By Brianne Twiddy

Herald Review Staff Writer

DETROIT — After 60 years of breaking the glass ceiling, Mary Maurita Sengelaub was awarded the 2017 Alumni Achievement Spirit Award on April 28 in the Student Center Ballroom.

The Reed City native graduated from the College of Health Professions at University of Detroit Mercy in 1949. She has spent her life working as a nurse, a nationally and internationally known healthcare administrator, an advocate for health care for the poor and as a Sister of Mercy nun.

Sengelaub is one of seven recipients of the 2017 Alumni Achievement Spirit award, which honors one alumnus from each school and college at University of Detroit Mercy for being leaders in their field.

“The award was a great surprise and I wondered how did that happen to me?” Sengelaub, 98, said. “Then I reflected on my relationship with the two universities and the work I had done, what they have done for me and what I’ve been able to do for young women and men involved in the different areas I was teaching at that time.”

Her education began at the peak of the Great Depression. Sengelaub used the $125 her parents had saved to study as a nurse.

She graduated as a nurse in 1940 and was offered a nursing position at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids — the same hospital where she had studied.

“This is where I was first introduced to the Sisters of Mercy,” she said in a 2015 interview with The Pioneer. “There were four nuns also studying nursing and I felt very much ‘at home’ with them.”

Sengelaub worked as an assistant head nurse at St. Mary’s for a year before taking a nursing job at the Reed City Hospital following a family tragedy and to support her sister Barbara’s education.

When she received a job opportunity in Bay City, Sengelaub was hesitant and turned to God. She prayed about the decision at the St. Philip Neri Church and Station of the Cross.

She found her answer at the last station. Sengelaub began teaching medical-surgical nursing in Bay City, where she remained until the end of World War II.

After the war, she welcomed what she’d been thinking about the entire time — to become a Sister of Mercy.

Sengelaub took her first vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy in 1948. Leaders in her order recognized her administrative and leadership potential and sent Sengelaub to St. Louis University for graduate school. She earned a master’s degree in hospital administration.

Sengelaub took her final vows in 1951 as a Sister of Mercy and chose the name Maurita.

“It was my commit to become a woman in Sister of Mercy community founded by Catherine McAuley,” she said. “I feel everything I was going to do was for Jesus and I would be doing it with genour, perfection and most importantly, love.”

She helped establish the National Migrant Worker Council in 1978, which founded the Migrant Health Worker Council a decade later. The organization trains members of widespread, often rural communities to provide healthcare advice to local residents. It also trains doulas to provide home birth services.

Maurita also was on the Provincial Council that voted to keep Mercy College of Detroit in the city, opened Mercy High School in Farmington and strengthened the 27 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the Detroit Province.

Sr. Maurita’s list of accomplishments continued to grow through the years. She worked as an administrator of individual facilities and created large hospital systems across the U.S. and Australia. She was the first female leader of the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Catholic healthcare — the Catholic Health Association.

She helped create a framework for Catholic hospitals and other providers to discuss ethical-care issues by co-founding the Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center in St. Louis. The organization is now known as the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Maurita was awarded the CHA organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. She was inducted into the Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame in 2013.

“I am proud of the fact I was given the ability to perform the works of Mercy in keeping with the dream of Catherine McAuley, who was the founder of our religious congregation," she said.