Dr. Knight: Could you describe your early Catholic formation.
Sister Rose Therese: I think it was fairly typical for the times. I grew up in a Catholic family. We went to Sunday Mass together, and prayed grace before supper. We children took our catechism classes at the parish. My maternal grandmother was more intense in her faith, and would share some prayers with me. In my pre-teens, my mother got more interested in her faith and I would often go with her to Rosary, weekday Mass, or other things at the parish.
Dr. Knight: In regard to vocations, the Scripture states: “Here I am Lord, I’ve come to do your will.” When and how did you respond to this call?
Sister Rose Therese: It was around that time, in my pre-teens, that I started getting more interested in my faith. My mother had shared with me some of the happenings in Medjugorje that involved children close to my age. It made God real for me, not just something that happened way back when. I started praying the Rosary daily, and reading from the Bible, and other religious books. I was twelve and taking classes to prepare for Confirmation when the thought of becoming a nun first occurred to me. Then, when I was thirteen, I prayed a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux, asking whether I should be a nun and what order I should enter. At the end of the novena, I got my little sign of roses, and that night the word “Franciscan” came into my mind while praying. (I know it sounds a bit simplistic, but I think God reaches you where you are, and I was just a child.) So that was my first little sign
At that age, the thought of being a nun sounded different and exciting. In high school I researched different Franciscan communities, but didn’t really know which one. So I went to college. I came to visit the community here when I was in college. I was pretty sure this was where God wanted me from that first visit.
As time went on I began to see that I had to give up, namely marriage and children, my feelings changed. I really had to struggle with that for a while. I worked for a few years, and I dated. I did come to see that, as much as marriage seemed more appealing to me, it wasn’t going to satisfy me. In 2002, I had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and was there over Pentecost. It was there, mostly though the readings at Mass, that I got the message that it was time to act. I started working on my application to enter our community, was accepted, and entered here in 2003.
Dr. Knight: You’ve become a very successful woman in your order who understands the importance of threading your faith into your health care career. Would you describe that for us in regard to being true to your faith? Can you describe your dedication to health care?
Sister Rose Therese: I came to this community because I thought this was where God wanted me. My service in health care is primarily to serve Him. I didn’t study in a health related field, although I had some exposure to health care in volunteer work and a summer job at a nursing home before I entered. That, and being with my father and my grandmother in their illness, did leave me with a deep concern for the sick and suffering.
I guess what I am trying to say is that we have many people who are experts in various fields in health care, and we need their skills and we need their hearts. The part I think I am being asked to play in this ministry, is to help the Mission Partners who work with us, to be the hands of Christ to those we care for. We must treat the sick, the poor, the injured, the aged, and the dying, with the greatest care and love, keeping in mind our ultimate goal.
The Lord wants us all to be in heaven with Him. None of us will live forever on this earth, nor should we want to. When the Lord Jesus walked on earth, He cured many who were sick, but He did it in order to show them His love. So we need to care for people and cure where we can, but we do that in order to show them His love, bring them to Christ.
I must have that goal fixed in my own heart, be grounded in both truth and charity, if I am to be at all effective in helping to guide this ministry of the Church. To do that, I must faithfully live my own vocation as a religious sister and strive for holiness.
Dr. Knight: The social teachings of the Church inform us of the documents that we adhere to in regard to the treatment of others. How is the treatment of others in your health care in keeping with fairness and your faith?
Sister Rose Therese: Part of our founding charism is to never turn away anyone who comes to us for care. We care for people of all walks of life in our medical centers, clinics and other health services. We care for many people of all different cultures and beliefs, and we don’t refuse to care for them, however that does not always mean that we will do all the things they ask of us. There are several things which our culture today supports which are contrary to our Catholic understanding of the God given dignity of every human being. These things we believe are not truly for the good of the person, and we do not perform them.
For several years now we have been digging into the continued disparities in access to health care. It is more than just a question of whether you will care for them when they come to your door. For many, there is difficulty just getting to a doctor, or inability to pay for their prescriptions. It has also been found that the circumstances of their daily life often have a far greater impact on their health than what happens when they get to us. So we have been collaborating with many other community service groups to start addressing these diverse issues. Our Faith Community Nurses, OSF Care-A-Vans and our community gardens, to name a few, have been doing a lot to help our most disadvantaged neighborhoods and the homeless.
