82-year-old Sister Driscoll's heart is in medicine

TOPEKA — For 20 years, Sister Mary Rosaleen Driscoll has tended to the sick and poor at the Marian Clinic.

At 82, she is in no hurry to retire. There is still too much work to do.

"I'll continue working as long as the Lord tells me to work here," Driscoll said. "This is my mission, and I'm going to put all my heart and soul in it."

"She's adored here and a wonderful influence on the whole staff, and the patients love her," said Ruth Maus, development director at the clinic.

Driscoll was born Dec. 17, 1927, in Fruitland, Idaho, to a family short on money but long on generosity. During the Great Depression, she remembers down-and-out people jumping off trains passing through town and coming to her home.

"Mother would feed them and then send a lunch with them," she said.

When she was a high school senior, Driscoll moved to Sacramento to live with her sister, Mary, and her husband. She graduated from high school and then moved to Denver to work as a baby-sitter for another sister, Ruth.

Eventually, she enrolled as a pre-nursing candidate at all-female Loretto Heights College in Denver, and in February 1947 she entered the nurse training program at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver .

During a nurses' retreat that year, she asked God to show her a sign — a Catholic sister who was a family friend but whom she hadn't seen for a while — if she was meant to become a nun. That night, as she was going to chapel, she ran into the sister.

On Aug. 15, 1947, she entered the Sisters of Charity of Kansas and finished her registered nursing degree at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The 42 years leading up to Driscoll's assignment to the Marian Clinic were filled with advanced education and assignments at health facilities in the western half of the country.

She came to Topeka in 1989 at the request of Sister Concepta Mock, a co-founder of the Marian Clinic, with whom she had worked in Leavenworth. The clinic had been open for about a year.

"Whoever came in the door is who we saw," she said. "Most people came from extreme poverty. The same clientele as today."

Driscoll was assigned to be a dental assistant — which she admits wasn't her forte — before switching to the medical side. The clinic also offered optometry services.

She and Mock were the only registered nurses at the clinic. In addition to their nursing responsibilities, they also had to mop and vacuum the floors and water the plants.

The clinic's first director, Pat Hurley, "gave us a wonderful foundation on which to build," she said. Hurley was able to get new equipment and fresh paint for the clinic.

Over the years, Driscoll worked in pediatrics, made referrals to doctors, and did intakes and proof-of-income documentation. She served as interim clinical director for a short time about four years ago and is now the clinic's patient advocate.

Because of the increasing demand for health care, the clinic can no longer treat everyone who comes through its doors. Today, clients must live in Shawnee County and meet poverty level guidelines.

While the Marian Clinic has come a long way since its inception, Driscoll said there is plenty left to do.

On her to-do list is finding out why people don't come in for scheduled appointments: Is it lack of transportation, work obligations, forgetfulness due to depression or embarrassment?

To Driscoll and Maus, a missed appointment means an individual didn't get the help he or she needed and the time scheduled for the appointment was wasted.

When she considers the future, Driscoll would like to see a physical expansion of the clinic, which has seen a 20 percent growth in the number of patients it serves within the past year; continuation of existing treatments; the addition of preventive medicine and pediatrics; and increasing the hours of the part-time social worker to full time.

Sister Driscoll has had some health challenges lately, but she doesn't let that slow her down.

"I thank the Lord for giving me the health to care for patients," she said. "I could sit at home and care for myself, but I'd rather get out and care for others."