Home » OPINION » Columns » MBJ BUSINESS SHOWCASE — Odyssey of the sisters of St. Dominic’s (VIDEO)

MBJ BUSINESS SHOWCASE — Odyssey of the sisters of St. Dominic’s (VIDEO)

ALAN TURNER

In a real sense, the world-class health care organization we know as St. Dominic’s had its roots in the cornfields of Illinois. For it was there where a number of the Sisters grew up who ultimately wound up coming to Mississippi to help build St. Dominic’s.

I recently had occasion to talk with Joe Maxwell, the author of “A Sister’s Love,” chronicling the journeys of the Sisters from their rural, farm upbringing to the convent in Springfield, Ill., and finally to Jackson. Joe is a native of Jackson who worked for newspapers in his earlier career, and ultimately moved to an editorial position at Christianity Today, one of the foremost Christian magazines in North America. In that role, he got to know people in major ministries, and finally wound up back home in Mississippi. He has written or published approximately 15 books, and served as a “ghost writer” for four books. Joe loves to tell great stories about remarkable people, and his website lifestorymemoirs.com explains more about his work.

In the story of the nuns who came from Illinois to Mississippi, he says he found a great example of “remarkable women” who came to build St. Dominic’s, and who brought love, determination, and hard work to their tasks.

“I was approached by several people who were associated with St. Dominic’s, and asked to write the book,” he said. “Initially, I was commissioned by the Foundation, and as the project got bigger and bigger, we had others who generously offered support.”

All told, the book took 15 months to complete. I found it fascinating reading, as it not only tells the story of the Sisters in words, but also includes a wealth of photographs and graphics that add a great deal to one’s understanding of their accomplishments.

“These women grew up in a time, and lived in ways that we all need to reflect on,” Joe told me. “They came up working on their family farms and it was there they learned the value of hard work.”

Joe said that his goal was to “humanize” the sisters, to “help readers understand them as people just like us all.”

While many people in Jackson are very familiar with Sister Dorothea, who was in a sense the “face” of St. Dominic’s in recent years, Joe stressed that she was just one of the group of nuns who made things happen.

“They all had their individual skills and strengths,” he said. “They just didn’t know when to quit.”

He says that they started their work with the run-down and failing facility which was to evolve into the St. Dominic’s of today, with a very singular business model.

“In their world, money is not the dominating thing,” he said. “Their goal is to love their clients, not close deals, so ministry is in a real sense their business. And when their abilities came together as a group, great things happened.”

From a modest and grim beginning, “things just exploded,” he said. He said that the sisters had a firm commitment to “pray, and then pray some more” as a central part of their Business Plan.

One of the remarkable things Joe points out is that the Sisters came South during a time when Catholics in general might not have expected the warmest of welcomes, but through their determination and hard work, they won over many people.

“They came to Jackson and started a fundraising campaign, because they had no capital to start with,” he said. This was in the late 1940s, and by 1954, they opened the facility on the road that was to become Lakeland Drive.

Sister Joesphine was the early driver and architect of growing St. Dominic’s.

“She was a builder. She had accounting skills. And she could be tough,” Joe said. “This was just the combination that was necessary.”

Sister Dorothea took over in 1996, having come to Jackson in 1963 to manage the dietary department.

“She’s also tough, but she’s also an effective innovator and consensus-builder,” he said. “She really cares about the community, and she was one of the driving forces behind the renaissance of Fondren.”

But the book is much more than just the story of one or two of the Sisters. It’s about the entire group who worked so hard, and continue to work hard today, to build a great health-care facility. If your interest includes Jackson (and Mississippi) history, you will certainly find
“A Sister’s Love” to be a fascinating journey. Again, visit Joe’s website at lifestorymemoirs.com to find out how to get your copy.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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