Dr. Knight:. Your vocation is important to many of our readers. Can you tell us about your success in following this vocation? What is the mission of your order?
Sister Rose Therese: As a religious community our primary purpose is the glory of God and our sanctification. The primary commitment of our congregation is to care for the sick and poor, which we do mostly through our health care apostolate, OSF HealthCare. In the spirit of Christ and the example of Francis of Assisi, the Mission of OSF HealthCare is to serve persons with the greatest care and love in a community that celebrates the gift of life. As you can see, this is a mission that is never fully accomplished but something that always demands improvement. Religious life is like that too, in that we are bound to always strive for perfection. I wish I could say that I have always striven wholeheartedly, but my efforts have waxed and waned over the years. I have been a sister for 17 years now and I know this is where God wants me. Sometimes I don’t know why He wants me, but then I guess God’s choices are often like that. He chooses what is weak and foolish in this world.
Dr. Knight: Your consistent generosity to the Church is important for all of us as we attempt to assist the Church during this pandemic. Could you inspire our readership to do so also?
Sister Rose Therese: This pandemic is affecting us all in so many different ways. There is fear, personal illness, caring for sick loved ones, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, civil unrest, anger, complacency… I think we really need to try to be patient with others. You never really know what someone else is going through. If we can hold our own peace of heart by clinging to our faith in Christ and focus more on how we can be there for others, we may even be better off after this has settled down.
Dr. Knight: You have a basic positive attitude about those you come in contact with. What inspires your positivity?
Sister Rose Therese: I really have to intentionally try to be positive, to be honest. I do tend to focus on problems too much. But God is still in charge! He knows what’s going on, and this is all somehow in his plan. He will use everything for greater good. In heaven we will look down and admire the amazing beauty of it all.
Dr. Knight: What are 3 words that you would encourage teachers to adhere to?
Sister Rose Therese: How about three “H”s. Heart, humility, hope.
Heart: People and children especially, will learn more from you if they know you really care about them. I’m sure it’s not always easy to love them, but there is buried treasure in everyone. I think you also need a degree of courage too!
Humility: We need humility for several reasons. First, we are just weak human instruments entirely dependent on God to accomplish any good. We can be crushed by our failures if we rely on ourselves. Second, the students either already know or will soon find out that you’re just a human being. There’s no use trying to hide it. We need to learn to admit when we’re wrong and ask forgiveness when we make mistakes. We may find that we have something to learn from our students.
Hope: A seed germinates and sends out roots before we see the little sprout pop up. I think we develop that way too. It make take a while before we see the fruits of our efforts. Your hope can affect how a student perceives themselves. You also need hope yourself to have joy in your work.
Dr. Knight: What are the issues of the Catholic faith that are important to you?
Sister Rose Therese: I guess the thing that worries me most is that we seem to focus too much on the symptoms without really addressing the disease. We see abuse, abortion, euthanasia, poverty, violence, hatred… Try as we might, I don’t think we’ll really be able to make any meaningful progress in any of them until we address the root of it. We, as a society, have turned away from the Lord. The farther we get from the source of all good, the worse it will get.
I know that I have just a small part to play in this, but I need to play that part better. And that will perhaps help others will learn their part too.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the issues that we are grappling with in regard to healthcare of the Church?
Sister Rose Therese: Of course demand for abortion, contraceptive and sterilization have long been issues that we’ve have to grapple with. Pressures for euthanasia continue to grow, and we need to get our message out there quickly about death with real dignity. More recently gender issues are rapidly becoming of great concern. Again, I think these are all symptoms that will continue to get worse until we deal with the underlying cause, our turning away from the Lord. Then on the more practical side there in the tension between the funds available to provide the care, and the need to care for those who can’t cover the cost for their care. And also a lack of primary care providers and specialist, and other health care professionals.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the hopes for the future Church?
Sister Rose Therese: It gives me hope to see many organizations for young Catholics that have a strong focus on evangelization. They are teaching people about the Christ and the Church, and also how to communicate that with charity. People are starting to get sick of this fruitless worldliness and seeking something deeper.
Dr. Knight: Thank you for your inspiring interview as we all try to follow the vocation that God has called us to.