Former Reed City woman celebrates 70 years in the service of God and her community
FARMINGTON HILLS – When Mary Sengelaub left Reed City to study nursing in Grand Rapids, she never fully anticipated where her new path might lead.
One thing is for sure, despite an astonishing life story with stops in Michigan, Washington, D.C., and around the globe, Mary never totally shook the dust of her hometown off her feet.
At 97 years young, she is still an enthusiastic Coyote!
She also is a nurse, a nationally and internationally known healthcare administrator, an advocate for healthcare for the poor and indigent, a glass-ceiling breaker, a Hall of Fame personality, an advisor, mentor and counselor, and most important (if portions of a life can be broken down to more or less important) she is celebrating her 70th year as a Sister of Mercy nun.
For 70 years, Sister Mary Maurita Sengelaub has served God and humanity through her work; with her compassion; and with a dedication of purpose and to a striving for perfection.
Her more than 70-year career in nursing began humbly and continued with a humility befitting of her vocation.
Mary graduated from Reed City High School in 1936.
In 1992, she spoke before the graduating class at commencement as Distinguished Alum of the Year.
“I had a lot of cousins in the audience when I spoke at the ‘92 graduation ceremony,” she recalled with a smile. “There are still a lot of my both closer and more distant relatives living in the Reed City and Big Rapids areas.”
After graduating, Mary stayed one year on the family farm (on the road to Hersey) before heading off to the big city to begin her education.
She was drawn to nursing through the influence of home life and her early upbringing.
“When I was in high school, my mother used to send me to visit neighbors and family members who were laid up in the hospital in Reed City before I came home after classes,” she said. “While visiting, I met a wonderful young nurse and asked where she had received her training. She told me and later made a connection between me and the staff of St. Mary’s in Grand Rapids.”
Mary’s parents had saved the princely sum of $125 from various work, (this was at the peak of the Great Depression). They gave this money to their daughter so she could pursue her studies as a nurse.
“The $125 paid for three years of my tuition,” she noted.
Mary graduated as a nurse in 1940. After graduation, she was offered a position nursing in the same hospital in which she had studied – St. Mary’s Hospital.
“This is where I was first introduced to the Sisters of Mercy,” she said. “There were four nuns also studying nursing and I felt very much ‘at home’ with them.”
Mary worked as an assistant head nurse at St. Mary’s for a year, but following a family tragedy, and in support of her sister Barbara’s education, she returned home to Reed City and took up nursing at the Reed City Hospital.
She was then asked to move to Bay City to teach nursing, a move she wasn’t sure suited her.
“While at home I prayed about this life choice,” she said. “One afternoon, I went to St. Philip Neri Church, (the old church on Chestnut Avenue), and prayed the Stations of the Cross. At the last station, I found my answer and solidified my decision. I moved to Bay City.”
Sengelaub taught medical-surgical nursing in Bay City, where she remained until the end of World War II.
All this time she had been considering becoming a Sister of Mercy nun.
After the war, in 1945, Mary felt called to her vocation – to become a Sister of Mercy. The girl from Reed City put on the habit.
Mary Sengelaub made her final vows in 1951 and chose the name Maurita.
“I was where God wanted me to be,” said Sr. Maurita.
While making her first vows, Sr. Maurita was asked to choose a personal life motto to be engraved on her ring – the ring she would wear throughout her life as a nun. She chose “All for You O Jesus” a motto that has determined her every breathing moment ever since that time.
Understanding her administrative and leadership potential, leaders in her order sent Sr. Maurita to St. Louis University for graduate school. Sengelaub expected to pursue a master’s degree in nursing education, but the Sisters of Mercy encouraged her to study and earn a master’s degree in hospital administration.
And then it began – a lifelong career serving others and earning the gratitude and respect of all in her field.
Amongst her other honors and accomplishments, Sr. Maurita:
n Spent two years in Australia as a consultant and director of St. John of God Health System.
- Was a nursing instructor, hospital administrator and the first female leader of the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Catholic healthcare – the Catholic Health Association.
- Was presented with the CHA organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
- Was a 2013 inductee to the Modern Healthcare Health Care Hall of Fame.
- Helped establish the National Migrant Worker Council in 1978, which in turn founded the Migrant Health Promotion project in 1983. This organization trains members of widespread, often rural communities to provide healthcare advice to local residents. It also trains doulas to provide home birth services.
- Co-founded the Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center in St. Louis, creating a framework for Catholic hospitals and other providers to discuss ethical-care issues. Today, this organization is known as the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
And more, and more, and more …
“I was blessed to be able to be of service to my church and God’s people,” she said with a quiet smile. “It was all for Jesus.”
In August, Sr. Maurita will officially celebrate her 70th Jubilee.
She lives and performs a ministry of prayer at the McCauley Center in Farmington Hills.
She doesn’t consider her life as too very extraordinary.
It really has nothing to do with her.
“It has been all God’s work,” she said in almost a whisper. “He pulled me along.
“It was all for Jesus.”