My paternal grandmother was living alone. At that time in Ireland there was a custom with some families that one of the grandchildren would live with the grandparent for company, and I was the one chosen to live with her.
I loved my grandmother and was very excited to be chosen. There were some advantages of this arrangement, the most important being that I would be attending school taught by the Sisters of Mercy. I had never met a Sister and this was an awesome experience. At first I feared them because they were wearing the traditional habits.
As time went on, I grew to love all my Sister-teachers and admired their commitment to teaching and their kindness. I believe that their witness inspired me to think about being a Sister. My grandmother’s strong faith dimension and prayer-filled life also influenced my thinking.
Then one day a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word came to our school recruiting applicants for the religious life and told us about their religious order in Texas and their juniorate in Dunmore, Ireland. I expressed my desire to become a Sister or a nurse, and she told me that I could be both in her order.
After a time in Dunmore I traveled to San Antonio for formation. Upon making first vows I was prepared for ministry. I graduated from St. Anthony’s School of Nursing as a registered nurse, and some years later received a bachelor of science degree from Incarnate Word College.
I worked as a nurse at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio and St. Mary’s Hospital in McAlister, Okla. Caring for sick children I noticed how special they were; even in sickness they can keep us focused.
I recall an incident when I was caring for a little boy who had just had his tonsils removed. He had returned from the operating room and his mother was sitting at his bedside. I entered his room to check on him and to take his vital signs. He appeared to be sleeping, and I left the room. His mother followed me and said, “Sister, Danny wanted to know ‘What did Jesus’ mother want’?” We hugged each other and laughed.
However, I was humbled and questioned myself: How compassionate, kind, caring and loving was I in my nursing practice? I believe that incidents such as this are God’s way of speaking to us so that we can become what He intended us to be.
I practiced nursing for 12 years until I was assigned to study hospital administration at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo. I completed studies and graduated with a master’s degree in health care administration. For 30 years I served as administrator in hospitals sponsored by the congregation.
My first assignment in this role was in Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. This was in the 1960s and ‘70s. Reflecting on this period in ministry, change was a constant: Society, the Church, the congregation and health care were undergoing change and challenges. Vatican II made a great impact on our congregation. Our habits, lifestyles, ministries and structures were all touched by change. A number of Sisters left the congregation, and vocations dropped. Faith and the contemplative dimension of our lives became the source and resolve of those who stayed.
My last assignment in hospital administration was at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paris, Texas. I retired from health care administration at age 69.
My next ministry was pastoral care, after becoming qualified as a hospital chaplain. I served in this ministry for 10 years. In 2005, I retired to the Village of the Incarnate Word. In reflecting upon the various ministries, I realize that although they required different types of education and degrees, at their heart was always the Incarnate Word charism which brought peace and joy to those we served as well as to myself.
Logos staff writer Rachel Cywinski helped Sister Farrell with this piece.