Sr. Mary Maurita Sengelaub, RSM, paved way for modern ministry health care systems

August 1, 2019

Sr Mary Maurita SengelaubSr. Mary Maurita Sengelaub, RSM, the first woman religious and first non-cleric to head CHA as its president, died July 6 at the McAuley Life Center in Farmington Hills, Mich. She was 101.

A nurse, hospital administrator and health ministry leader, Sr. Sengelaub headed CHA as its senior-most executive from June 1970 through 1976. The organization was then known as the Catholic Hospital Association. In the early 1970s she conceived of, and, with the help of the CHA staff, she implemented, a leadership development program for the ministry that is credited with helping health care sponsors and executives bring stand-alone hospitals and long-term care facilities together as systems.

She also was instrumental in establishing a center for ethics research to study the implications of emerging health care technologies, an organization that was the precursor of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

She encouraged CHA members to support greater health care coverage for the poor and underserved and she testified before Congress in the 1970s as it considered a national health insurance bill.

"As a Sister of Mercy and throughout a six-decade-plus career in Catholic health care, Sr. Maurita committed her life to serve those most in need — the poor, the sick, the dying and the elderly," said Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA's president and chief executive officer. "Sr. Maurita's leadership of the Catholic Hospital Association strengthened the ministry during a time of great change in our church and our country."

Sr. Sengelaub received CHA's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. On the occasion of her 100th birthday last year, the CHA Board of Trustees passed a resolution honoring her for work that helped set the association's course as an advocate for Catholic health care in legislative and regulatory matters and as a force in strengthening members' Catholic identity.

Katherine Sengelaub graduated from St. Mary's School of Nursing in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1940. She worked as a nurse for five years before joining the Sisters of Mercy in September 1945. After a few years she was given the name Sr. Mary Maurita.

Having earned a master's degree in hospital administration from Saint Louis University in 1953, she taught nursing at Mercy College in Detroit (now called the University of Detroit Mercy). She was an administrator at Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Mich., and president of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, now a part of Trinity Health.

Over the years, Sr. Sengelaub served multiple terms in elected leadership for her congregation at the provincial and national level.

Her tenure at CHA was bookended by significant accomplishments. In 1969, at the behest of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women (now the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), she helped develop and secure federal funding for a proposal to train community health workers to advance health care literacy and health care access for migrant workers on the East Coast. The program expanded throughout the U.S. and continues today as MHP Salud.

Sr. Sengelaub left CHA for health reasons. Once she had recuperated, she again became active in congregational leadership. Her assignments included working with the Sisters of Mercy Health Corp., and she later chaired the system's Mercy Collaborative Services subsidiary, which became Mercy International Health Services.

In 1988, at the age of 70, she moved to Australia to help the Sisters of St. John of God structure that country's first Catholic health system. She returned to the U.S. to work as justice coordinator for her order's Detroit Province and entered semiretirement.

Interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Mich., followed a visitation and Mass at the Sacred Heart Chapel of McAuley Center in Farmington Hills on July 11.


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