Written on: July 3, 2014
I grew up in Buffalo, New York and met the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart at Holy Angels Academy. As a high school student, I admired the sisters and thought to myself, “I would like to do that!” That is when I really first felt my calling to become a Grey Nun.
My parents wanted me to wait until I was 18 to enter the convent. So, I went to Nazareth College in Rochester for one year. I entered the Grey Nun congregation the next year, in 1950. I remember telling my aunt, before I entered, “I’ll do whatever they want me to do. If they want me to clean or cook or do whatever, I’ll do it!”
I made first profession in 1953 and was sent to Lowell, Massachusetts to teach. In those days, the community had a rule that sisters had to serve under the authority of two superiors before final vows. So after 2 years in Lowell, I was sent to Blessed Sacrament School in Jackson Heights, New York. I was there for one year and then was sent to Christ the King School in Atlanta to teach first grade. Three states in four years!
Every year, the congregation sent two sisters to nursing school in order to staff our three hospitals, Hepburn Hospital and Champlain Valley Hospital in New York and Griffin Memorial in Kodiak, Alaska.
The Grey Nuns had an excellent reputation as nurses and nurse educators. They were respected and revered and known as very competent administrators, supervisors and head nurses. Most important, they stressed compassion as an integral part of nursing.
Sister Mary Finnick and I were sent to D’Youville College to study nursing. During the summers, I worked as a student nurse at Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York. I worked with Sister Kathleen Sholette, a wonderful person and a very caring nurse.
Sister Frances Xavier was the Dean of the School of Nursing and she wanted the nurses to have experience in every unit of the hospital. We had great experience! We were exposed to many different aspects of nursing: obstetrics, med/surg, communicable diseases, working with the handicapped, working with cancer patients at Roswell Park.
I stayed on at Hepburn after graduation in 1960 and I loved it. I always say that Hepburn was my first love, although I served in ministry in many lovely places. Ogdensburg is a beautiful city, sitting on the St. Lawrence River. You could see the river from some of the hospital windows and it was always so beautiful to see!
Sister Kathleen was transferred to work in the operating room and I replaced her as Head Nurse on the Med/Surg floor. We cared for about 40 patients on that floor and were always busy. I liked the work very much. There was never a dull moment!
I left Hepburn after three years and came to our Motherhouse in Melrose Park, outside of Philadelphia, to work in the infirmary. After two years, I was sent back to Hepburn. Next, I worked as an administrator at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg for four years. Then, back to Hepburn as Evening supervisor. Many changes in a short period of time but back then it was just my ministry life. I took it in stride.
I studied for a Master’s Degree in Nursing at Duke University. That was a happy and satisfying time in my life. I liked to study and the people in the program with me were, for the most part, mature students. I met some really lovely people.
After I received my Master’s Degree, I taught nursing at SUNY, Canton, New York. I lectured and supervised the students’ clinical work at the hospital. I made many good friends there, people I still hear from today.
One of the most meaningful times in my ministry life occurred when I began working in hospice. It was at the beginning of the hospice movement here in the US. At first, it was a volunteer program. We worked hard to achieve certification and accomplished that. In time, Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley became the first certified hospice program north of Syracuse, New York. We received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for our hospice work, which was presented to us at a luncheon held at the Governor’s mansion.
When you minister to the dying, you become inspired when you see the strength and beauty of the person who is coming to the end of their life journey. The beauty of their acceptance of the end of life. Our commitment, in hospice, didn’t necessarily end at the deathbed. We were with the families of hospice patients to the end and beyond. We went to the funeral and we offered bereavement services. People appreciated that.
Hospice nursing definitely deepened my compassion, my understanding of aging and dying and of end of life issues.
After ten years of hospice nursing, I was ready for a change. I became the Catholic chaplain at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. The patients there had doctors, nurses, social workers to care for them. My job was to help them in whatever way they needed, spiritually.
The hospital’s school of nursing had a very good library. One day, browsing through the books there, I found a statement in a book saying Marguerite D’Youville was—through her work—the first public health nurse in North America. I was surprised to read that! I knew she took the sick and elderly into her home and visited the sick in their homes, but I always thought of her as an administrator. I saw her and loved her in a new light.
In retirement, I still strive to reach out to others. I am part of our Ministry of Prayer and pray for the many good people who ask for and have faith in our prayers. I also visit our sisters in skilled care and bring them happy conversation and Motherhouse news.
When I think of the many different things I have done in ministry, I wonder if I would have had such a variety of opportunities if I had not chosen religious life.
I have had the privilege of learning so much and giving so much but the people I served have given me so much and taught me so much. They have given me a fuller, richer life and I am grateful, every day, for that.