Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity are highlighting our Sisters celebrating jubilees of perpetual profession throughout this year. Nurse Sister Mary Felice Wellman shares her vocation journey.
Kathryn and Edward Wellman of Cincinnati, Ohio became the proud parents of a baby girl they named “Jane Helen.” This little girl arrived on her mother’s birthday and my mother was often reminded that her little girl was the “the best birthday present” she had ever received, (not that her mother ever agreed). Jane Helen had a sister Patty and later was gifted with a brother Joe who was born on their father’s birthday. Jane Helen grew up as the “middle child.”
My father was employed by AT&T and therefore our family moved several times. Most of my growing up years were spent in Cambridge, Ohio. I met the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at St. Benedict School. I attended fifth grade through high school in that school system. After high school I went to Good Samaritan School of Nursing in Zanesville, Ohio and graduated in 1950. During this time I had continual contact with the Franciscan Sisters. After graduation I worked at St. Francis Hospital in Cambridge. This hospital was operated by Dr. Paul Huth and his son who was also a doctor.
When I seriously thought of entering religious life I had my physical done by Dr. Fred Phillips, who was a surgeon on staff at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was a gentle, kind-hearted, grandfatherly type of man. His closing comment to me was “I bet you $5.00 that you will not last 5 years in the Convent.” At the end of five years I received five dollars in the mail from him!
Early in my life I had contact with a different community. My Aunt Kottie (a nickname given to her by the family) was a Sister of Charity from Mt. St. Joseph on the Ohio. Her religious name was Sister Catherine Therese and she was a high school teacher and one of the first to teach aeronautics in high school in Cleveland, Ohio. The convent in which she lived was a half block from my grandparent’s home. She was allowed to visit them in their home until 7 PM. At that time we all walked down the street and continued to visit with her. Those were the “good old days!”
After three years of training as a nurse, I entered the convent. At my father’s insistence, I remained at home in order to write the State Board Exams. Instead of the usual August entry date, I entered Holy Family Convent on November 25th. My mission experience started in West Point, Nebraska at our new hospital. I had many experiences in this rural setting. I learned much about crops, cattle, and living in the country. Sad to say, I also learned about corn-picking accidents. The people there were very warm and friendly, a good farming community.
A very memorable experience I had there was helping in the transport of a young man afflicted with bulbar polio. He was in an iron lung and another nurse and myself were involved in the transport. When we reached Fremont, Nebraska the power went out. From that point on we had to hand pump the iron lung to keep him breathing. At that time we had quite a few cases of polio and this man’s sister died of polio. I am happy to say that this young man returned to his home community, continued his education and became a lawyer. Later in his life he became the Assistant District Attorney for the state of Missouri. I read the book he wrote about his life experiences and was able to visit with him several times before his death last year.
Later I earned my BSN at the Catholic University of America and was then missioned at Holy Family Hospital in Manitowoc to teach in the 3-year nursing program. There I had contact with student nurses which reminded me of my own student nursing days. I knew some of the things they tried to get away with and they knew I knew. This made things rather exciting at times but I am happy to report that I developed a good relationship with them and with staff members. It was at this time I started collecting angels. To me it was a reminder of the holiness to which we are called and I was hoping it would “rub off” on me. How many do I have? I never counted them.
Later I returned to West Point and to Good Samaritan in an administrative position. I have great memories and positive feelings about the time I spent in these communities. Time was also spent in nursing homes in Cincinnati, and in Kaukauna,WI.
My religious life has helped me to accept people as they are, to help others when they need it, and to be the person through which others could see God working. A special case comes to mind involving a gentleman, the owner of a construction company, who had been admitted to emergency surgery. He was an alcoholic and went into DT’s. I took care of him and we discussed his problems with alcohol. I got to know his wife and at the time of his dismissal he revealed to both of us that he would stop drinking because of my kindness and understanding. He and his wife kept in contact with me and he was true to his promise right up to the time he died two years ago.
God has gifted me with many enriching experiences and I treasure every moment of my life. This celebration of my diamond jubilee is a great time to recall my memories and to express my praise and thanksgiving for all God has done in my life. In my retirement years I am doing what I can to be a witness, never forgetting “once a nurse, always a nurse.” I am grateful to the Community for all that has been done for me and all that was entrusted to me.