Advancing Care at St. Joseph’s While Keeping Felician Culture and Standards Intact

Discover the legacy of the Felician Sisters at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine.
Sr. Mary Edith St. Jean (Patient Visitor) and Sr. Barbara Theresa
Marie Martis (Cultural and Heritage Historian)

The Felician Sisters have been active at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, ME, since 1947. When Sr. Barbara Theresa Marie Martis arrived in 1985, the facility employed 14 sisters. Now, two remain.

 “Numbers do not mean everything,” Sr. Barbara said. “Small numbers often produce big results.”

Sr. Barbara and Sr. Mary Edith St. Jean, the only Felician Sisters in the state of Maine, continue to play big roles in the operation and evolution of St. Joseph. The 112-bed hospital, which also has six outpatient locations and serves about 250,000 people in and around Penobscot County, doesn’t only mend broken bones — it heals broken lives.

Sr. Barbara and Sr. Edith are really carrying the torch for what the mission is here,” said Mary Prybylo, president of St. Joseph Healthcare. “People in the community know this is a safe and a good place.”

The original hospital building purchased by the Felicians in 1947 was a large white house that resembled a bed-and-breakfast. It had only 30 beds, but no recovery room and no elevator. In 1964, a community fund-raising campaign enabled St. Joseph to expand and modernize. The growth has continued in recent years, enabling the hospital to provide surgical, orthopedic and cardiopulmonary care, lab services and physical therapy. Then, in 2010 — sponsorship of St. Joseph Hospital was transferred from the Felician Sisters to Covenant Health Systems.

 “St. Joseph Hospital is a haven for comfort, compassion and strength,” Sr. Edith said. It is the only hospital in Maine with a sexual abuse forensic examiner (SAFE) program. Specially trained nurses provide traumainformed care for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and human traªcking. The health care providers collect medical and forensic evidence and are able to testify in court.

 In the 1970s and ’80s, the hospital handled a lot of cases of alcohol intoxication. “We’d keep them here for a couple nights, sober them up and let them go on their way,” Sr. Barbara said. The more pressing problem now, she said, is drug abuse.

Overdose cases have been on the rise for much of the past decade. There were 716 overdose deaths in Maine last year, according to data compiled by the University of Maine. In Penobscot County, 77 percent of overdose deaths were caused by fentanyl.

Drug abuse and mental health issues often go hand in hand. “Years ago, that might be one or two people that you met during your lifetime, but now it seems we have hundreds,” Sr. Barbara said. “We can’t just let them go walking down the street. We have to make an attempt to help them.”

Sr. Barbara currently serves as the hospital’s Cultural and Heritage Historian, but Sr. Barbara’s first job at St. Joseph was a staff nurse. She’s since filled a lot of roles, including director of the hospital’s case management system in the 1990s. Working with social workers and other nurses, Sr. Barbara had to deal with fast-changing government and insurance regulations — and mountains of paperwork — providing the same highquality care even as the average length of patient stays in the hospital got shorter.

 “Some of the most rewarding aspects of my career are when I was able to be there for the patient and the family,” Sr. Barbara said. “When people come to you with their problems and at the end they can say, ‘Thank you. That really helped me,’ that’s when you feel you’ve done your job.”

A few years ago, an older man turned up in the hospital’s emergency room. He was gravely ill, couldn’t care for himself, was homeless and had no medical insurance. The man was cantankerous and often made life challenging for the nursing staff, but the sisters knew they could not simply discharge him back onto the streets.

The man remained at St. Joseph and received care for nearly two years. That restored not only his physical health, but his dignity and a sense of self-worth. The sisters found a facility that could take him in.

“When he was discharged, he sent us a thank-you note, which just blew everybody’s mind,” Sr. Barbara said. “He left this earth feeling loved.”

Sr. Mary Edith was a school principal before she joined St. Joseph in 1977 as the hospital’s budget director. Five years later, she was elected to the general counsel and went to Rome, Italy, serving as the community’s treasurer. By 1993, she was back at St. Joseph.

 “As I jumped from one position to another, maybe some people got suspicious, ‘Can’t she hold a job?’ But one of our models is, you follow the will of God,” Sr. Mary Edith said. “It was hard to understand, but I knew I had to help. … It makes me proud I can follow in the footsteps of our foundress, Blessed Mary Angela, and reflect the sensitivity she had for people. I want to give and I want to do.”

Sr. Mary Edith was the hospital’s chief compliance oªcer for 15 years prior to transitioning to the role of Patient/Family Visitor. Her favorite task, is making bedside visits to patients to check in and pray with them. During the pandemic, Sr. Mary Edith had to make those check-ins by phone. She still keeps up with her telephone ministry.

 “We keep in touch so nobody feels they haven’t got somebody to talk to,” Sr. Mary Edith said. “I feel very honored to do that. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, but God has them in His hands.”

Sr. Barbara and Sr. Mary Edith know that when they retire from the hospital, they will not be replaced by other Felicians. Yet, they are confident the Felician presence will live on.

“They and the ones before them have laid a foundation at St. Joe’s,” Prybylo said. “They’ve really passed that mission over to the lay employees and planted the seeds of what we have to do. They trust us that we are going to keep this moving forward.”

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Serving where needed since 1874

Founded in Poland in 1855, the Felician Sisters are a congregation of women religious inspired by the spiritual ideals of their foundress, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, and Saints Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi and Felix of Cantalice. Arriving in North America in 1874 following Blessed Mary Angela’s directive “to serve where needed,” they helped to weave the social service system. Today, the Felician Sisters founded, sponsor or support through the presence of our sisters, more than 40 ministries – all continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the people they serve.

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  • Felician Sisters of North America is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.
  • EIN 27-1282473
Felician Sisters of North America