Throughout her years of serving as a Sister of Mercy in the Diocese of Buffalo, Sister Mary Ann Schimscheiner, RSM, has made many contributions to the field of health care in the Western New York area, including serving as the chief executive officer of Kenmore Mercy Hospital for 18 years. Last month, she spoke with the Western New York Catholic about the history of the hospital, as well as the Retirement Fund for Religious.
Now serving at Gerard Place in Buffalo, Sister Mary Ann has been a Religious Sister of Mercy for more than 50 years. Born in Buffalo, she was raised in Niagara Falls and attended Madonna High School, now Niagara Catholic. When she was in high school, she saw the work of sisters, whom she called "great women," who had dedicated their lives to educating students and felt the call to do something as well.
"I'd like to do something, to follow in the footsteps of sisters who had given their lives in service," said Sister Mary Ann, who entered the convent in 1963. Sister first earned a degree in education and taught for four years. She recalled, "Then, my congregation asked me if I was interested in health care, and I was. I had taken the National League for Nursing Exam before I entered."
Initially, Sister Mary Ann was not sure if she wanted to enter the convent or go to nursing school first, but she ended up doing both. After receiving an associate's degree from Trocaire College in Buffalo, she received two bachelor's degrees: one in education from Medaille College in Buffalo, and the second in nursing from D'Youville College, also in Buffalo, as well as a master's in hospital administration from Xavier University of Ohio. She started her career as a nurse at Kenmore Mercy. She was then asked by her community to go into hospital administration.
"I had taken a vow of obedience, but I had no idea what hospital administration was. I was a nurse," she said. "When I was asked to do that, I thought, 'Why not give it a try,' and I loved every moment since."
Although she had no prior experience as an administrator, Sister Mary Ann began as an assistant administrator at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo and then as CEO at Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Kenmore. During her ministry, the Mercy Health System, consisting of Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy Hospital, St. Jerome Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga, was formed. From there, Catholic Health came about in 1998, which included Sisters' Hospital as well as the others already mentioned.
Sister Mary Ann was involved in the purchase of the Doctors' Hospital in Tonawanda, which became a clinic of Kenmore Mercy, as well as building a new nursing home, the McAuley Residence, on the hospital property. Her administration also oversaw a complete renovation of the entire hospital with an addition of a new wing for patient care as well as a new lobby.
In 1999, Sister Mary Ann left Kenmore Mercy to become vice president of Catholic Health's long-term care facilities. In 2000, she was elected vice president of her religious community. Although Sister Mary Ann is not retired, she noted that women religious generally remain active all of their lives.
"Religious retire from one ministry and go to another. Very rarely do they plan total retirement, because our mission is to serve. You want to be of service to others," she commented.
Sister Mary Ann now serves at Gerard Place, which offers transitional housing for homeless families, where she answers the door for GED students in the morning and serves in the child daycare in the afternoon. She also co-chairs the facility's advisory board with Karen Penfold. Sister Mary Ann commented, "I love it here, as I've loved every ministry I've ever done."
When asked about the Retirement Fund for Religious, Sister Mary Ann noted that while some religious communities have been able to better fund for sisters' retirements, there are many other communities that have not been as fortunate. "The money the diocese collects via the retirement fund goes to the religious communities most in need, and these communities and all religious communities in Western New York are most grateful for the support given to those in need," Sister Mary Ann explained.