Sister Mary Carmen Gannon dies at 79

Sister of Mercy, a physician, was given a Medal of Service by the Guyana government for her contributions

December 05, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Sister Mary Carmen Gannon, a retired physician who founded a medical mission in Guyana, died of stroke complications Tuesday at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Savannah, Ga. She was 79.

Born Theresa Gannon in Baltimore and raised on Ensor Street in East Baltimore, she was the daughter of an Irish-born mother and a father who had a horse-drawn coaching business and later operated a limousine service. She was a 1949 graduate of the Institute Notre Dame, where she played sports.

She attended the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing and later entered the Sisters of Mercy. She then received the name Mary Carmen.

"As a nursing student, she was popular with her classmates," said Sister Elizabeth Anne Corcoran, a fellow Sister of Mercy who lives in Baltimore. "She loved life and was totally devoted to her role as a doctor."

Sister Mary Carmen earned a bachelor of science from Loyola College and a master's degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

She spent five years at Mahaica Hospital in what was then British Guiana in South America as assistant administrator and director of nursing service. She worked with patients with leprosy, or Hansen's disease.

"She loved the people there and adored the children," said a friend and fellow retired nurse, M. Carol Horne of Savannah. "She was happy as a lark when she was there. She always wanted to go back. The people had nothing."

Sister Mary Carmen returned to the United States and earned a medical degree at George Washington University School of Medicine. She served her internship and internal medicine residencies at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C. She practiced medicine in Savannah and held administrative posts at hospitals operated by her religious order.

In 1985 Sister Mary Carmen founded Project Dawn — Donors and Workers Now — to bring free medical aid to Guyana, by then an independent republic. She organized volunteer specialty teams of physicians, surgeons and support personnel who went to Guyana four times a year. She often recruited medical acquaintances, including two Baltimore ophthalmologists, Drs. Leeds and Brett Katzen.

"She saw the great need for surgery in Guyana," said Sister Annella Martin, a Sister of Mercy who lives in Baltimore.

In 2007 she worked with the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as with the Guyanese public health service and Canadian forces, when the U.S. medical services ship Comfort — which is often docked at Locust Point — visited Guyana.

In 1994 the government of Guyana honored Sister Carmen and former President Jimmy Carter. Sister Carmen received a Medal of Service for "voluntary contributions."

Although Sister Carmen lived many years in Savannah, she returned to Baltimore during the football season. Only her trips to Guyana prevented her from driving up to enjoy her season seats in Memorial and later M&T Bank stadiums. She drove Chryslers, Buicks and, in later years, an SUV.

"She would say, I-95 is made to drive 95 on," said her nephew Daniel T. Gannon of Pasadena. "She would work in her visits to get physicians to go to Guyana with a Ravens game or the Orioles. She was a huge fan of the Ravens and Orioles."

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Friday at Saint Frances Cabrini Church in Savannah.

She is survived by her nephew and two other nephews.

Jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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