July 30, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Four years ago, Sister Sharon Spanbauer, OP, Nurse Practitioner, made a significant move – not in miles but in patients. She changed her ministry from treating retired Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Dominican Life Center (DLC) in Adrian to treating students in their late teens and early 20s at the neighboring Siena Heights University.
But whether treating retired Sisters with often complex medical conditions or young students with headaches or colds, Sister Sharon remains the caring nurse who focuses on healing her patients holistically. “Each person to whom I minister is the face of God,” she said.
Sister Sharon has been the Director of Health Services at Siena Heights University since 2015. During the school year, she runs a free, one-woman health clinic for the students, faculty, and staff members. “I’m here Monday to Friday, no appointment needed,” she said. “They come in and I assess them in the exam room and diagnose, and a lot of times I can treat them here with over-the-counter medications.” If a patient has a more complicated or a chronic illness, she said, she gives them “stop-gap care” and recommends that they have a primary health care provider in town.
Sister Sharon also gives TB tests for nursing students who must be tested before they begin clinical rotations, free flu shots, speaks to classes about health issues, and serves on Siena Heights University committees.
Sister Sharon said the most common complaints of her young patients are respiratory problems like colds or gastro-intestinal illnesses, but she has seen a wide variety of illnesses, including some cancer patients. She diagnosed one student with lymphoma. She also has surprising cases – such as the young man who had accidentally cut off the tip of his finger on the razor blade in his personal items kit. “I told him it would grow back and it did,” Sister Sharon recalled. “The human body is amazing.”
On a busy day, Sister Sharon said, she might see 10 patients. This gives her enough time to be thorough in her examinations. “I believe in examining and listening and really asking good questions, trying to understand who they are, what they’re studying, what their home life is like,” she said.
In addition, Sister Sharon gives her patients a listening ear, compassion, and healing, along with “a lot of information, some guidance, a lot of teaching,” she said. “Nobody comes here and sees me without coming out with some teaching. It’s the teacher in me.”
Sister Sharon enjoys her work with the students and finds them to be “very kind and thoughtful.” She added that she is “proud to work for a university that works so diligently to provide an education to those who might not otherwise have one. And I love the students. It’s just a joy, working with them and being able to use my skills in a really satisfying way.”
Sister Sharon said she also loved her ministry – from 2001 to 2014 – as a Nurse Practitioner with the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Typically, she said, the Sisters had “multiple diagnoses, multiple medications were far more complex, and required a level of rigor in my care of them,” she said. The clinic at Siena Heights University “is more relaxed – most of [the illnesses] are handled very simply.”
Like most Sisters, Sister Sharon began as a teacher. “I loved teaching and I loved my students, but I always wondered what in their life was happening that I knew nothing about,” she said. She yearned for a one-on-one ministry. In her search, Sister Sharon considered becoming a physician or a physical therapist, then decided to become a nurse practitioner after recalling her experience, while a novice, as a nursing assistant for the Sisters in the infirmary.
In 1989, Sister Sharon left her ministry as a chemistry teacher at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Michigan, to earn her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Wayne State University through its “second career, second degree” program. “Anyone with a degree could get a degree in nursing in 14 months, paid for by Henry Ford Hospital,” she recalled. She completed her clinicals at Henry Ford and worked at that hospital as a registered nurse for three years, from 1990 to 1993. The requirement was two years. She then served as home health care nurse until 1995.
Sister Sharon earned her Nurse Practitioner degree from Michigan State University and went on to minister at Dillon Family Medicine, a large, busy clinic in Dillon, South Carolina, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Sharon has been pleased with her choice to minister as a nurse practitioner. “I’ve been so fortunate,” she said. “When I went to the DLC I got to shape my role because I was the first nurse practitioner in Adrian. Nobody could figure out what I was.” She helped the hospital and the local physicians to understand that nurse practitioners had the training and certification to write orders, order lab tests, and receive reports about their patients.
