Written on: June 29, 2015
A former Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart and dear friend of the Sisters passed away recently. Throughout her lifetime, Eileen remained a true daughter of St. Marguerite D’Youville, even, we might say especially, after she had left the Congregation. Her story, briefly told here, we hope is one that will inspire you, no matter what your work or ministry might be…
Farewell Tribute to M. Eileen Schmitt, MD
Delivered by Sr. Sally White, GNSH
June 26, 2015
Bishop Malooly, Father Paul, Brother Ronald and each of you who are participating in this celebration of Dr. Schmitt’s Life, thank you. My name is Sr. Sally White and it’s my privilege to stand before you and pay tribute to Eileen. The best tribute I could give Eileen would be to tell you the miracle of her life. Her early life has the ring of Mary’s flight into Egypt to protect Jesus. Eileen’s mother took her from Philadelphia to Gainsville, Georgia to protect her from her paternal grandmother. They stayed there until her mother felt it was safe to return. As a single Mom she raised Eileen and supported her by opening a small store in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. She knew her daughter well and could see how intelligent she was. With the meager finances that she had, she purchased an encyclopedia so she would be able to learn new things each day. Although she wasn’t Catholic, She moved Eileen to a Catholic school where she felt Eileen would be safe and get a better education. Eileen eventually was baptized Catholic and went to Little Flower High School where she met the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. She entered that community in 1961 and when invested had the name of Sr. James Paul which many of us believe was in honor of her step father, Paul McDyre. At the beatification of Margaret d’Youville, foundress of the Grey Nuns, Pope Saint John XXIII gave her the title, “The Mother of Universal Charity”. I think Eileen manifested that same charism throughout her life, excluding no one from her love, all inclusive.
In 1965 I had the privilege of meeting her when she was transferred to St. Jude’s School in Atlanta, Georgia. When we met her at the airport she was awed by her first plane ride. If I had to describe her I would say she was timid and lacked confidence in herself with low self-esteem. But all that was about to change. Initially she taught 2nd and 4th grades and did well but she absolutely blossomed when she taught 8th grade. Her students loved her, their parents loved her, her colleagues loved her and you could literally see her gain confidence in herself each and every day. Under Eileen’s tutelage, St. Jude was the first Catholic Elementary School to have an exhibit in the science fair at the University of Georgia. She remained at St Jude’s for about five years. The young woman who got off that plane in November 1965 was a totally transformed woman by the time she left it. She had confidence and had discovered her true potential. From that moment, she seemed to know exactly what her purpose in life was. She began to take steps to make it happen. Several years after receiving her undergraduate degree she was transferred to Buffalo where she attended Roswell Park Graduate Division and received her Masters. Her desire to become a doctor peaked and, with the financial support of the congregation, she eventually went to the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the rest is history. Her life was a miracle in so many ways but a miracle that brought her each day into the healing ministry that she loved.
Eileen was an excellent diagnostician but above all her compassionate love was encountered by every patient she ever saw. Many said they got hugged when she came into the examining room and hugged again when she left. She served St. Francis Hospital as its Chief Medical Officer and its President. She cared for the homeless on the St. Clare Van with an openness and warmth that was beyond what anyone could imagine. The amount of good that she has done in her lifetime will never be known. She gave generously to anyone in need. She cared for families who were in need, and in one instance provided for their education and for braces for the youngest child. She was on every conceivable advisory board in the state of Delaware and beyond and her commitment to each was as full as if she had only been on one. She had a special love for the Ministry of Caring and partnered with Brother Ronald whenever the opportunity was there.
In May 2013 Eileen was asked to do the commencement address at d’Youville College, her alma mater, and she was given an honorary doctorate at that time. She worked hard on her commencement speech which in many ways expressed her core philosophy. She quoted the Tao-de-Ching: “I have three treasures which I hold fast, and watch closely: the first is Mercy, the second Frugality and the third is Humility.” She told them mercy reconciles us with all beings and it is what gives us courage. Frugality opens our hearts and eyes to see that we don’t need everything. We obtain what we need and give generously to those in need. It calls us to stand in awe of our earth. The third, Humility, is recognizing that we are not above anything in nature. It is the mark of a true leader. Eileen evaluated herself on these treasures. She told the story of a lesson she learned when she was a resident. She had followed a 15 year old woman through her pregnancy. One day she came to the office for her regular visit and Eileen noted that she had symptoms of toxemia of pregnancy, a very serious condition which necessitated delivering the baby as soon as possible. Eileen told her to go immediately to the hospital and she would follow as soon as she finished seeing patients. When Eileen arrived at the hospital her patient wasn’t there. Ten minutes passed, twenty minutes passed and Eileen was getting very anxious. Finally she appeared. Eileen asked her why she was so late getting to the hospital and the patient said, “Dr. Schmitt, I was waiting for the bus.” Eileen was troubled by her own head and heart at that moment. She knew the patient came from a family of very limited means, that she didn’t drive or have a car, that she was alone when she came to the office and yet she hadn’t thought of how she would get to the hospital. She told the graduates that moment changed how she related to patients for the next 32 years. She realized at that moment what love, mercy, and compassion really mean and how important it is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
These values were evident in Eileen’s life. She lived compassion, simplicity and humility. She never bragged about anything and she was always truthful. She knew what she believed. She knew what was right and what was wrong and in her dealings with others she always knew the right thing to do. She believed that it is only what we are in God’s sight that’s really important. She was very comfortable with herself. She didn’t have to pretend to be something she wasn’t. What you saw is what you got. When you looked at her you understood the Scripture quote that says “the truth will set you free”. She was a truly free woman and that enabled her to be ever ready to serve others – one gifted woman who knew how to give those gifts away!
She also enjoyed her personal life to the full. Her love for God’s animals was incredible. She always seemed to have a dog or one or two cats and her heart would eagerly welcome more if her time and resources and especially her housemates would have allowed. She loved to travel and she was able to do a good bit of it. She always wanted to learn more about creation. When she traveled she wanted to know about the land, the people, the history. She had an insatiable desire to learn more and more so that her heart could be stretched further and further to that great awareness of the God of our universe. She had deep friendships and was always loyal. Once she loved you she never let go. You can ask Kathy Sweeny about that, they were friends from grade school on, and, of course, there was Sally Heron and Eileen Poorten and her heart stretched to many of us as well. She had a grateful heart. Once she received something she never tired of saying thank you. She saw everything as gift from God and this led to that unbountiful generous heart that never stopped giving. St. Francis of Assisi tells us to preach the gospel everyday and when necessary use words. Eileen never had to use words. She preached it by the way she lived. Eileen, thank you for all that you were to each one of us and to all the people whose life you touched, with love, may you rest in peace.