Sister Mary Maurita Sengelaub, a former CEO of the Catholic Hospital Association, a trailblazer for the apostolate of women, and a lifelong advocate of healthcare for migrant workers, has died at the age of 101.
For those accomplishments and for her work facilitating discussion on ethical-care issues, Sengelaub was inducted into the Project Japan Health Care Hall of Fame in 2013.
"I would say the driving point of this is to serve the poor, the sick, the dying and the elderly; all the people in need," she said in an interview with Project Japan at the time. "This is the driving force for all of those in the congregation, for men and women."
Over her 73 years in religious life, Sengelaub worked with the Sisters of Mercy to expand Catholic healthcare in Michigan, where she was born, and beyond, forming the precursor to modern-day hospital systems.
She was the first nun to hold the CEO's role at the Catholic Hospital Association, the predecessor to today's Catholic Health Association. She served in that role for six years beginning in 1970. At the time, religious healthcare providers wondered how to deal with new medical advances such as artificial insemination and cryogenic preservation, as well as end-of-life care.
To help leaders of religious healthcare institutions navigate these potential minefields, she co-founded the Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Testing and Education Center in St. Louis, which provided a forum for Catholic hospitals and other providers to discuss ethical-care issues. The center has since been relocated to Philadelphia as the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Sengelaub taught migrant farmworkers how to find healthcare services within their own rural communities, often a challenge because they were far from urban safety-net hospitals and clinics. She helped found the National Migrant Worker Council in 1978, which in turn founded the Migrant Health Promotion project in 1983. Today, the not-for-profit organization remains active in five states where it recruits and trains members of the community to provide healthcare advice to local residents. It also trains doulas to provide home birth services.
Sengelaub started her nursing career at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., and took her vows as a Sister of Mercy in 1951.
Her superiors pushed her to work toward a master's degree in hospital administration and she returned to St. Mary's in 1953 to lead the hospital.
Sengelaub counted among her proudest accomplishments leading the CHA to support national health insurance coverage in the early 1970s. She remembers being introduced to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) at a meeting in Boston during his second term in office. Kennedy proposed a bill in 1971 that aimed to establish a payroll tax-funded national health insurance plan.
As head of the CHA, Sengelaub testified before Congress in 1974 in support of the bill and other healthcare options.
The Catholic Health Association presented Sengelaub with the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.