How Mayo’s four resident Sisters live out the Mayo and Franciscan values every day

Four Franciscan Sisters continue to live and work at the Saint Marys Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester. While much of their work is unseen, its impact is felt every day by patients and staff alike.

When new vehicles join the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service fleet, it's not an ordinary occasion.

Take the gathering back in March to welcome several new ambulances and helicopters. There were speeches from administrators. Words of thanks from a family that benefitted from the lifesaving efforts of a Mayo Clinic flight team. Prayers from chaplains.

Then Sister Lauren Weinandt circled the vehicles, offering a blessing and sprinkling them with holy water from Lourdes.

At times, Sister Lauren was hidden behind the vehicles, unable to be seen by the crowd assembled for the ceremony, adding some drama and perhaps a lesson for those watching most closely.

Sister Lauren's temporary invisibility "reminds me that there are some miracles you can't see," says Sister Cashel Weiler.

Much like the many good works being done quietly and faithfully each day by four Sisters of Saint Francis who live and work at the Saint Marys Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester. While their presence may not always be visible, their impact is felt across the institution. 

These four women — Sister Lauren, Sister Cashel, Sister Theresa Hoffmann and Sister Bernadette Novack — have more than 200 years of combined service to Mayo Clinic. Each is a living example of the values established by the Mayo family and the Sisters of Saint Francis. And each of them helps keep those values alive.

The Sisters' enduring presence is a daily reminder of what it means to put the needs of the patient first. "We stand on tall shoulders," says Sister Cashel.

Praying without ceasing

Sister Cashel begins her day by praying broadly for all those at Mayo Clinic.

And she has a rule: No breakfast before prayers.

Sister Bernadette, Sister Lauren and Sister Cashel bless the hands of staff at the commissioning ceremony.

"I pray that God will meet the needs of our staff and the needs of their patients," she says. "I pray that patients won't have complications or setbacks."

After breakfast, Sister Cashel opens her email and begins reviewing new prayer requests — she receives about 100 each day. She is a living example of how to pray without ceasing. 

"I pray going down corridors, on elevators, when I'm cleaning," she says. "When I wake up in the middle of the night, I pray. I tell people that you don't have to be in a chapel to pray. You can pray anywhere, and you honor God greatly when you put your needs in his hands."

For Sister Bernadette, those needs are visible in the faces she sees during her regular shifts at the Information Desk at Saint Marys, where she offers directions and answers questions with a warm smile. Her smile, like those of her Sisters, is an expression of the charism — or way of life — of the Franciscan order.

"The Franciscans are joyful," says Sister Bernadette. It's something she noticed even before she joined the order when she came to Mayo Clinic as a dietetics intern in 1958.

"When I was a student, the Sisters were so full of joy and so helpful," she says. "If they had to correct us, they did it without criticizing us."

For Sister Theresa, patients' needs are evidenced by those who come to the chapel at Saint Marys, where she serves as the sacristan, preparing linens, vigil lights and other items needed for each day's mass.

Like Sister Cashel's, her day is also filled with prayer.

"There's a book in the back of the chapel where people write intentions," says Sister Theresa. "We pray for them."

They often hear about answered prayers.

"It's amazing how many people tell us things like, 'My mother was here 40 years ago, and you prayed for her,'" says Sister Theresa. "People remember."

They also often see Mayo Clinic staff in the chapel.

"We see people from all faith traditions," says Sister Theresa. "They break away from their day to pray."

Living (and recording) history

Not far from the chapel, Sister Lauren spends her days working as the Saint Marys Campus archivist.

"I keep the annals," she says. She clips newspaper articles and saves programs from events, recording the major events in Saint Marys, Mayo Clinic and world history in leather-bound scrapbooks.

Each day at noon — or whenever she gets hungry (the clock on her wall features a jumble of numbers at the bottom and a message on top that reads, "WHO CARES!!!") — Sister Lauren opens a package of Lorna Doone cookies and mixes herself a cup of cappuccino. Visitors who time things right are invited to join her.

And Sister Lauren's door is always open to visitors.

Over the years, those visitors have included the famous (Billy Graham, Barbara Bush, Ernest Hemingway) and anonymous alike, all drawn to speak with the cheerful woman who will listen to their stories and share stories of her own (including the one about the tabletop Christmas tree she received as a gift from Mr. Hemingway).

Sometimes, those visitors stop by with a check for the Poverello Fund, which provides financial support to Mayo Clinic patients in need. Sister Lauren was instrumental in raising money for the fund — more than $1 million — through rummage sales she spearheaded for 48 years.  

"It's been a wonderful feeling to know we've been able to help patients through these sales," she said in this story about the final Sisters' sale in 2016. "It just makes us feel good."

Ensuring the legacy continues

Just as those sales came to an end, so may the daily on-campus presence of the Sisters of Saint Francis. At one time, more than 100 Sisters lived and worked on the Saint Marys Campus. Today, fewer than 10 Sisters remain active on campus. Only four continue to call Saint Marys home. 

The influence of the Sisters of Saint Francis can be seen throughout Mayo Clinic.

Those four may be nearing retirement themselves. Sister Lauren — Mayo Clinic's longest-serving staff member — will turn 102 in August. Sister Cashel, Sister Bernadette and Sister Theresa are all in their 80s.

With far fewer women entering religious life than in previous generations, it will increasingly fall to lay staff to maintain the Franciscan values at Mayo Clinic, the Sisters note.

The Mayo Clinic Values Council helps ensure that those values are upheld. The council offers a variety of resources for both teams and individuals to make sure those values continue to be active and acknowledged.

It also provides funding for values-based research or quality improvement projects and hosts a biennial research forum. The Karis Award, one of the highest honors given at Mayo Clinic, is administered by the council.

The Values Council also sponsors an annual Franciscan Leadership Pilgrimage, sending 10 Mayo leaders to Assisi, Italy, each year for "immersion in the spirituality and times of Francis and Clare of Assisi, co-founders of the Franciscan movement." Virtual and remote virtual pilgrimages are also available for those seeking to deepen their understanding of and connection to Franciscan values.

These efforts help ensure that Franciscan beliefs are known throughout the institution. But it is up to each individual to live them out.

The Sisters have faith that the values are in good hands.

"The lay people who choose to work here come with values already," says Sister Bernadette. "I see them practiced every day."