Sister Maurita Sengelaub named to Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame

CHICAGO — A woman with deep Reed City roots, Sister Maurita Sengelaub, was inducted into the Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago in mid-March this year. The first woman head of the Catholic Hospital Association, now Catholic Health Association (CHA), Sister Maurita was recognized for her 60 years of leadership in health care. Sister Maurita, Don Wegmiller who pushed the hospital industry to integrated systems, and Dr. Denton Cooley who made the first U.S. heart transplant, were given the awards during the America College of Healthcare Executives 2013 Congress on Healthcare Leadership. Sister Maurita began her career as a nurse in 1937 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. She then joined the faculty at the Mercy Central School of Nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, with units located at Mercy Hospital, Muskegon and Mercy Hospital, Bay City. She felt called to enter the Sisters of Mercy in 1945 and was sent to St. Louis University for her master’s in health care administration. She became the administrator of Bay City in 1954 and then in 1957 of Mercy Hospital in Grand Rapids. As a hospital administrator, she was moved by the Sisters of Mercy leadership from post to post wherever her tact and vision were most needed. She worked to bring two Mercy Hospitals to national accreditation standards, which were new at the time. She worked with Catholic and secular hospitals, creating teams that worked together. She also pushed for national standards for nursing education as a member of the Regional and State of Michigan League of Nursing Educational Association during her years as the administrator. In August 1965, Sister Maurita was elected a member of the General Council of Sisters of Mercy of the Union with headquarters located in Maryland. Part of her responsibilities was the coordination of 90 hospitals of the Sisters of Mercy, preparation for her role at CHA. As head of CHA from 1970-77, Sister Maurita supported national health insurance for the United States, also dealing with ethical and moral questions, such as end of life care, artificial insemination and cryogenic preservation. She co-founded the Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center in St. Louis, which provided a forum for Catholic hospitals and other providers to discuss such issues. She is firm in her opinions on the issues of current medicine. “In the Catholic Health Association, we experience ways our beliefs are challenged as we move into a high tech era,” she said. “We need to give the best care, doing what is right and just without losing our faith.” Sister Maurita was forced to resign as president of CHA at the end of 1976 as a result of a heart attack and returned to Detroit for a rest. She had been appointed to serve on the first board of trustees of the Mercy Health Service System, the first Catholic health system in the U.S., founded July 1, 1976. The system of 27 hospitals covered regions of Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. On July 1, 1977, she was elected to the Provincial team of Sisters of Mercy Detroit and resigned from the system board. The system began to be of service to other Catholic hospital sponsors, hospital boards of trustees and their administrations. To cope with requests for advice, Mercy Health Service Board of Trustees created a department of Mercy Collaborative, and Sister Maurita became its first President in 1984. The Sisters of Mercy Hospitals in Australia and a team from Catholic Hospitals of South Korea requested information about forming hospital systems. In March 1988, Sister Maurita was appointed director of a project to guide the Sisters of St. John of God Health Care System in Perth, Australia in developing a system for their nine hospitals in Australia. Her role also included giving a portion of time to the Sisters of Mercy, serving as consultant to Australia Catholic Hospitals and the State Association of Catholic Hospitals as well as advising several Australian states: Victoria, Queensland and West Australia. She was appointed the interim chief executive officer of the St. John of God System until March of 1990 when she returned to the U.S. One of her constant concerns was healthcare for the poor. Robert Rowdy, a representative of the United States Health Education and Welfare Department, became Director of Migrant Health Program. He was seeking ways to improve the health of the migrant workers and their employers. She collaborated in the foundation of the National Migrant Worker Council in 1983 with Rowdy, Sister Michaeleen Frieders and other members. The council has continued to train people in the migrant community as health aides and has provided social, educational and spiritual services, as well as access to health care in the eastern portion of the United States. Sister Maurita warned in a recent interview, “Healthcare is one of our most important rights. Today we often think only of our own needs and not others. Money becomes a god.” Looking back on her long, productive life, she said, “I knew I had a lot of energy but I didn’t know where it came from. “I think it was God’s work, not mine. He gave me the energy, and I was always being given the invitation.”