AUGUST 2003: SISTER ELIZABETH WESTENBERGER (entered eternal life on April 10, 2010)
Sister Elizabeth Westenberger was the fourth child in a family of eight. Perhaps growing up surrounded by her siblings and cousins as well as classmates led her to a deep love of children and a distinguished career in Pediatric Nursing.
Elizabeth was born in Springfield, Illinois and attended St. Joseph's Catholic Grade School just a few blocks from her home. She developed rheumatic fever following scarlet fever; this caused her to miss many weeks of school, so graduation from grade school was delayed. During her years at St. Joseph's, she felt the first call to religious life and considered joining the Ursuline Sisters. While attending Ursuline Academy in Springfield, Elizabeth joined the Sodality of Our Lady at St. Joseph’s Parish. The group of young women planned to make a novena to seek the guidance of the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit in determining their vocations. A short time later, the Provincial of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis invited them to make a short retreat at St. Francis Convent. Elizabeth fell in love with the Sisters, the beautiful grounds at the Motherhouse, and the ministry of nursing.
Elizabeth joined the Hospital Sisters on September 8, 1938. Following her postulancy and novitiate, she professed her religious vows on June 13, 1941. Soon she was enrolled at St. John’s School of Nursing. Upon completion of her basic nusing education, Sister took a post-graduate course in Pediatric Nursing. Sister states that her mentor, Sister M. Bonita Wagner, had a great influence upon her. She relates that Sister M. Bonita had the "best textbook of pediatric nursing in her head."
Pediatric Nursing Era
From 1946 until 1982, Sister Elizabeth worked in the field of pediatric nursing. During the two polio epidemics of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, she served in the Contagious Ward at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. Here she cared for many children who were in iron lungs and on chest respirators. One of her most memorable experiences was assisting with the delivery of a baby whose mother was virtually paralyzed and in an iron lung. Amazingly the baby was healthy and thrived after birth. Since many of the polio patients were long-term patients, Sister Elizabeth influenced them with her kindness and her ability to make them laugh and have fun in spite of their complex medical problems.
There were many other significant aspects to Sister Elizabeth’s work in pediatric nursing. She started the Pediatric Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Streator, Illinois while she was stationed there from 1958-1964. While she was serving at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, she began to work with hemophiliac patients. She taught them to administer their own blood products so that hospitalizations were reduced and damage to their joints was diminished.
In Service to God at the Motherhouse
When Pediatric Nursing became too strenuous for Sister Elizabeth, she worked for almost 10 years in the infirmary at the Motherhouse. For the past 17 years, Sister has volunteered at the Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Springfield once a week. She also takes care of the Adoration Chapel, which she considers a privilege and not work. While she works in the chapel, she prays for the needs of her Religious Community and of the world, but sick children remain on the top rung of her prayer ladder!