She said she would recommend nursing and serving as a nurse practitioner to anybody who is considering it. “I think nursing is the perfect profession for many people – male and female,” Sister Sharon said. “You can do clinical work, research, work in a doctor’s office, in a school, in a prison system – it’s endless what you can do with your specific gift. You can find your place in nursing. If you feel called to help others, nursing is a natural choice.”
May 21, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri – For about a year, Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, has been engaged in a ministry that has far-reaching consequences for Dominican Sisters based in the United States. She serves as Co-Director of the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN), along with Dominican Sister of Peace Cathy Arnold, OP, in helping the formation of Dominican novices.
Since August, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy have lived in the novitiate in St. Louis with two novices: Sister Rolande Kahindo Pendeza, of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, and Sister Phuong Vu, of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
When women first enter the Adrian Dominican Congregation, they are considered candidates or postulants and introduced to the life of the community. When they are approved to become novices, they enter into a two-year preparation for full participation in the life of the community.
“I feel called to be part of this [discernment process],” Sister Lorraine said. “I feel that God is saying, ‘There’s something at work here that is leading to the future that we might not yet fully see.’”
As directors, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy conduct a structured program to help the novices in their discernment process through their canonical novitiate year, centered on personal and spiritual growth in preparation for vowed commitment. The novices and directors live together in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate building.
The schedule includes a half day of ministry, courses on preaching and the vowed life at Aquinas Institute of Theology; classes at the novitiate on the Dominican life, community living, and communication skills; the weekly intercommunity novitiate, in which novices from nine congregations in the St. Louis area gather weekly for presentations on spirituality, psychology, and a number of issues and the opportunity to get to know one another; and a day of reflection every Friday.
In addition, the novices participate in community meetings, including monthly facilitated meetings, and participate in monthly panel discussions on one of the four pillars of Dominican life – prayer, study, community, and ministry – or one of the vows.
During the spring semester, the novices also participate in a Dominican life Seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, receiving various inputs on religious life and Dominican life in particular, Sister Lorraine said.
The novices also experience community living with each other and the two directors. “All four of us take turns leading prayer, preaching on Sunday evening, and cooking,” Sister Lorraine said. “We divide up the cleaning of the house – all of that is shared in community.”
In addition, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy each serve as director for one of the two novices, walking with their respective novice and helping her in her discernment of the vowed Dominican life. The two directors also work together to prepare the input sessions for the novices.
The directors also participate in peer supervision. “Cathy and I have different groups with five other novice directors, and we share our experiences.”
The two directors have been formation directors for their respective congregations, and both attended the CDN as novices. “The biggest difference is I was in a group of 12 novices,” Sister Lorraine said. “Now there are two. Because we’re smaller, the presence of the directors is really more critical to form vibrant community. We end up doing more socializing and fun activities together.”
The diversity of cultures and backgrounds has also made community life a rich experience this year, Sister Lorraine said. Sister Rolande is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sister Phuong from Vietnam. “I continue to learn the richness of different ways of doing things and perceiving things, especially related to culture, but also personality,” Sister Lorraine said.
Sister Lorraine has also been enriched by her ministry with the novices. “When you walk with people, it always helps you to deepen your own vocation,” she said. “I’ve grown deeper in my appreciation of the vows and community life.”
Through her work with the CDN Board, Sister Lorraine said, she has come to feel “more a part of the larger Dominican family. This is an effort of the Dominican family, so I feel that perspective is even more present in my mind as I look to the future of our life.”
Sister Lorraine noted that fewer novices have been attending the CDN in later years, but that her role is still important. “In prayer I always get the message, ‘This is what I’m asking of you and it’s important.’ It’s about something bigger than the novitiate year. I get a sense that it’s about our future – it’s about our Dominican future.”
Sister Lorraine had some advice for others who might consider a ministry such as hers. “Ask yourself if you find joy in walking with people as they discern, because that’s the primary purpose – walking with women who are discerning this call. And make sure you feel a passion for our life, for our charism and for our vowed life, so you can transmit that passion.”
