Sister Mary and the Muslim Doctors

Sister Mary is approached by three doctors at Avera McKennan Hospital with a unique request: could the hospital assist in securing space for a Muslim Community Center?

Case Excerpt

The full case is comprised of an (A) Case, a (B) Case, and additional content.

On a December morning in 2009, Sister Mary Thomas, Senior Vice President for Mission at Avera McKennan Hospital, listened intently to the three physicians seated across the desk from her as they presented their unique request for help. As Muslim physicians at the Catholic hospital, they shared her deep commitment to caring for the health and well-being of patients and staff.

It was the emotional and spiritual health of their families that prompted them to meet with her and to ask the hospital to help them procure space in which they could develop a Muslim community center. They needed a place where Muslim families could gather together to build relationships and educate their children in their religious traditions. But as young doctors just starting their careers, they didn’t have the financial resources needed to acquire a building.

On the other side of town, three of their colleagues affiliated with the other major hospital in the city— Sanford Health—had approached an administrator there with the same request. The young doctors hoped one hospital or the other would offer financial assistance. The Sanford administrator they met with was concerned that if they assisted one religious group, other religious groups would expect assistance, so his answer was “No.” 

Sister Mary was unaware that the same request had been brought to Sanford Health. It would have mattered little to her anyway, given her independent nature and strength of personal convictions when it came to making decisions related to the hospital’s mission. She prioritized the gospel imperative to care for one’s neighbor, but as Senior Vice President for Mission of a large hospital, she was constantly forced to choose between competing needs and to weigh costs and potential complications of every choice. As she studied the faces of the three physicians who so eloquently pleaded their case, she had to ask herself, “Is this something we should do? Is this something we dare to do?”

Discussion Questions

1. How might the setting of this case, in South Dakota, contribute to the challenges articulated by the Muslim doctors?

2. Why would Sister Mary consider this unusual request?

3. When the physicians made this request at another local hospital, they were told “no” out of a concern that other communities might also expect similar assistance. Do you agree with this decision? Why or why not?

4. Sister Mary asks: “Is this something we should do? Is this something we dare to do?” What are the risks of assisting the physicians with their request—or of refusing?


Additional Content

Pastor Jeff Hayes' Letter