How did you know that you wanted to become a Sister of the Holy Cross?
My first-grade teacher, a Franciscan sister, was the person who first inspired my desire to become a religious sister. She was always collecting money for the missions. And she spoke of serving the missions through these small contributions we gave her for her sisters that were serving abroad. I also had the desire to become a nurse so that I could serve the sick and suffering in some small way. Upon my high school graduation, I told my parents that I would like to become a sister. I had planned to research different religious orders to determine which one I would enter. My parents were very pleased with my decision.
To prepare for religious life and being away from my home and family, they encouraged me to attend nursing school first. After graduation, I went to work for a short time at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, Colorado, with some of my classmates. After taking this time to check into a variety of religious orders, I asked my pastor, who was my spiritual guide and mentor, about joining another congregation. He discouraged me from joining a religious order with foreign missions only, and he then told me of Holy Cross. He said if for some reason I could not be a missionary, that Holy Cross had other ministries that I could pursue. I immediately contacted Saint Mary’s! While visiting Saint Mary’s I attended a religious service where I was in awe. A sense of joy and peace came over me as I was praying with these sisters. Even though I was with them all weekend for different activities, I had made up my mind during that religious service to apply to join Holy Cross.
I entered with the desire to become a Holy Cross sister and to go to India to the missions after my final profession of vows. When I asked Mother Rose Elizabeth the Mother General (as we called them at that time), she told me I could not go to the foreign missions because they were no long sending nurses to India. After a moment of prayer, I wholeheartedly said I still wanted to make my profession in Holy Cross and would do whatever she and her council asked me to do for ministry.
Where did you minister as a nurse and what brought you joy?
I appreciated and enjoyed every minute of my nursing ministry. My ministry placements included teaching in the Holy Cross Central School of Nursing, serving as a staff nurse at Our Saviour’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, St. John’s Hospital in Anderson, Indiana, St. Mary’s Hospital in Cairo, Illinois, St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California and Holy Cross Hospital-Mission Hills, and St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho. As a nurse, for some reason or another, I was always assigned to oncology, emergency room, and intensive care units. I assisted in organizing the first ICU unit at St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno.
It became very difficult to efficiently nurse health care and spiritual care at the same time, especially to patients who were dying, along with ministering to their family members present. It was about that time that organized spiritual care departments began to originate. I then organized a chaplaincy department and began to minister in that way. I entered Seattle University to obtain my master’s in pastoral ministry and took my clinical pastoral education at Virginia Mason Hospital. I then became a certified chaplain in the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. As a certified chaplain, I ministered in emergency room trauma, critical care units, palliative care and with new mothers in distress and needing long term care. I was assigned to the Research and Ethics committees and served as eucharistic ministry coordinator and prayer group leader. I also served on the Fresno Valley Clinical Pastoral Education Board and was a mentor to student chaplains! All of this work brought me so much joy!
What are some of your most rewarding memories from your ministry?
My favorite hospital ministry experiences were with the critical care patients, families and staff. Perhaps one of the reasons I was so drawn to care for the dying was my own father's death in a tragic accident. He died alone, with no one to be with him. And I felt drawn to always do whatever I could to assist the dying, their family members, and the staff who care for them.
I went and prayed at the baby’s bedside. ... through consistent prayer that little boy is still alive. I attended his baptism and have kept up with the family!
One story that I am still touched by today was a call I received one Sunday morning to pray with a family. It seemed that their newborn baby had died. I immediately answered the call and first went to see the baby and the nursing staff before calling the parents in to pray with me. I went and prayed at the baby’s bedside. After praying and getting ready for the parents, I looked at the baby and he seemed to awaken somehow. Immediately, we called the doctors and nurses and parents, and we all prayed together again. The doctors stated it might be only a temporary awakening. However, through consistent prayer that little boy is still alive. I attended his baptism and have kept up with the family!
What challenges have you experienced as a hospital chaplain?
The one big challenge is often there are so many patients and family members and staff in need, and there are not enough chaplains to cover all shifts. Another challenge is when the patient and family hear the medical team say they have tried every type of a medical remedy but there isn’t anything more that can be done to save their life. Moving into the alternative of palliative or hospice care is a very difficult transition and hard on everyone.
One very difficult situation in many hospitals now is the shortage of priest chaplains to offer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and the final blessing. Many patients and family members ask that we, as chaplains, do it instead. This has prompted the National Association of Catholic Chaplains to have the upcoming synod to address this issue. We will see if deacons and certified chaplains might obtain the permission to administer this sacrament.
How do you spend your time now that you have retired?
When I retired, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and my age, I left the hospital and moved to Saint Mary’s. When I arrived, I received a list of local sisters who would appreciate some visitation and spiritual support. I have been very happy to use my gifts of ministering in a small way, even in retirement.
What advice do you have for anyone considering nursing or hospital chaplaincy?
I would be happy to talk and encourage anyone who feels they may have a call to be a nurse or a chaplain. For me, it has been one of the most rewarding and happiest times of my 73 years of being a Sister of the Holy Cross! I spent 30 years as a nurse and 42 years as a chaplain.The role of the chaplain has been proven to be one of the most important persons on the care team, not only for the patient, but for the family members and the medical and caregiver teams, too. There are many good clinical pastoral education programs in the United States and assistance in applying for certification. I can’t recommend it enough!