by Kim BALCERZAK
Imagine road-tripping through Ireland and other parts of Europe.
You hop on a bus, go from town to town, meet the people, stay in their homes and have a
good time wherever you go.
Not too unique, huh?
Now imagine a Catholic nun road-tripping through Europe.
If your idea of a nun is a sister only seen in flowing black robes, its time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Catholic sisters are vibrant, educated, dedicated and filled with boundless energy.
Just ask Sister Mary Joel Schimscheiner, chief executive officer of Kenmore Mercy
We went to nine countries, said Sister Joel, and we stayed with people who would just take us in. Nobody asked us any questions. No one ever asked us what we did.
Europeans are not as suspicious as we are in the United States. They take you at
Every person that we talked with had that desire to be loved and respected and
wanted to respect you in return, she continued. It went right across the human
For Sister Joel, that element of humanity is the cornerstone of life.
Basically, I think that people are the same everywhere, she said. Our
hearts are strong. And the one thing we all have in our hearts is that desire to be a
member of a respected group of people.
Born in Niagara Falls and raised in Buffalo, Sister Joel has seen first-hand the importance of family in our lives.
|Sister Joel, left, after receiving her honorary degree from Canisius College.|
Her late mother was a tremendous influence in her life.
Widowed when Sister Joel was a baby, her mother was a single parent long before
parenting became a political issue.
My mother picked up her life and moved forward, she said. Even though she had to work, she found time to serve on different committees in the school I was attending and in the church.
She always taught me that when God has been good to you by providing food and a
home, that you owed something back to God.
When Sister Joel entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in 1963, she planned on a career as a missionary.
Although she didnt perform what might be considered true missionary
work, Sister Joel first served as an educator in the Diocese school system.
In 1973, she received her Bachelors Degree in nursing and began working as a
registered nurse at Kenmore Mercy Hospital.
|Happy Birthday ... Sister Joel (seated) celebrates her 50th birthday with her staff.|
Two years later, she became an administrator within the Sisters of Mercy Hospital System.
Sister Joel received her Masters Degree in hospital and health administration
from Xavier University in 1977.
Prior to being named CEO of Kenmore Mercy Hospital, she served as assistant
administrator at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo from 1977 to 1981.
Throughout her career she has seen society slowly decay.
Family life has deteriorated, she added. Our values have been lost
along the way.
I think that when family life gets rocky, every other thing that stems from
family life - whether it be religious or not - doesnt have the foundation it needs
|Sister Joel and Sabretooth celebrate at Kenmore Mercy Hospitals annual Baby Alumni party for all those people ever born at the hospital.|
Ive always felt that the greatest gift that anyone could give or could
have, is family life, she continued. Its above everything else.
Sister Joel believes each of us has the power to help make society what we want it to be.
She cites the recent surge of grass-roots activism to clean up and take back area
neighborhoods as a step in the right direction.
More and more people in the neighborhoods are speaking out, she said. Theyre taking an active role in safe-guarding the neighborhoods for the children.
Its my hope that as we look at all the problems we face today with drugs
and violence in our society, that somehow people like ourselves will team up together to
help change this trend.
Even though society has perhaps hit a low ebb, Sister Joel believes that todays struggles have helped us to understand our humanity and how vulnerable we actually are.
We depend on one another, she said. When one person falls,
theres got to be somebody there to help pick him up.
You cant be judgmental. You can only reach out. We have a lot to
At 50, Sister Joel looks back on her life and accomplishments, and realizes that what really counts is being satisfied with yourself and who you are.
Accepting your role as a man or woman with all your faults and your failings, is
important, she explained.
Youve already had 50 years of living it out, and you probably dont have another 50 years to make it up. So you have to learn to accept yourself. Theres no one whos perfect.
In May, Sister Joel was honored by Canisius College for her leadership, compassion and management skills.
She received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
What is the one thing that stands out most in her life?
When she and her mother traveled to Phoenix, AZ, to see the Pope address Catholic
hospitals. Sister Joel represented Catholic hospitals from this area.
I wasnt quite sure how I would feel, she explained. I had never been in the presence of the Pope before. I dont think that I had given it a lot of thought.
I remember when he walked on stage. There was a moment when everything stopped in my life and the whole world stood still.
Im not one who gets too excited about anything, but I was overwhelmed when the Holy Father walked on stage, she continued.
I can still see my mother in her later years, sitting beside me with her arms crossed over her chest and her head bowed.
It was an overpowering moment, and Ive never felt anything like it since.
Photos courtesy of Kenmore Mercy Hospital.
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