FEBRUARY 2005: SISTER M. PAULETTE COLLINGS (entered eternal life on January 22, 2016)
“My 59 years have been blessed in so many ways as well as challenged with increased responsibilities in each new assignment,” Sister M. Paulette Collings, OSF said. But through it all she “experienced God’s grace and strength, courage and fortitude because on my own I could never have moved into the new challenging assignments I was presented.”
Family in southern Illinois
Sister Paulette was born October 1, 1924 on a farm in Newton, IL, the fourth of nine children. Following the example of their parents, they grew up caring for and developing a loving concern for each other, which she said remains today. When a new job was available for their father it brought the family to Effingham where they lived near St. Anthony’s Hospital.
“When I was ten, my two younger sisters and I came to know some of the Sisters by participating in Christmas programs for the patients, and sometimes helping to sell tickets for raffles at the hospital picnic,” Sister Paulette said. “This particular activity was not for me as I didn’t like to ask people to buy them,” she added. She also remembers one of the Sisters dressing her and other neighborhood girls at Christmastime as angels, Mary, and St. Joseph, and they would carol for and visit the patients, especially the aged.
Lifelong goal wasn’t in religious life
She attended St. Anthony School, taught by Notre Dame Sisters, and in her first year of high school she and her family moved to Teutopolis. This was her first exposure to the Franciscan Friars as her family lived near the monastery. Her education continued with the Notre Dame Sisters and in her senior year she was invited to their Motherhouse in St. Louis. “Although I had often thought of religious life, this visit had no appeal and teaching was not in my thinking for a future life,” Sister Paulette said. “I did not pursue it and had a goal to become a secretary,” she explained.
However, God had other plans for her. During a visit with her sister, (who had left nurses’ training at St. John’s and joined the Hospital Sisters) she visited with Mother Magdalene, Provincial, and Sister Geraldine, Novice Mistress. “I do not recall what we talked about, but I do know it was clear to me that the Hospital Sisters was where I belonged, and I entered in two weeks – following the discussion - February 2, 1946 - it was not for nursing, or any specific work, but to live a life of prayer, service and sacrifice,” she said. “I have never regretted my decision,” she added. She professed her final vows on October 4, 1953.
Career as a Hospital Sister begins
She graduated from St. John’s School of Nursing and also received post graduate surgery training. She later received a BSN from Marquette University (Milwaukee), and an MBA from Xavier University (Cincinnati).
Her Hospital assignments included Surgery staff nurse and a Surgery Clinical Instructor at St. John’s Hospital (Springfield), Surgery Supervisor at St. Joseph’s Hospital (Highland), Administrator at St. Mary’s Hospital (Streator), St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (Belleville) and St. Vincent Hospital (Green Bay).
“If someone would have told me when I entered I would be asked to accept the position of Administrator at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville and complete a $20 million construction project, I would have gone another direction,” she said. “It must be said, however, that I have always had wonderful people to work with and they have been a tremendous help to me, and I am deeply grateful to them,” she added.
Colleagues and friends speak in tribute of her
One of the many people she has worked with is Leo Lenn, Hospital Sisters Health System Corporate Secretary/Treasurer. “When I think of Sister Paulette, I think of a gentle, kind, sincere, hardworking, and prayerful person who loves what she is doing whatever it may be,” Leo explained. “Her personal devotion to a private prayer life is the best trait that explains her life. She never makes a big splash but does everything in a manner that exemplifies her personal attributes,” he recalled.
Father Robert Franzen said “I have known Sister for most of her religious life and I know of no one who better exemplifies the ideals and vocation to the consecrated religious life. He added that “In her, the spirit of Francis comes alive and I consider myself blessed to be numbered among her many friends.”
“Sister Paulette was very, very well liked and respected by the community of Belleville and the employees of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,” said Mike Walter, assistant administrator to Sister Paulette in Belleville. “She always had time for people and they appreciated that,” he added.
Patrick Barron echoed Mike’s sentiments from Belleville. “I first met Sr. Paulette in May 1979 when she was the administrator of St. Elizabeth's Hospital and I was struck by her passion to render quality healthcare to the patients while maintaining a strong adherence to the mission of HSHS,” he explained. “It was so refreshing to meet a woman of such character; Sr. Paulette had a wonderful, soft demeanor yet she was able to make the tough decisions as well,” he said. For Patrick, Sister Paulette is a woman with “quiet strength of character, big heart and constant service to The Lord.” He added that “Sister M. Paulette is one of those rare, genuine, servant leaders which everyone hopes to get to know in their life time.”
“Sister Paulette frequently sought the advice and opinions of members of the medical staff on matters involving the hospital (St. Mary’s – Streator),” wrote William E. Ehling, MD. “If she decided positively on your advice she expressed her appreciation for your input. If she was unable to follow your advice she still expressed her appreciation for your efforts and explained why she was unable to follow your suggested course of action. This is just one example of why she was an excellent administrator,” Dr. Ehling said.
Ella Gulvas, secretary in 1968-1970 during Sister Paulette’s term in Streator, echoed Dr. Ehling’s comments. She said that “Sister Paulette was a good administrator who was kind and very considerate of her staff.”
Sister Laverne Donahue, OSF, has known Sister Paulette since 1948 and said that “she speaks by her calm quiet presence more than by words…I sense this as a gift coming from a deeper Presence within.”
Understanding and appreciating cultures
Shortly after completing her studies for Hospital Administration, she was asked to take a temporary position (that lasted 17 months), as Administrator and Superior of St. Joseph's Home for the Aged and Infirm in Monroe, LA. “One day, I answered the phone and the gentleman on the other end said, ‘Oh, you are one of those damn Yankees.’ Yes, I was surprised; I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but it helped me to realize that feelings still run deep and helped me to appreciate difference in cultures,” she explained. Today she thinks that this experience “helped me in my travels and living in other cultures to have an appreciation for the differences.”
After 16 years in Hospital Administration, Sister Paulette was asked to lead the American Province as Provincial Superior. “After six years as Provincial I was ready for a sabbatical, but again God had other plans for me and I was elected to our General Council for six years and lived in Germany,” she said. “I didn’t know German but through study, translations, and help of the Sisters, I managed and it was an enjoyable and enriching experience in so many ways,” she added.
She was the only non-German on the Council and was the contact person for the English speaking Provinces: America, Japan, and Indian Mission. “My one special assignment as contact person for the Indian Mission was to visit them each year and sometimes twice. It was my deep joy and privilege to guide, instruct, and work with them in achieving the goal of their mission becoming a Region, which became a reality on February 2, 1994,” she explained.
Current assignments at the Motherhouse
She now serves the Community as the Assistant to Motherhouse Coordinator, handles enrollments in the Adoration Guild, and is the contact person for former members. She enjoys listening to classical and semi-classical music, reading, walking and listening to sports especially Cardinals’ baseball.
“God has been good to me. A devotion to the Eucharist, Blessed Mother, St. Francis, and a deep belief in the power of prayer has been my strength. I am grateful for my call and thank all who have touched my life and helped me to grow in a deeper spiritual union with my Divine Spouse. It is a privileged gift to be a member of the Franciscan family,” she concluded