Sister Louis Mary Battle, a medical administrator who was called the vision behind the expansion of care for the elderly, dementia patients and the dying at Stella Maris in Timonium, died Friday of complications from autoimmune disease and osteoarthritis at the institution where she worked for many years. She was 79.
"Sister Louis Mary was an intelligent, good-humored, strong leader, and there was never a doubt about what she was thinking," said Sister M. Karen McNally, the chief administrative officer of Stella Maris, who is a fellow member of the Sisters of Mercy. "She was a wonderful mentor and teacher. She was outgoing and forthright, and could convince anyone to do the right thing."
She said her colleague made a personal mission of raising the standard for elderly care. She strove to increase the competence of caregivers while also increasing respect for them.
"Her vision was to create a continuum of services for the aging that was accessible to all, rich and poor, without distinction," Sister Karen said.
Charlotte Josephine Battle was born in Montgomery, Ala. She entered the Sisters of Mercy, Province of Baltimore in 1952 and professed her vows in 1957.
She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing at the old Mount Saint Agnes College in Mount Washington and a master's degree from Saint Louis University.
After an initial posting to Stella Maris, she was assigned to St. Joseph's Infirmary in Atlanta. According to her biography supplied by her order, she assisted unwed mothers, founded a pediatric unit and served as director of staff development.
In 1964 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was being treated at St. Joseph's Infirmary, she escorted the civil rights leader to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sister Louis Mary returned to Stella Maris as nursing director and head of resident services in 1968 when it served solely as a retirement home in Baltimore County.
"She was easy to be around and was outgoing. It was not hard to share her enthusiasm for the things she was passionate about," said Sister Helen Amos, Mercy Medical Services executive chair and a close friend.
A year later, she became Stella Maris' administrator and embarked upon a three-decade campaign to broaden the retirement home's mission. She wanted to help the sick, the elderly and the dying from all economic and social backgrounds.
She was also a force behind the conversion of Blessed Sacrament parochial school building on Old York Road in Pen Lucy to elderly housing.
"It's really a commune for the elderly, where they are able to maintain their independence without losing interest in meals and activities," she said in a 1979 Evening Sun article.
Her colleagues credited her with spearheading Stella Maris' growth from the 1970s forward. She launched St. Elizabeth Hall and its independent-living units, the Stella Maris Hospice Program and the construction of the Marion Burk Knott Wing and Rehabilitation Services. She also was instrumental in the founding of the Mercy Ridge retirement community.
She was an advocate for the construction of St. Elizabeth Hall, which opened in 1980 on the grounds of Stella Maris. The building houses 200 independent-living apartments, some of which were reserved for residents who receive housing assistance.
"It was the first senior apartment complex in the country to be half private pay and half Section 8 attached to a nursing home," said Sister Karen.
Her colleagues said that in 1983, she assisted in opening a home and inpatient hospice program. She led a campaign to finance and build the Marion Burk Knott Wing, a facility for dementia patients. She also added short-stay rehabilitative care to Stella Maris and expanded the facility to a 448-bed long-term care facility.
In 1995, she worked with Mercy Medical Center to start an inpatient hospice unit.
She was named president emerita of Stella Maris in 1997. She also served on the boards of Loyola University Maryland, Mercy Medical Center, Mercy High School, the Marian House in Waverly and St. Joseph Medical Center.
She was given Loyola University's John Carroll Medal in 2002 for her "dedication to serving those in need and for her visionary leadership in the care of the nation's elderly." Pope John Paul II awarded her the Pro Ecclesia Pontifice Medal for her "service to the church."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was a classmate of Sister Louis Mary in college. Earlier this year, the senator wrote her a letter, saying in part, "At Stella Maris you have established a new protocol for care for the aged which combines the traditional compassion of the Sisters of Mercy with pioneering, state-of-the-art medical care."
The senator also reflected on their time in school: "Who would have thought when we were in Sister Mary Berchmans' chemistry class at Mt. St. Agnes College, that you would become the longest-serving president of Stella Maris and I would be the longest-serving woman in the United States Congress? The two golden girls did pretty well for themselves, don't you think?"
A Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Stella Maris, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road in Timonium.
There are no immediate survivors.