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August 1995

Sister Mary Joel: A Perspective

 

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, it’s 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 Hospital.

“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 face value. ”

“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 race.”

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.

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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 didn’t 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 Bachelor’s Degree in nursing and began working as a registered nurse at Kenmore Mercy Hospital.

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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 Master’s 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 - doesn’t have the foundation it needs to grow.”

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Sister Joel and Sabretooth celebrate at Kenmore Mercy Hospital’s annual “Baby Alumni” party for all those people ever born at the hospital.

“I’ve always felt that the greatest gift that anyone could give or could have, is family life,” she continued. “It’s 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. “They’re taking an active role in safe-guarding the neighborhoods for the children.”

“It’s 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 today’s 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, there’s got to be somebody there to help pick him up.”

“You can’t be judgmental. You can only reach out. We have a lot to learn.”

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.

“You’ve already had 50 years of living it out, and you probably don’t have another 50 years to make it up. So you have to learn to accept yourself. There’s no one who’s 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 wasn’t quite sure how I would feel,” she explained. “I had never been in the presence of the Pope before. I don’t 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.”

“I’m 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 I’ve never felt anything like it since.”

Photos courtesy of Kenmore Mercy Hospital.

 

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