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Nun equaled: Sister Margaret Smith devotes 62 years to healing mission

BY LIZ SHAW FOR THE ENTERPRISE Dressed in a crisp, white habit, a 25-year-old Sister Marie Gertrude Smith made the first beds that would be used by patients at St. Joseph's Hospital when it opened in 1946. Thursday Sr. Margaret Smith, (who took h...

BY LIZ SHAW

FOR THE ENTERPRISE

Dressed in a crisp, white habit, a 25-year-old Sister Marie Gertrude Smith made the first beds that would be used by patients at St. Joseph's Hospital when it opened in 1946. Thursday Sr. Margaret Smith, (who took her given name back when it was allowed) will officially retire after 62 years dedicated to the healing mission at St. Joseph's Area Health Services.

She will no doubt feel an incredible outpouring of love and gratitude from employees and the community. There might be a dry eye in the place, but that's not likely. Sister is loved by so many who came in contact with her: staff, physicians, patients, their families and the community. In a way she has become St. Joseph's identity. Reverence. Integrity. Compassion. Excellence.

It's hard to imagine the place without her. Some are trying not to.

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As St. Joseph's employee Bev Johnson says, "I am going to miss her something fierce."

Many share her sentiments.

Devoted like no other

Sr. Margaret never missed a day of work during the span of her 62-year career. No one can debate the fact that she deserves some time to slow down and relax. Her official last day at St. Joseph's is Thursday and then she plans to take some time in preparation to move to Crookston to live with her peers in the Sisterhood.

Staff will be honoring Sister Wednesday, Aug. 6 with a retirement party and the public is invited to a formal open house with Sister when St. Joseph's and Innovis Health, Park Rapids, celebrate the opening of the new medical office building and clinic, and shared hospital/clinic spaces later this fall.

Relaxing will be a new concept for someone like Sr. Margaret. She leaves with mixed feelings and, naturally, there are moments of apprehension. It will also take some time for St. Joseph's area communities to adjust their mindset. A St. Joseph's without Sr. Margaret is hard to envision. Her name will be forever linked to a lifetime devoted to the people here.

"It's very difficult to write about the contributions of Sr. Margaret to St. Joseph's and its healing ministry because she has been such an integral part of the lives of patients and staff for a very long time," St. Joseph's president/CEO Ben Koppelman told staff in an announcement. "She has served as a role model for 62 years and embodies the CHI core values."

As Koppelman points out, there are few jobs that Sister hasn't had at St. Joseph's over the course of her career - including his own.

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Working girl

Sr. Margaret took on numerous duties as the decades passed. She worked in the lab, became an x-ray technician and spent the bulk of her years in the imaging, scrubbed in to help with surgeries, kept the furnace running, welcomed newborn babies into the world, comforted the sick and dying, and, yes, served as administrator for several years.

Hard to say which job she liked better, feeding the furnace or heading up the place, but Sr. Margaret scrunches her nose when describing her administration duties. Let's just say her gifts were better spent caring for the sick and their families: her comfort zone.

"The Lord called me to work with the sick," she says.

So what does one learn during a lifetime of service to what Sr. Margaret believes was her true calling? Well, one thing is the power of prayer. Another is the power of touch. Sr. Margaret knows healing isn't limited to scientific advancements and technology.

Father Dennis Wieland with whom Sister developed a friendship and bond during his ministry at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church says he often heard it said, "Sr. Margaret was my angel in white."

Sister never worked as a nurse proper, but intuitively knew where she was needed. If someone was alone and needed comfort and attention, there was sister. If someone was grieving alone, they got a heavy dose of Sister's special treatment. She would spend hours with them if necessary without hesitation. She did so quietly, without revelry.

"Her heart radiates the compassion of Christ for the sick and suffering," Father continues. "Her warm smile helps others to know their dignity as a human person. Anyone who has met Sr. Margaret walks away having had a wonderful experience of God's love."

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Sister is already planning return visits to Park Rapids, so she won't be a stranger. Anyone who wants to stay in touch once she moves to Crookston next month can write her at: Sr. Margaret Smith, 516 Walsh St., No. 203, Crookston, MN 56716.

(Editor's Note: A full story on Sister Margaret Smith will appear in St. Joseph's Area Health Services newsletter, The HealthLine, to be inserted in the Wednesday, July 23 edition of the Enterprise.)

Quote:

"So many things could be said about Sr. Margaret. I have heard countless stories about her and how she has touched the lives of others. But the most important thing has been her witness to Christ and the Gospel through a lifetime of serving the sick."

Fr. Dennis Wieland

Facts about Sister

* Born to parents of Belgium lineage, Sr. Margaret was the first in her family to be born in the US.

* She is a New Year baby, born Jan. 1, 1921.

* Sister has named several of the babies born at St. Joseph's Area Health Services. Just ask people like Andrew Kueber (Andy), currently a St. Joseph's Foundation Board member. Short story: Born on a Sunday in November (yes, deer hunting season) Sr. Margaret couldn't release "Baby Kueber" without a name. His father out hunting, Sister named him Andrew Jay Kueber in keeping with A.J.K. family initials.

* Many say Sr. Margaret is one lucky gal. She will tell you the opposite, but anyone who has sat in St. Peter's Fellowship Hall on BINGO night will tell you she's golden. If not, a ham or turkey may mysteriously appear in front of her before she ventures home.

* Sr. Margaret is a Vikings fan.

* Sr. Margaret has sold more raffle tickets than anyone alive.

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