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An Interview with Sr. Lois Marie Rossi

Sr. Lois Marie Rossi has been a Franciscan Sister of Chicago for 65 years. She joined the congregation in 1958 and chose nursing as her ministry. She became an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) then later an RN (Registered Nurse). Eventually she taught CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistant) at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago.  Recently Sister Lois sat down for an interview to discuss her experience in nursing and teaching.    

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Sr. Lois Marie Rossi served in the ministry of nursing.

Why did you choose the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago as your chosen congregation? 


I grew up in Campbell, Ohio, and went to church at St. Lucy. It was there that I was taught catechism by the Ursuline Sisters, who got me interested in bible stories. One time the priest at my parish asked me if I ever thought about becoming a nun and that stayed in my mind for quite some time. I had a friend who went to school at St. John the Baptist, the local Catholic school, and introduced me to the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago who taught there. I met Sr. Marylla Stanislawczyk, Sr. Equitia Nawracaj, and Sr. Hubert Jasinski (who was the local superior). They were such wonderful nuns and invited me into the convent. I even attended Mass with them. When I decided to become a nun, I chose the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago because I loved them. They had such a variety of ministries they served in, such as nursing, teaching, eldercare, and daycare. I really like that all their ministries were people-centered and I loved the Franciscan spirit that we shared in the congregation. Everything I ever dreamed of is right here in this religious order.   

Why did you choose nursing as your ministry and what drew you to that profession? 


My sister was an RN and I always wanted to be a nurse because of her. Not long after I joined the congregation, I became an LPN. I studied at Mother Cabrini Hospital in Chicago while I worked weekends at St. Joseph Home for the Aged. Mother Beatrice Rybacki was the General Minister of the congregation when I entered, and she was very supportive and encouraged me to pursue my dream. During this time, I helped care for the elderly and sick at St. Joseph Home. Sisters such as Sr. M. Generose Siepak, Sister M. Leonia Mszanski, and Sister M. Leonilla Stogowski taught me basic skills and I learned a lot from them. I worked on weekends with Sister Generose who cared for Alzheimer patients. She cared for them with such gentleness and love. There were many Sisters who did that, and I admired them. Sr. Agnes Zywiec was the administrator at St. Joseph Home and she was so supportive of everything I did as a nurse and an instructor. 

Eventually, I became an LPN and worked in different facilities that the Sisters sponsored, such as Mother Theresa Home in Lemont, St. Anthony Home in Crown Point, Indiana, and St. Joseph Home in Chicago. I served in this role for about 6 years. One day, one of the Sisters at St. Joseph Home said to me, “Lois, why are you an LPN? You are an excellent nurse, and you should become an RN.” I had some self-doubt, but I thought about it. We talked to the General Minister, Mother Hugoline Czaplinski, and she asked me, “Would you like to be a nurse?” I replied, “Give me six months; if I can’t make it, I’ll stay as an LPN." I made it through nursing school and here I am, all these years later, a nurse! 


I went to the St. John Hospital and School of Nursing from 1971 to 1974 in Huron, South Dakota. (The Sisters ran this nursing school from 1947 to 1978). The Sister that really took me under her wing was Sr. Aloysilla Kedzior who was the school director and administrator. She had a great influence on how I cared for people. I graduated in 1974 and worked as a RN in various facilities. Eventually Sr. Aloysilla became an administrator at Mt. Alverna Home in Parma, Ohio, and she asked me to come and be a nurse there. I worked there until 1986 and then became the Director of Nursing at St. Joseph Home (where I started years ago as an LPN) until 1995. 

What did you enjoy most about nursing? 


I enjoyed nursing so much and caring for the elderly, because sometimes the elderly were not always a “wanted” group of people. We want their last days on earth to be their best days. There’s a poem called, Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged by Esther Mary Walker, that I had read many years ago. I used to read that every day when I was teaching, so I could better understand the elderly. The poem ends with the lines, 'Blessed are they who ease the days of my journey home in loving ways'. It really resonated with me.


You eventually went into teaching. How did you come to that decision and what led you to teaching at 
Wilbur Wright College?


While I was a nurse at St. Joseph Home, I’d see nursing students from various colleges come to learn from the other nurses. They were dressed in yellow uniforms and the residents were always so excited to see them and would say, “The canaries are here!” Cindy Kolski, who was a nurse, told me she was starting a new teaching program for CNAs at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago and needed nurses to teach.  She asked me if I was interested in teaching and I thought about it a long time. She eventually connected me with Julie White, head of the new CNA program, and I explored the possibility of teaching. 

Sr. Lois Marie Rossi taught nursing at Wilbur Wright College. 

I went to ask permission from the General Minister, Sister Joseph Marie Zenda. I asked her if I could teach at Wilbur Wright College. She supported my idea and said, “Teaching others to care for people is our vocation. This is exactly what Mother Theresa Dudzik would want us to do and it is part of our mission. It is all about how to care for people the way they should be cared for, and you have that in you. It is part of our ministry to teach others to take care of other people.” So that encouraged me, and her words always resonated with me. I first needed to complete the hours to get certified to teach the Alzheimer program and get certified with the Illinois Department of Health. Once completed, I became an Instructor of Nursing Assistants.

 

How did you like being a teacher? 

 

It was wonderful and I loved every minute of it. I loved teaching and I loved showing people how to take care of individuals. I met a lot of people along the way, and I grew as a person as well as professionally. The students taught me more than I ever knew as a nurse, and it was a valuable experience for me. We also had a variety of students from different cultures, such as students who were just starting to learn English. While that was a challenge (because of the language barrier), they were wonderful people. I was also happy with the success my students had. For the first five years, I had no student failures from the state board tests. We never wanted a failure. One student went to my supervisor and said, “I’m in nursing because of Sister Lois.” I loved hearing that. If someone pursued nursing because they saw what I did, then I was very happy with that.   How do you think nursing and teaching nursing has changed over the years? I think there are a lot of new ways to teach, but the basic nurse aide program never changes. There are 21 skills that you teach a CNA. You must do the things for the patient as they need it - the same thing you’d do for your own body. These basic essential skills are bathing, dressing, helping them out of bed, and other life skills. When you teach it like that, they had a better concept of it all. It’s about how to care for someone with a specific condition or a serious ailment. 

 

Do you have any wisdom or advice for people who are nurses? 

 

The main thing you need to learn is to be a good listener. If you can listen to what the person has to say, you will hear what they want and what they need. There is a difference between what the patient wants and what the patient needs. The challenge is this:  how can you fulfill some of their needs by also giving them some of their wants? That is something you must really pay attention to. For example, you have 15 sick people on the unit, focus on one individual person at a time and what they need, not what you need to get done for the whole unit. It’s not just about how you care for them; it is how you can touch their lives, and make a difference and give them comfort.  

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