In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 24, 2022

Chaplain Suzanne Di Giovanni-Smith on going strong at 80, keeping the faith, hope in challenging times

By In the Loop

Chaplain Suzanne Di Giovanni-Smith was 60 years old when she joined Mayo Clinic. Still going strong 20 years later, she shares her thoughts on hope, healing and what makes Mayo Clinic special to her.

Chaplain Suzanne Di Giovanni-Smith signs her emails with the word "pace." It's Latin for "peace," and it's a desire to bring peace and healing to others that brought her to Mayo Clinic in the first place.

Nearly 20 years ago, Di Giovanni-Smith took a chance on attending a job fair at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. She was 60 at the time. Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix itself was only two years old.

She had read about Mayo Clinic's history and the collaboration between the Mayo brothers and the Sisters of Saint Francis. Having grown up in a Franciscan household, she found special appeal in this partnership.

"It made sense to me," she says. "I knew I had to come."

When Di Giovanni-Smith was introduced to Chaplain Patrick Hansen at the job fair, she was drawn to the spirit of teamwork she saw right away.

"He had a welcoming presence and was enthusiastic about the hospital and the teamwork that he was a part of," she says.

The chaplain, in turn, was impressed by Di Giovanni-Smith's background in nursing and chaplaincy.

"You are going to be perfect," he said.

"That was the beginning for me of my journey here at Mayo Clinic," she says.

The News Center team caught up with Di Giovanni-Smith to learn more about reaching the 20-year milestone at Mayo Clinic and what's ahead for her.

Tell us about your experience at Mayo Clinic.

Chaplains holding each other up.

My experience at Mayo Hospital has been transformative. Chaplain Hansen was always about teamwork. There was great respect. When you walk through the doors at Mayo, there is a confidence that you can feel. There is healing. There is excellence. The patient always comes first. I am happy to be here. I also find it very energizing.

My greatest memories are when we work together as a team. No matter what is going on in the hospital, we have each other. If it's something that is more intense, we know we have each other's back. No matter what, I can get through it with support. You know you have the support from each other. This is from the very beginning.

Today, it's intensified. When you come into the lobby, you see the Respect, Integrity, Compassion Healing, Teamwork, Innovation, Excellence, Stewardship (RICH TIES) values written on the board by the elevator. Those values are always there.

What keeps you going today?

My faith life is central in my life. God has always been on the journey with me, sharing this unconditional love with no exceptions. A quote from St. Francis of Assisi composed in 1225 remains always in my heart and soul, "Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility."

What's interesting is — starting with our team of chaplains — when we're together, there's a spontaneity about each other. Sherri Smithwick-Ward will break out in song. Mark Anderson will join in singing. Scott Pixler will play guitar. We share laughs. A couple of the chaplains will go through a song. There is safety in knowing that we can do this with each other. We huddle and share at a deeper level the stories we've encountered with our patients, share tears and pain, and know that it's a safe place to do this and seek healing and prayer. Jeanna Kozak's (manager of Spiritual Care) love for us is so evident. I find that is what keeps us together as a very tight group. Caring is a key piece to exceptional departments.

I find those are very special moments that keep me going.

During these challenging times, how can people find hope?

What we give to each other, a healing happens. No matter how difficult the situation is, by sharing it with each other, we find healing. When you go to see patients on the floors, when they share their stories and struggles, there is healing for the patients. To speak about it helps the healing to begin.

Staff, too, can find support and know that they can go to someone if they need help. Since COVID-19, it has become much more important to know that we have help to go through this intense time.

Chaplains are available to staff, as well. Many times, I just need to listen and ask, "Is there something that I can do for you?"

What advice do you have for others at Mayo Clinic?

To work at Mayo is an honor and a privilege. There is a sense of pride, of living out the values that began with the Sisters of Saint Francis in Minnesota. This is not an ordinary hospital.

There are lots of hospitals in our valley. Mayo is not an ordinary place. From administration to doctors to directors to housekeeping to Security to Facilities — everyone is treated with respect. That compassion we have for each other helps us to do our work — which is helping the patients with their care.

What's next for you?

I find it's very energizing and stimulating to be here. I have to learn new computer systems. I started with a typewriter that wasn't electric. I have gone from that to the computer systems of today. I will continue to work as long as I can.


Tags: Employee Stories, Jeanna Kozak, Mark Anderson, Patrick Hansen, Scott Pixler, Sherri Smithwick-Ward, Spiritual Care, Suzanne Di Giovanni-Smith

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