestown, Miss. She said, “I heard Jonestown needed a nurse practitioner and I arranged for an interview.
When I drove up to the clinic building, I saw that the windows were boarded up and that poison ivy and raspberry vines covered the walls and doors. The mayor and some of the townspeople, waiting for me in front of the building, interviewed me on the steps.
Everyone kept saying, ‘Come! You can do it! We need you!’ They promised to take the boards off the windows and clean the place. I promised I would come back if I could find others to help me run the clinic…” This story was the beginning of a deep and heartfelt love between Manette and the people of the Mississippi Delta that continued for 30 years.
When the Jonestown Health Clinic closed in 2005, Sister Durand worked in Cleveland with the chemically dependent, and in 2007 came to work with Doctors Wells and Mangren at the Children’s Clinic of Clarksdale.
Nursing gave her an avenue for relationship, caring and healing. She said, “I don’t like the ‘saving of souls.’ My job is to help save bodies so that the souls can come alive because when bodies fall apart it is hard to pay attention to what the soul is telling you.” She found people in the rural areas of Alabama and Mississippi who may never have seen a doctor and who lacked the money or resources to address their physical pain and suffering. After she had a few minutes to visit with them and hear their stories, they trusted her to care for them and help them to heal.
Another avenue of relationship came through Manette’s gardens. She engaged people in working with her in the various gardens she tended and of course, shared the produce and flowers.
Sister Durand  never stopped caring for people, whether at the Children’s Clinic, the Clarksdale Care Station, delivering bread, or sharing her garden vegetables. On Aug. 19, 2015, she received a diagnosis of advanced thyroid cancer, a very rare type that was fast-growing and aggressive. Deciding to return to St. Paul was difficult for her.
She wanted to stay in her beloved Clarksdale/Jonestown area in Mississippi and struggled with her desire to live as simply as the people she served. She said, “Why would I go somewhere else for treatment when these are the doctors and services my patients have?”
On September 3, before she left, the students at Clarksdale St. Elizabeth School presented her with a scrapbook and thanked her for service.
One evening toward the end of her life, Sister Durand was sitting with friends at Carondelet Village who were getting ready to play her favorite game, Rummikub with her.
A nursing assistant came into the room to help her prepare for bed. Regardless of her friends shuffling of the Rummikubes and wanting to start the game, Manette stopped everything to embrace the aide and say “Tell me your story first.” Within moments, the aide was sharing her story while she listened intently and asked occasional questions oblivious of everyone else in the room.
Though she was “still holding out for a miracle” so she could go back to Mississippi, Sister Durand was gradually losing her voice and strength. Breathing was challenging and in the early morning of Sunday, October 11th, she drew her last breath — only seven weeks after her cancer diagnosis.
To honor Sister Manette with a gift, see below.