JANUARY 2003: SISTER CHAMINADE KELLEY
When people hear that someone grew up in a ghetto, they often have visions of extreme poverty, gangs and violence. But when Sister Chaminade Kelley states that she grew up in a ghetto, she has something very different in mind. She explains that she grew up in a "Catholic Ghetto" in Cleveland, Ohio among Cleveland’s west side Irish and German Catholics. Perhaps that is how this Irish lass ended up in a German community!
Growing Up In A Catholic Community
Rita Kelley’s home was located in a very Catholic area of the city. Her Irish family had a strong commitment to the Church. She had two cousins who were Marianist priests and her only brother followed in their footsteps. Throughout the neighborhood, many families had relatives who were priests, sisters, and brothers. The Franciscan Friars and their House of Philosophy were located in her parish. Marianist priests and brothers were frequent visitors to her home; to this day Sister considers them among her best friends and supporters.
Rita was taught by the Franciscans Friars in high school. At that time, the Franciscan missionaries were being exiled from China and returning with dramatic stories of their ministry. These stories had an impact on young Rita. She felt a call to the nursing profession, to the missions and to helping her country in the throes of the 2nd World War.
A Desire To Serve
With this desire to serve either her country as a nurse or her Church as a missionary, Rita met with her pastor to discern her call. She had written to the Franciscan Missionary Union for addresses of religious communities, but her pastor urged her to visit the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield, Illinois. Following his counsel, Rita made arrangements to visit Springfield. She traveled alone by train from Cleveland to Chicago. At Union Station, two Hospital Sisters met her to be certain that she found the train from Chicago to Springfield. While they were waiting for her to board the train to Springfield, they took her to Mass and breakfast. To this day they tease her that they knew she had a vocation because she ate so many pancakes!
After her visit to Springfield, Rita knew that she “fit” with the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. She entered the Community several months later on September 8, 1945. Following one year in the postulancy, Rita became a novice now known as Sister Chaminade. Upon the completion of her novitiate, Sister Chaminade professed her religious vows on June 13, 1948. Soon thereafter, Sister began studies at St. John’s School of Nursing followed by post-graduate education in psychiatric nursing in Chicago.
In the next decade or so, Sister continued her formal education around other ministerial assignments. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, a Master’s Degree in Nursing from The Catholic University of America and a Master’s Degree in Religious Education from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.
Ministry as a Hospital Sister of St. Francis
Sister Chaminade is a woman of many talents. She has served the Hospital Sisters as a nurse, in religious formation working with the postulants and novices, and as a member of Provincial Administration. She has also served Hospital Sisters Health System on the Board of Trustees and as a member of local hospital boards of directors. In addition to health care ministry, Sister has taught at Springfield College in Illinois.
If your math skills are good, you can determine that Sister Chaminade celebrated her Golden Jubilee of Profession as a Hospital Sister of St. Francis several years ago. However, that has not slowed her down. Presently, Sister is involved in three areas of ministry. She works at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, Illinois as a registered nurse in the Behavioral Medicine Unit. Sister is also the Coordinator of Volunteers for Hospice Care offered on the St. Mary’s Hospital campus through St. John’s Hospice of Springfield, Illinois. Finally, she is a parish nurse for St. James Parish in Decatur. In addition to these endeavors, Sister is active in her religious Community as well as the local civic community.
Since young Rita had a desire to serve the Church as a Franciscan, Sister Chaminade has fulfilled this desire for more than 50 years. She still considers it a privilege to have been so involved in the Franciscan commitment to heal as Jesus healed. Sister Chaminade is indeed a woman of many talents and has taken them from the "ghetto to the convent" and beyond!