Through Guidance, Guidelines and Example, Sr. Mary Patricia Strengthened the Sisters of Charity Ministry
ATLANTA (June 6, 2011) — Sr. Mary Patricia Barrett, CSA, founding president of the Sisters of Charity Health System, Cleveland, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) during ceremonies at the 2011 Catholic Health Assembly in Atlanta, June 5-7.
The Lifetime Achievement Award is conferred each year upon an acknowledged leader of the health ministry who has inspired and mentored others. The individual's leadership extends past the Catholic health ministry to influence and impact the local community and beyond.
Health care has changed during Sr. Mary Patricia's years of service, as has the size and structure of Sisters of Charity Health System. But Sr. Mary Patricia's commitment to Catholic values has never wavered.
"Through everything, that has been a nonnegotiable part of how the health system operates," said Thomas Cecconi, president and chief executive of the system's Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio. "If anybody would question how bricks and mortar can be Catholic, sister would be the first to jump up and say it's not the bricks, it's the spirit, and she embodies that spirit."
She retired in March 2011 from her full-time position as special assistant to Sr. Judith Ann Karam, CSA, president and chief executive of the Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity Health System.
Sr. Mary Patricia helped lay the groundwork for the formation of the health system 30 years ago when she accepted the newly created position of health care planner for the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. She had just finished an eight year term as major superior when she turned her attention to the congregation's health ministries. Based on the findings and recommendations of a committee she chaired, the congregation incorporated the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health & Human Services, the precursor to the Sisters of Charity Health System.
Sr. Mary Patricia led the system for seven years; she welcomed her lay successor in 1989 and moved into a dual role as chair of the board and vice president of mission and ministry for the system. In all those roles, she was a frequent visitor to system hospitals, helping to problem solve and encouraging employees as they delivered care to the poor, a deep commitment for the system and its sponsors.
She implemented annual mission audits at every system ministry. "We felt it was extremely important to have standards," said Sr. Mary Patricia. "I give credit to the people who work with us, embrace our values and identify with our mission for getting the work done."
Sisters of Charity Health System operates four hospitals: St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland; Mercy Medical Center in Canton; and Providence Hospital and Providence Hospital Northeast in Columbia, S.C. and jointly owns St. John Medical Center in Westlake, Ohio. It also manages three foundations, which distributed $10 million last year, and 12 other innovative health and human-service and education-related organizations in Ohio and South Carolina. These ministries include the Early Childhood Resource Center, which offers comprehensive programming, resources and support services to families in Canton, and Healthy Learners, which provides vision care, dental care, hearing evaluations, assistance with prescription medications to South Carolina children — two organizations that Sr. Mary Patricia cites as making a meaningful difference in their respective communities. Sr. Mary Patricia believes outreach efforts like these — not just cutting-edge medical technology — given in loving service to God's people must be the cornerstone of Catholic health care.
"It's about being people-centered," Sr. Mary Patricia said of the mission and meaning of ministry. "I remember many years ago, a nurse in the emergency room called me and said, 'We have a young woman who is about to give birth. Please help us get her in an ambulance to (the maternity hospital) Saint Ann Hospital.' I helped her, and six years after the baby was born, I received a donation with $10 or $20 to pay for the ambulance. It's this kind of care, you realize, that is really important to people."
Sr. Mary Patricia's religious life took an untraditional path. She was born on St. Patrick's Day in Cleveland and felt an early connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph. As a sophomore at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, Sr. Mary Patricia decided to join the Sisters of St. Joseph, going so far as to complete her application and take her physical. Her father, however, did not approve of her joining a congregation until she completed her undergraduate degree and was at least 21 years old.
"He said, 'You have to finish what you start,' and he was very wise," said Sr. Mary Patricia, who is now 85.
She earned her graduate degree in social work from Boston College and went on to work as a caseworker for Catholic Charities of Cleveland.
"Since I was dating a young man at that time, one of the nuns said to me, 'Either take the male or take the veil,'" said Sr. Mary Patricia with a laugh. "I was 30 years old, but I realized then I had a religious vocation."
Sr. Mary Patricia's first caseworker assignment was at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. She was new to medical social work, and there was much to learn. But, she learned quickly, soon becoming director of social services at Parmadale Children’s Village, and then going into administration for the congregation.
She later chaired a planning committee to determine how best to continue the health care ministry of the congregation, and that work led to the creation of the Sisters of Charity Health System. Today it boasts 8,000 employees and approximately $1 billion in assets.
Sr. Mary Patricia shepherded the system through some significant choices, including its 1995 decision to develop three joint venture partnerships with the investor-owned health system Columbia HCA (the two Ohio partnerships were dissolved in 1999 and were replaced with two not-for-profit joint ventures with University Hospitals Health System. The South Carolina joint venture was restructured in 2001, with the Sisters of Charity Health System becoming the sole owner). The Sisters of Charity Health System's current board president, attorney Terrence P. Kessler, represented clients who opposed the initial partnership with HCA, yet Sr. Mary Patricia approached him after the deal closed to recruit him to the health system's board.
"I think that says something about sister as a collaborator," said Kessler. "She encourages people to express themselves and believes we can disagree without be disagreeable. Her hallmark is getting everyone at the table to move together toward consensus in the service of our greater mission."
Sr. Judith Ann calls Sr. Mary Patricia a mentor. She is inspired by Sr. Mary Patricia's strong relationships with employees, volunteers, doctors, board members and members of the community.
"She is very people-oriented, writing thoughtful notes to thank, remember or share in what's happening in a person's life," said Sr. Judith Ann. "Relationships are most important to Sr. Mary Patricia. She teaches me every day how to live in a faith-filled way and be a leader in Catholic health care."
Outside of her professional responsibilities at the health system, Sr. Mary Patricia enjoys crossword puzzles, the Cleveland Indians and University of Notre Dame football. Quiet, humble and deeply spiritual, she brings a joyful presence to various ministries where her spirit and humor are always welcome, say colleagues.
"Sr. Mary Patricia values the commitment of all who participate in the ministry of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. It adds another level of excitement when she's there for a local ministry event because of all the long relationships she's had," said Cecconi. "She is our bright light."
Sr. Mary Patricia has served on boards of hospitals and area organizations, as well as boards of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, the Canton Medical Education Foundation in Canton, Ohio, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Her lifetime of service has been recognized through numerous awards, including the Greater Cleveland Hospital Association’s Outstanding Trustee of the Year in 1978 and the Hospice of the Western Reserve’s 2006 President’s Award.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), founded in 1915, supports the Catholic health ministry’s commitment to improve the health status of communities and create quality and compassionate health care that works for everyone. The Catholic health ministry is the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health systems and facilities that, along with their sponsoring organizations, employ more than 750,000 women and men who deliver services combining advanced technology with the Catholic caring tradition.