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    The Portrait

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    The Portrait: Telling the story of Louisville, one person at a time.

    One day nearly 70 years ago, Alfreda Crantz looked out her apartment window in Little Rock, Arkansas, to admire her new gray Studebaker with red trim. She expected a swell of pride. She had studied to become a nurse and anesthetist in the late 1930s and early ’40s, an era when many women did not go to college, and here she was, in her 30s, living independently and making enough money to buy her dream car, now parked outside. But she didn’t feel much at all. In that void, her life plans were suspended; everything was up for reconsideration. Here you’ve just been wishing for this thing for so long, she remembers thinking. There’s something better in life.

    Though her timeline extends a full century and stretches across the globe, Crantz pinpoints that moment as the one that pushed her to join the congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 1950. The Bardstown-based religious community operated the hospital where she worked in Little Rock, and she had grown fond of the nuns who busied themselves in their signature white bonnets.

    Already in her 30s, Crantz was older than the other women entering religious life, most of whom were just out of high school. For a brief time, Crantz wavered. She recalls being assigned to rake magnolia leaves in the Arkansas summer sun shortly after she entered the community. Cloaked in the black skirt and blouse all sisters had to wear, unable to speak out of reverence for the daily hour of “sacred” silence, she thought, What in the world am I getting into?

    Born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Jan. 2, 1920, Crantz quickly settled into her new role as a nun and plunged into a life of service. Over the past seven decades, she has worked at about a dozen hospitals run by SCN, frequently keeping a seven-day workweek. In the early ’70s, the state department tapped her for duty as the chief nurse in a Vietnamese hospital during the Vietnam War — a hospital, she says, that served the poor and often didn’t have much more than aspirin for patients. Later, Crantz worked in a hospital in Nepal, befriending Mother Teresa. “The cutest little button you’d ever see,” she says.

    Crantz has spent the last 38 years working and volunteering at Mary & Elizabeth Hospital (formerly Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital) in south Louisville. From her apartment off Newburg Road, she still calls in the morning prayer at Mary & Elizabeth and Peace Hospital (formerly Our Lady of Peace), a PA system emitting her crisp, chipper voice. Last month, friends and co-workers organized a surprise party for her 100th birthday, presenting her with 100 roses and 100 birthday cards. “It will take me another 100 to read them all,” she jokes.

    With a sharp wit and equally sharp memory, Crantz could easily pass for an energetic octogenarian. No secret to her longevity, she says, adding that, “I have been more than blessed with good health.” Colds are rare. She never got the measles or chicken pox. In 1952, she diagnosed herself with appendicitis, but she didn’t return to a hospital as a patient until 2017, due to a cardiac complication. “I thought at one time I’d never live beyond the year 2000,” Crantz says, pausing for a slight smirk. “Look at this.”

     

    This originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Andew Cenci, andrewcenci.com

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