Sister Marie Veronica Janousek was named after the woman who, legend has it, wiped the face of Jesus as he was on his way to the cross.
Almost anyone who was a patient at Via Christi hospitals in Wichita and other sites was touched by Sister Janousek, who greeted worried family members and comforted people facing fear.
She spent more than six decades helping the injured, wounded, scared and hurting not only in Kansas but across the nation. She served as a chaplain, nurse, administrator and more.
Sister Janousek died Tuesday in the same room in the Via Christi inpatient hospice in Wichita in which her brother, William Keith Janousek, had died. She was 82.
A memorial Mass was held Friday at All Saints Parish.
Sister Janousek was born on Jan. 8, 1935, in Pratt. She grew up in Dodge City, where her father was an appliance salesman. In the Dodge City schools, she was a joiner – participating in student council, pep club and Kayettes, debate, music and church groups. She was involved in Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian youth groups.
In her biography, Sister Janousek recalled walking by Dodge City’s St. Anthony Hospital one day when she heard a deep inner voice say, “To be a nurse is to walk with God.”
Shortly after, she entered the nurse’s program at St. Mary of the Plains and converted to Catholicism, being baptized in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in May 1954. She completed her nursing degree in 1959 and entered into the Congregation of St. Joseph at Mt. St. Mary’s Convent in Wichita on March 19, 1957, taking final vows in 1962.
Laurie Labarca, hospital president for Via Christi at St. Joseph, has known Sister Janousek for the past 32 years.
“She is the pure joy of life,” Labarca said. “She dedicated her life to serving others and was always the eternal optimist; there was no path for anything else. She would recognize sorrows, but it was always a matter of how we are going to get it done. She had the energy to fill your cup up to do that. She was a mentor and shepherd, and she walked that journey with thousands of people.”
Her ministry took her to New York; California; Kansas City, Kan.; Missouri; and Oklahoma hospitals.
She served as a certified chaplain in national associations of both Catholic Chaplains and the National American Protestant Hospital Association.
She worked in nursing, nurse administration/supervision, hospital administration, chaplaincy and counseling.
In six decades, Sister Janousek served as a frontline nurse, nursing school instructor, nurse manager, emergency action counselor, leader of medical/surgical services, vice president of mission integration and chaplain.
“There was no job she wouldn’t jump in and help,” Labarca said.
Last year, Sister Janousek was named a Lifetime Achievement Health Care Hero by the Wichita Business Journal.
“I will forever be grateful for the privilege of knowing her,” said Sherry Hausmann, regional hospital president of Via Christi Hospitals Wichita. “She had such a talent to convey true deep caring to each person she came in contact with. She was also an incredible storyteller with a phenomenal sense of humor. Her giggle was musical.”
Two years ago, Sister Janousek was featured in a Wichita Eagle article when the Shafer family at Just Right Auto had an accident in the shop and a car fell on Quinten Shafer. He arrived at St. Francis as a Level II trauma case, meaning he was considered seriously injured. Shafer was able to text his brother, telling him to send help.
Bob Shafer was the first family member to arrive at the hospital.
“His wonderful dad was the first one here,” Sister Janousek said in the May 19, 2015, article. “He was by himself. In my 61 years in health care, I don’t know how a parent does it when they lose a child or anyone we love that is so dear and precious to our hearts and lives. Imagine how scared you are to hear your son has been trapped under a car and not having much more information. Talk about a guardian angel, I think his son had his guardian angel with him in his ability to text to his brother and signal for help.”
Quinten Shafer eventually recovered.
Bob Shafer describes Sister Janousek in the article as an angel.
“The only thing I can think is that she was a godsend,” he told The Eagle. “We felt like she was the angel representing the Shafer family, and we are sure glad she was here. She was our guardian angel that day.”
Sister Janousek would later say she was merely doing her job.
“My job is to be with the family and find out as much as I can and support the family and loved ones who have been injured or hurt,” she said.
She spent a lifetime doing just that.
“Sister Vernoica has been an inspiration and by her example and love has been a mentor in the healing ministry,” said Peg Tichacek, chief mission integration officer at Via Christi Health. “She had an absolute love for people, especially when they were sick, poor and didn’t have the means for care and prescriptions and the things they needed. … Oh, I will miss her. We saw the courage she had. She will be missed by so many. She was always the bright smiling face and cared about everyone.”
Sister Janousek is survived by her sister-in-law, Mary Janousek; niece and nephews, Patty (Carl) Casterline, Jim (Lynn) Janousek, Dan Janousek; and many friends and colleagues of her Via Christi family.
She donated her body to science.
Donations in her honor may be made to the Retirement Fund for the Sisters of St. Joseph, or charities sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Dear Neighbor Ministries and StepStone, 3700 E. Lincoln, Wichita, KS 67218.