How does one sum up over a century of work? Do what Sr. Mary Concetta Cardinale did: call upon local artist Elaine Buerge.
Shortly before Sr. Concetta retired in 2010, she reached out to artist Elaine Buerge and commissioned her to design and paint a pictorial history of the Sisters of Mercy in Fort Scott. After two years, lots of paint and patience, Buerge’s work will be unveiled on Thursday, Dec. 20. The enormous piece (15' x 4’) will grace the main stairwell at Mercy Hospital. The piece depicts the expansion of health care in southeast Kansas by the Sisters of Mercy.
“It is an honor to display a beautiful work of art that portrays the history and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy,” said Reta Baker, Mercy Hospital Fort Scott president. “So much of southeast Kansas culture has been shaped by Sisters who dedicated their lives to caring for the needs of people. Whether providing health care, nurturing faith or teaching, the Sisters of Mercy were instrumental in building a strong and supportive community.”
Prior to 1886, Fort Scott had been without a hospital for 30 years. When two Sisters of Mercy from Michigan made a brief stop in Fort Scott while traveling to California, neither did they nor Rev. Francis J. Watron fathom the impact of their short visit.
During their stay, Rev. Watron shared with the Sisters the needs of the people in the area. After learning of these needs the Sisters decided not to go to California, but to return to Michigan to request permission to move to Fort Scott where there was a grave need for a school for pioneer children.
One year later Sr. Teresa Dolan and Sr. Mary Delores Drew arrived in Fort Scott. They had full intention to start a school as originally planned, only to learn the community was in more desperate need of a hospital. What was once an old stone church built in 1864 had been reconstructed into a central house of the Sisters of Mercy and therein, a small, 12 bed hospital was ready for patients. The closest hospital was 90 miles away in Kansas City.
From these humble beginnings, the Sisters of Mercy have set the tone for health care in southeast Kansas delivering quality care while adapting to the needs of the people Mercy serves.
Over the last century whether in the church, schools, hospital, community or nursing school, the presence of the Sisters of Mercy has profoundly impacted the culture of Bourbon and surrounding counties. One hundred twenty-seven Sisters served Mercy Hospital Fort Scott between 1887-2010; perhaps a few of the most memorable are Sr. Mary Trinity Jackson, RSM, (1923-2010); Sister Mary Julita Lienhard, RSM, (1921-2012) and Sr. Mary Concetta Cardinale, RSM.
Sr. Trinity served a Mercy Hospital Administrator from 1968-1983. Sister Mary Annrene Brau recalls, “Interestingly, Sr. Trinity became associated with Mercy through her goal to become a nurse. As a Piqua, KS native, St. Trinity came to Fort Scott to attend Mercy School of Nursing. In the presence of the Sisters of Mercy, she chose to convert to Catholicism, and later desired to become a Sister of Mercy. She entered the Sisters of Mercy Community on Feb. 1, 1946.”
“Working with Sister Trinity totally changed my life,” said Gloria Bennett, retired Mercy human resources director, who worked as Sr. Trinity’s administrative assistance for 18 years. “Of all the people I have encountered in my life, Sr. Trinity had the greatest impact.”
“In all the years I worked for Sr. Trinity, I never saw her angry. She always put people first as exemplified daily with patience, love and dignity for others.”
Although the Sister displayed great compassion for those under their care, they held extremely high expectations for those working alongside them.
“The Sisters were ‘no-nonsense,’” explained Leah Lewis, retired Mercy education director and former nursing student of Sr. Mary Julita Lienhard. “They demanded perfection from themselves, as well as from Mercy co-workers and student nurses.”
Sister Julita entered the Sisters of Mercy Community on June 27, 1937 and professed final vows on August 16, 1943. Sister attended elementary school and Mercy High School in Fort Scott, KS. She received a M.S. in Administration, B.S. in Nursing Education and a Certificate as a Registered Nurse.
She ministered in elementary teaching in Humboldt, KS and Portageville, MO, was the OB Supervisor at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Hutchinson, KS, Administrator at St. John’s School of Nursing in St. Louis, MO and became Mercy School of Nursing director in Fort Scott.
Sr. Julita, a Fort Scott native, “felt a huge responsibility to the community and to the hospital to produce excellent nurses. After all, the nurses must possess the finest skills to care for the people of the community she loved so dearly,” added Lewis.
The Sisters were also known for their stewardship and resourcefulness. It would have been uncharacteristic for the Sisters to spend money without just cause. Both Bennett and Lewis recall that the Sisters would fill hypodermic needles with butter and inject the Christmas dinner turkeys themselves to save a few dollars versus spend it on the more expensive brand.
“It’s difficult to comprehend the foundation that the Sisters have established for health care in our community,” said Baker. “Every person who was ‘touched’ by the presence of a Sister was forever changed. And by the Sisters’ example, the ministry grew and formed into culture of caring for others.”
The Sisters were also known for their hard work. Sr. Mary Concetta Cardinale, a fine example of tenacity, retired in May 2010 at the age of 86.
Sr. Concetta received her Diploma in Nursing from the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Fort Scott in 1945. She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Webster Groves, MO in April 1945 where she performed her Novitiate duties. On March 12, 1946, she received the white veil of a novice and two years to the date later professed first vows.
Her ministry began locally when she returned to Fort Scott in March of 1948. She worked as a Nursing Supervisor, in Obstetrics and the operating room at the Burke Street hospital. She also served as an Operating Room Supervisor and Clinical Instructor from 1959-1963, eventually serving as Head Nurse until 1967.
Sr. Mary Concetta felt a particular calling to assist older adults with no-cost support programs. Bringing her experience in Public Health Administration to Fort Scott aided in the development of many new programs in Bourbon County.
In 1987, she started a volunteer hospice program that operated through Mercy Hospital Fort Scott. Soon after, outreach programs such as the Grief Support Group, Alzheimer’s Support Group and Daybreak (a weekly session designed for caregivers of homebound patients to recharge) became commonplace in Fort Scott. She was facilitator for these programs until her retirement.
Sr. Concetta now resides among many other Sisters at Catherine’s Residence in St. Louis.
“Health care in southeast Kansas was shaped by the works and the service of the Sisters,” shared Sr. Annrene. “The basis – then and now – was community need. Through the years our work has been supported the church, physicians and business leaders who believe in the Mercy Mission.”