December 2008: SISTER VIOLA SWOBODA
Sister Viola Swoboda is a native of Tilden, Wisconsin – a community near Chippewa Falls. She is from a large family, the 11th child (the 7th girl), and was born on November 7, 1927. Growing up, she enjoyed life in the country which endeared her to a love of nature. She was fond of dancing and playing music, especially polka tunes, with her brothers. Religion was a very important part of her family and included attending Mass on Sundays, praying the rosary during Lent, and for Sister Viola, a deep interest in the biblical writings about Christ’s Passion. Perhaps these practices planted the seed of a vocation along with the influence of several cousins in other Religious Orders.
A calling to Religious Life
She became acquainted with the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls, while working in the dietary department. “This gave me an opportunity to observe the Sisters’ way of life. I felt that God was calling me, although I had no clear idea of a specific career,” Sister Viola said.
She joined the Community in 1945, where she continued her schooling and made her first profession of vows in 1948. After completing her studies, she began training at St. John’s School of Nursing, Springfield. During this time, she also spent two years in Monroe, Louisiana, working at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home for the Aged. “This gave me an opportunity to experience segregation as it existed then in the United States,” she explained.
After finishing Nurse’s training, she took a postgraduate course in Obstetrics and Premature nursing. In 1956, she went to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Belleville, IL where she served as the Maternity Supervisor for eight years. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the staff who assisted in caring for over 12,000 mothers and babies.
Service in the beautiful southwest
In 1964, she was asked to serve at St. Isabel’s Mission, Lukachukai, Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation. At that time, the nearest hospital and medical services were a great distance away and so the Sisters at the Mission provided care for those who came to the Mission. “At times, we were challenged because the people did not understand or speak English. Over time, I became acquainted with the Native American culture and their practices of childbearing. One of the outstanding memories was to learn of their story of creation which is so important in their culture,” she said.
After a few years, Sister Viola began training as a Nurse Midwife in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives in 1968 and enrolled in Arizona State University, earning a degree in 1971. In 1972, she joined Johns Hopkins University in establishing a Nurse Midwifery Program in the center of the Reservation. Her first assignment was at Ft. Defiance Indian Health Hospital, and in 1973, she moved to Chinle, Arizona, to establish a Maternal Child Program for the Chinle Indian Health Service. In 1975, she joined the Indian Health Service and continued to manage the Program for 11 years. “I was assisted by other support staff members serving both at the Chinle Center and outlying clinics. This became a very busy service, and after several years, we were very pleased to notice a positive change with patients entering the service earlier and good follow-up for mother and baby,” she said. Sister Viola also had the opportunity to plan for a new hospital, a first in the area.
In 1984, Sister Viola joined the Chinle Unified School District, where she worked as a Certified High School District School nurse for the State of Arizona for nine years. The District was comprised of six schools with more than 4,000 students and during her first year at the High School, she met four students she had delivered at the Mission clinic. This experience at the High School introduced her to the teenager – with their enthusiasm for life and age specific problems.
A presence at St. John's Hospital
Since 1993, Sister Viola has been back in Springfield and she currently volunteers in the Intensive Care Unit at St. John’s Hospital. Jim Blasko, St. John’s ICU Nurse Manager, wrote that “Sister Viola does so much more than greet visitors entering and leaving our ICU. She befriends them, in many cases becoming their spiritual confidant. She serves as a primary liaison to various services throughout the hospital. Our physicians and staff view her with reverence, as she is a constant reminder of our proud heritage set forth by the Founding Sisters. Sister Viola personifies the very essence of Franciscan Catholic Healthcare, and we are humbled by her presence in our Intensive Care Unit.”
“I have a sense of fulfillment in my life as I have covered all ages of life in my ministry. Life is a lived experience and that there is a purpose for everything that happens. We may not always know how God uses us as His instrument so it is important to be open to the circumstances in our lives. I am grateful for all I have experienced and give honor and glory to God,” she concluded.
Throughout their history, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis have ministered in many places including: St. Joseph Home for the Aged & Infirmed, Monroe, LA (12/17/44-10/15/74); St. Francis Home Nursing Center, Gallup, NM (09/15/49-08/15/54); St. Isabel’s Mission/Health Dispensary for Navajo Indians, Lukachukai, AZ (06/17/53-07/29/80); and Our Lady of Fatima Mission, Chinle, AZ (09/10/61-01/01/94).