March 28, 2019, Cincinnati, Ohio – Sister Ann Ryan, OP, spends her days accompanying the residents of Bayley Village through the “sacred journey” of their lives. Technically retired, she receives a stipend for “work of the heart” that she considers a privilege.
Bayley Village – made up of more than 80 cottages for independent seniors – is the independent living component of Bayley, a continuum of care for seniors that also includes assisted living apartments, memory care, and nursing care facilities. Bayley is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Sister Ann began at Bayley in 1999 to serve as the Director of Pastoral Care for the seniors who required at least some care. She served in that position for almost 15 years. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I had such a good team of chaplains to work with.”
Three months after her retirement, Sister Ann was asked to minister in the Bayley Village – to extend Bayley’s pastoral care to all residents. “I feel privileged to be part of their lives, to touch their lives in some way,” Sister Ann said. “You never know what you’ll be called on to do.”
Sister Ann’s ministry can involve anything from visiting new residents to taking Communion to those who can’t get out of their cottages, listening to residents as they share their challenges and difficulties, and helping residents prepare for their funerals. She also, when asked, continues to conduct a quarterly workshop on the mission of Bayley for nurses aides.
“Whatever need there is, they call upon me,” Sister Ann said. When asked how she knows where to go or who to serve, she says, “The Spirit leads me. Sometimes somebody is having a hard time and I listen – it brings light to our spirit when somebody listens to us because it says, ‘I care about you.’”
Sister Ann finds that the residents of Bayley Village are also caring people who form a community. They bring cookies to welcome new neighbors. The women – who are the predominate residents of Bayley Village – gather monthly for a luncheon. Residents often come two hours early for Saturday Mass so they can spend time together.
Along with the camaraderie, Sister Ann also sees pain in the residents, who are sometimes bothered by slight lapses of memory, illness, or pain. “Sometime they become angry or sad,” she said. “I try to tell them that the spirit within can hold us together – or it can break us through loneliness.”
Sometimes the challenges that seniors at Bayley Village endure can draw them together. Sister Ann recalled the residents’ reaction when a woman at Bayley died by suicide. “It taught a lesson to all of us to bring the spirit of life to one another, to care about one another and to bring compassion to one another.”
“You have to have a heart of courage to be elderly today, to be patient with yourself,” Sister Ann said. “They try to be gentle in our world because they see so much stress. It’s the courage of heart and soul that helps you through these difficult days.” She gave the example of a resident who had had polio since his youth and was now in a wheelchair. “He has such a spirit of joy and trust,” Sister Ann said. “His wife also has a spirit of love and giving to be with him every day. They’ve helped one another through those years of marriage.”
Sister Ann sees her ministry with the elderly as a “sacred journey as I listen to the events and experiences in their lives and hear sometimes the joy, the pain, the anxieties and fears of life as we enter into another phase of our lives. I think transition continues until we reach our final resting place and each transition brings fears, anxieties, and joys in our lives.”
Family members and employees have also reached out to Sister Ann. “Sometimes families might call because Mom doesn’t want to go to the health care facility and she really needs some help,” she said. “They call me because they need someone to talk to.” She remembers the son of one of the residents calling from California to talk about the transition he’s going through with divorce and an estranged daughter, and a staff member in her 50s whose husband died in an accident.
Sister Ann said her ministry at Bayley has taught and inspired her. “I’ve learned that we just have to learn to trust that God does take care of us,” though maybe not always the way we want, she said.
Sister Ann has some advice for anyone who is considering the field of pastoral ministry of any kind. “It’s so important to be authentic – to be yourself and to be able to walk with the people that you serve,” she said. “You have to like people, enjoy people, bring your heart with you and open with compassion.” She added that a sense of humor is also important.
Recalling Jesus’ ministry of compassionate healing, she said, “I feel sometimes I help in that healing ministry by listening to their hearts, holding their hands, just listening to them. Pastoral ministry has to be something you want to do to bring that spirit of compassion and joy to people.”