Mercy heritage and tradition follow the College of Health Professions

Healthy Times,
Summer 2003

Photo: College of Health Profession alumni gathered in Lansing-Reilly Hall prior to Homecoming 2003 in February.





When the University of Detroit Mercy College of Health Professions moves to the McNichols campus in 2004, one of the most important things the College will carry over won’t be unpacked from a box or unloaded from a truck.

"We are a College steeped in the tradition and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy. It’s very much a part of who we are and will be reflected in our presence in our new location," says Dean Suzanne Mellon.

Plans for the College’s future home include state-of-the-art classrooms, labs and offices, as well as a Heritage Reception Hall and an adjacent reflection room to celebrate the College’s accomplishments and history.

Modern Illustration of
Catherine McAuley

Integral to that history are the Sisters of Mercy and their Venerable Foundress Catherine McAuley, the namesake of UDM’s School of Nursing. Born in Ireland in 1778, McAuley devoted her life to caring for the poor and sick, and helping disadvantaged women and their children become educated and self-sufficient. The Sisters of Mercy opened Mercy College in 1941. The College and the University of Detroit consolidated in 1990 to form the University of Detroit Mercy.

Sister Mary Maurita Sengelaub, RSM, (NUR ’49) was a leader in Catholic health care in Michigan and the United States for more than 60 years. She has been involved with the Sisters of Mercy for most of her life, as a student, nun, educator, nurse, and administrator.

"The concept of Mercy is a multi-splendered thing," Sengelaub says. "It is surrounded in love, compassion and caring for others, enabling others to become fully human, developing their gifts and talents, enabling them to help others. It is creative, innovative, flexible, adaptable and prayerful. It says to forget self, to think of others, to accept service as well as provide it. It loves beauty, fun and laughter."

Those ideals are fundamental to a Mercy education and leave an indelible stamp on many graduates, according to Marylal Mahar Karbowski (NUR ’53).

"Mercy heritage and tradition were strongly imbedded in us as students," she says. "They stressed the importance of respect, compassion, social justice, caring for the poor and underserved, and a commitment to excellence," says Karbowski, a retired nurse and health care administrator. "I graduated 50 years ago, and I still feel that way."

The Mercy philosophy has special meaning for graduates who pursue careers in health care, she says.

"They taught us from the get-go that we had to treat every patient as a unique human being, worthy of our complete attention," she recalls. "If I had a new patient, I had to know all about him, because ultimately that helped the healing process."

Michael Dosch (HP ’87), director of UDM’s nurse anesthesiology program, says there’s a detectable difference in health care providers who graduate from Mercy-affiliated programs.

"All health care providers want to take good care of their patients, but there’s an extra element of kindness," Dosch says. "Simplified, it’s treating patients like family. It’s trying to determine what the patient needs and trying to provide it, with an extra dimension of caring."

Doctors often mention to Sharon Moser (HP ’97), physician assistant instructor and academic coordinator, that they can spot PAs who are UDM grads.

"The doctors see they’re more compassionate, caring and mature than their peers," says Moser. "They have a mission they’re fulfilling."

That Mercy mission has been important to Moser and Dosch as well in their roles as health care professionals and educators.

"Being an educator is a lot like raising children. You can talk all you want about being disciplined and having self-control, but if your kids see you losing your temper, you’ve lost them," he explains. "I used to think that if someone said they were a Christian, they were a Christian, but I’ve learned you have to act like a Christian to be a Christian. As faculty, we’re role models and we go back to those Mercy values day after day. It reminds us why we’re here."

Moser notes that one important way faculty serve as role models to their students is through their work at the three health care clinics the College operates in Detroit for the poor and underserved.

"It’s a chance for us to give back as professionals and to get our students involved, to show them there are so many good people out there who are struggling — and that they can do something about it," she says.

Nancy Dillon (NUR ’71) graduated from Mercy College and a Mercy high school. A clinical education specialist and president of the CHP Alumni Council, Dillon says her Mercy education provided direction for her career.

"It’s had a tremendous influence on me in terms of my choices," she says. "I’ve been drawn to certain types of nursing care, particularly in the non-profit sector, because I believe in the Mercy mission to serve the underserved. Mercy instilled in me a sense of value and purpose, and as a result, I’ve never taken a job because of money, but rather the mission and values of the organization. That’s something I’ve never regretted."

Dillon is not alone in that regard. The emphasis on compassion and caring for others permeating a Mercy education has influenced many students’ career choices, according to Agnes Mary Mansour (HP ’53), former Mercy College president and retired director of the Michigan Department of Social Services.

"You find Mercy graduates in many professions, but especially in health care, social services and education – careers that are chosen to help others," observes Mansour, who also is a founder and retired executive director of the Poverty and Social Reform Institute.

Mansour notes that one of the most significant legacies of the Sisters of Mercy has been the education of women.

"They believe in the importance of educating women for strong roles within the family and the professions, to play lead roles within society, to help develop their full potential."

Karbowski said her teachers, who included Sengelaub, were true role models for women.

"We were taught by strong, accomplished women who taught us we had the right to be strong, accomplished women, too," she says.

The Sisters of Mercy’s mission to educate women can be traced back to the Venerable Catherine McAuley.

"She was an intelligent woman with good common sense," explains Sengelaub. "She knew that the poor young women of Ireland needed training and education to get work. She helped them become independent, so they could lead fuller, more holy lives."

McAuley was also "a forward thinker, skilled at planning and the use of resources," says Dean Mellon. "She believed in moving forward, the importance of flexibility and adaptability."

And because of that, she thinks McAuley would approve of the College’s move and plans to honor its Mercy roots in the new Heritage Hall.

"It will be a place where the traditions of the Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits come together," says Mellon. "We may be leaving the former Mercy College campus, but we’ll be taking the Mercy legacy with us."