Dominican Sister: Serving Patients Is ‘A Reminder That God Is Everywhere’

Sister Marie Anna Stelmach has been a Dominican Sister for 56 years, taking on roles of teacher, chaplain, nurse and missionary. Her current role is as a volunteer at Mayo Clinic.

Sister Marie Anna Stelmach knows a little something about service. In her 56 years as a Dominican Sister, she has served children as a teacher, served prisoners as a chaplain, and served her fellow Sisters as a nurse. She's served as a missionary in Bolivia and Trinidad. And for the past four months, she's served patients as a volunteer with Mayo Clinic Volunteer Programs. "A few Sisters from our community have received care at Mayo," Sister Marie Anna says. "I wanted to serve those who have served us." The temporary mission assignment will last through spring 2021.

Sister Marie Anna says she was drawn to Mayo Clinic by its culture and values, which are guided in part by its Franciscan heritage. "When I read about the Mayo brothers and Franciscan Sisters, something caught me," she says. "I was struck by their idea that the hospital doesn't belong to them, it belongs to the patients." The Franciscan and Dominican orders share much in common, she says. "There's a saying that the Dominicans and Franciscans are cousins," Sister Marie Anna tells us. St. Francis and St. Dominic were contemporaries, and the mission of both orders includes a focus on hospitality. "There's a warmth and friendliness among the Sisters," she says. "They're so person-centered in their care. That alone is enriching to be around."

Sister Marie Anna has been sharing her own warmth and friendliness with patients in a variety of areas throughout Mayo Clinic. Some shifts, she offers hand massages in the waiting areas of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and Thoracic Surgery floor. ("One patient told me, 'You just massaged all the anxiety out of me.'") Other times she can be found at the entrance of the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, helping patients get checked in or helping worried family members find loved ones. ("It's a beautiful, important thing, meeting those people coming through the door.")

She also does behind-the-scenes paperwork, preparing surgical patient care packets, and spends time on surgical floors, answering questions and providing directions.

In each of these roles, her goal is to "render consolation," she says. "People here are hurting physically, emotionally, spiritually. I ask God to be God's hands and heart when I am with a patient. What I really want to give to patients is my presence."

That's a gift she's observed being given by those all around her at Mayo Clinic. "I've been to other hospitals, and there's a difference here," she says. "The doctors, the nurses, the housekeepers — everyone gives patients a presence that has quality." That quality, she believes, is something sacred. "There are so many God moments here," she says. "It is a reminder that God is everywhere and at all times."

That's just one of the lessons she'll take back when she returns to her own community, the Sinsinawa Mound in Wisconsin. "I know when I go back I'll be a better nurse, better caregiver, better community member," she says. "With volunteering, of course, you receive far more than you ever imagined and far more than you ever give."

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