Sister Anna Marie the night nurse ‘angel’
by Greg Eckerle
Dianne LeDuc’s life changed forever when she woke up in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Huntingburg, Indiana, over 40 years ago and looked up into the eyes of Sister Anna Marie Brosmer.
Dianne was a freshman student from Alabama at Marian Heights Academy in Ferdinand when she became very sick and was rushed to the hospital.
“When I woke up, and looked up, there was this angel in white over me with beautiful blue eyes,” says Dianne. “It was Sister Anna Marie (she wore an all-white habit at the time). She took care of me for a month. I remember her flitting around and always being so positive and cheery. I was 14, scared, and homesick. She was just so kind, I knew I was going to be OK. She exuded from her being that I was going to be all right, and that God was with me, and she was taking care of me. I was so afraid and she was my port in the storm.
“I just admired her and what she did for me, in her nursing profession as well as in her spiritual life. She’s the reason I’m a nurse now, because of her generous, loving care. I wanted to be like Sister Anna Marie. I wanted to have her knowledge, I wanted to have her love of the job, her dedication. All of that spoke to me during that time she took care of me.”
Dianne, 55, now the nurse practice manager for Allergy Partners of Northern Virginia, reconnected with Sister Anna Marie about a year ago, attending retreats at the Ferdinand monastery, and is planning to become a Ferdinand Oblate. So she still sees Sister Anna Marie in action as a night nurse at Hildegard Health Center in the monastery.
“I see how hard she works,” says Dianne. “I see she’s always willing to take care of the sisters in the infirmary, even beyond what her job hours call for. She did the same for me. There are people that stand out in your life as heroes – she has always been mine.
“She’s still a go-getter. I know I can’t keep up with her when I go to the monastery. She’s 72, and I’ve never seen such an energizer bunny in my life. She’s just go, go, go.”
Dianne endearingly calls Sister Anna Marie “my Florence Nightingale of the night,” comparing her dedication to the 19th century heroine who made the rounds of wounded soldiers at night during the Crimean War and is often called the founder of modern nursing.
Sister Anna Marie spent 30 years in health care ministry in Huntingburg. She then moved to the monastery infirmary in 1989, where she worked in administration and supervision for five years. Most of her years since 1997 have been on the night shift, from about 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. She’s long since adjusted to the nocturnal working schedule that can often derail one’s internal body clock. In reality, she enjoys it, especially the people she works with. For the past 10 years, she has worked most often with Christine Kelley, a certified nursing assistant, who, eerily like Dianne LeDuc, describes Sister Anna Marie as a “walking angel, she’s so kind to everybody.”
Christine points to the close relationship that Sister Anna Marie has with every Hildegard patient, because they are all Benedictine sisters she has known for years.
“She knows them better than any of us,” says Christine, so she is usually able to make a connection, even if they have dementia. “She’s just a very upbeat, very loving person. I think she was born with that personality. And being a Benedictine sister allows her to use her personality and her traits in a more positive way. There’s never anything negative that comes out of her mouth. Being a sister is an added plus.
“She has always been there for me. She’s there for anybody who asks. She just tries to lighten everybody’s load.” Christine also laughs that they’ve had a couple of challenges, but Sister Anna Marie just goes into the chapel to “pray for me, comes back, and everything’s good.”
A typical night shift consists of checking and giving medications, counting all 17 patients and ensuring they are safe, checking their bed alarms and call lights, completing paperwork for lab tests and doctor appointments, washing and cleaning various items, and helping sisters with their personal needs.
“Sometimes if patients can’t sleep, we’ll fix them warm milk and honey, or crackers and cereal, and play soft music for them,” says Sister Anna Marie. She’ll pray the rosary with the sisters in Hildegard’s chapel or by the front desk.
Many have asked her why she’s not burned out after being in nursing for over 50 years, when many last only 10 to 15 dealing with the emotions of caring for the sick and dying. She answers simply that “it’s because I think it’s what God wants me to do.” That’s the source of her continually finding the strength to do what’s necessary. And she is serious about taking care of herself so she can better take care of other people. To relieve stress, she loves to watch sunsets, plays loads of music, usually before heading to work, and performs various crafts. And she simply loves taking care of her fellow sisters.
How she conducts herself has motivated others besides Dianne LeDuc to follow suit. “Quite a few people I know became nurses because they say I was a good example over the years,” says Sister Anna Marie. “That makes me feel good. They say they want the peace and the joy that I have. That’s a nice thing to say. I try to be a good nurse, to be very sensitive, to be the most caring person that I can be for God. It’s rewarding to me just to see the sisters pain-free and at peace. And to just see their needs are met, whether it’s getting them up into a wheelchair or turning them in bed so they’re comfortable. For sisters who can’t help themselves, we turn them every two hours to make sure they are clean and dry.”
For Sister Anna Marie, working while most of us are sleeping allows her to attend her community’s early-morning prayer and Mass, and evening meetings and Vespers. So that works out better for her community life. And on the nights when she doesn’t work, she jokes that she’s “still roaming around,” doing her laundry or extra praying.
Occasionally she is on call for Hildegard at night, but by living only two floors away in that part of the monastery, she can respond quickly when sisters become sick. And she brings the patience, compassion, and listening ear that is the trademark of Benedictines.
Despite her hectic pace, she has no thoughts of retiring as a nurse anytime soon. “I’m healthy and enjoy my work and would like to continue, because I feel I have some gifts I can bring to the sick,” she says. “People have told me one of the greatest gifts I have is to see Christ in each person, whether they are healthy or confused by illness or dementia, and to not judge them.”
Two Hildegard residents, Sister Mary Victor Kercher and Sister Wilma Davis, speak warmly of Sister Anna Marie.
“She’s very gentle, kind, and considerate about what she needs to do for you,” says Sister Mary Victor. “What she’s doing here is phenomenal. She’s in her element. I admire her very much. When she’s not on duty, many times she’s helping with the handicapped people up in the church balcony.
“She’s very sensitive and observant to reaching out and helping people in trouble. St. Benedict was very insistent that the sick be taken care of, and that is her forte.”
Sister Wilma notes that as soon as she rings the help bell, Sister Anna Marie is there. “I need all these different pillows around me, and she knows just how to put them to take care of me,” she says. “I may need extra help at night, and she is always there. Even if there’s an aide with her, she comes right forward to help. She has a charism to really help others, especially to the sick and the old people.”
This story appeared in the 2015 issue of It’s What We Do.