Eulogy for Sister Louise Marie Vaughan, March 29, 1929-Nov. 12, 2012

VIGIL: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, Nazareth Motherhouse, Concorida
EULOGIST: Sister Marcia Allen


“My hope is that God will continue to grace me with a positive attitude toward life with its joys and sorrows.” (From Sister Louise Marie’s life review.) This amazing desire, coupled with her continuous concern that she be of service, describes the life of Sister Louise Marie Vaughan.

Mary Lee Vaughan was born on March 29, 1929, in Oklahoma City, three minutes before her twin, Martha Lou. Their parents were Harold Edward Vaughan and Louise Elizabeth Knaup Vaughan. They were the second and third children of six: Shirley, their older sister whom we knew as Sister Rose (deceased), a younger brother, James Vaughan, and two younger sisters: Betty Jo Letourneau (deceased) and Dorothy Ann Otott.

The twins attended parochial schools in Oklahoma City and Concordia throughout their grade and high school and entered Marymount in 1947. In February 1948, they entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Those who entered with them were: Letty Lou (former Sister Mary Paul) Buser, Lillian Mae (former Sister Mary Gabriel) Schmidt, Dulcie (former Sister Mary Joanna) Stevens, Geraldine (Sister Charlotte) Lutgen, Mary Alice (Sister Ann) Glatter, Martina (Sister Gilberta) Appelhans, Lucille (Sister Vera) Klaus and Audrey (former Sister Elaine) DeCosse. At their reception in August 1948, they became known as Sister Louise Marie and Sister Miriam Edward. Nothing was more precious to these two than their “twinship.” They experienced a deep connectedness of love and confidence. Even though their paths parted once they were through their early formation their union of mind and heart never faltered.  Louise Marie followed a path that she had desired since the age of three, that of nursing. This path included bedside nursing, professional teaching and administration of nursing, and grantsmanship.

After making temporary profession in August 1949, Louise Marie was sent to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Sabetha, Kan., to continue her pursuit of professional nursing, then to St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia, earning a diploma in 1953 from the Marymount School of Nursing. By May 1954 she had earned a BS in Nursing. For the next five years she served as Instructor of Nursing and Assistant Director of the Marymount School of Nursing. She taught theory and clinical practice at St. John’s Hospital. In 1959, she was sent to Catholic University of America and there earned a Masters of Science in Nursing in June 1961 and a PhD in June 1963. During the 1962 summer session, she taught Curriculum and Research Courses for master’s level students in the School of Nursing. She was asked to join the faculty of the Higher Education Department within the School of Education at the University; however, the Community wished her to return to Marymount in Salina.

At Marymount she led the college’s establishment of a baccalaureate nursing program. The first class in September of 1964 admitted 30 students. Besides being chair of the Marymount Nursing Program, she also served as Academic Dean for three years. She  directed the Marymount Institutional Research and authored the scientific report of this research on which changes in the College’s policies and curriculum were based. From 1971 to 1980 she was also the chair of the Marymount Division of Health Sciences, professor of Nursing and an accreditation visitor for the National League for Nursing Department of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs. Marymount administrators, faculty and students voted her the faculty member to receive a Special Service Award for Excellence in January 1980.

At that time she resigned from the college and with her sister, Miriam Edward, was appointed by Bishop Daniel Kucera to the position of Advocates and Court Experts for the Salina Diocesan Marriage Tribunal. They continued this work until May 1995.

Louise Marie was a brilliant student. She was co-valedictorian with her sister at their High School graduation. Besides studying they took piano lessons, were drum majorettes, and cheer leaders. They received Marymount Merit Scholarships. Louise Marie’s other degrees were also supported by grants and scholarships because of her brilliant performance as a scholar. She loved learning. Throughout her life she took advantage of every conference relating to her profession that was possible. Coupled with that was anything she could learn about religious life, especially that of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Her personal love of learning was accompanied by reading scholarly works in her profession, and in her later life, books and tapes about the spiritual life and guides to prayer.

A brilliant career, filled with appointments and awards. A brilliant woman, motivated by the highest values – the desire to be the best nurse, the best administrator, the best teacher. Several times in her life review and Spiritual Autobiography she expressed the desire to influence the makings of Christian nurses. My guess is that she did this as excellently as she did everything else.

Her eminently distinguished career, however, is not the real story of Louise Marie’s life.

Several months after her arrival in Sabetha in 1949, she was diagnosed with Simmond’s Disease, a dangerous and rare disease, which affects the pituitary gland. She eventually recovered from that and continued her nursing studies. Within the next decade she began to experience symptoms which led to a diagnosis in 1959. She had a combination of two serious diseases which caused debilitating pain. The first is described as acute pain which usually comes at night and is similar to a “charley horse.” The pain becomes progressively worse until the patient either is writhing in pain or lying motionless afraid to move lest she cause an exaggeration of the pain. The sharp excruciating pain lasts from five to fifteen minutes and when it leaves the patient experiences relief and fatigue. This pain reoccurs at various intervals. The second disease is characterized by sudden onset of acute muscle spasms such as one gets with a leg cramp. Trigger mechanisms set off the spasm which travels to other muscles. The pain occurs at any time day or night. However, at night, any sudden unconscious move on the part of the patient may bring into play other muscles. For Louise Marie the pain from these diseases radiated downward from her waist. The pain from the first was acute – sharp, viselike and stabbing. The pain of the latter was chronic – regular and throbbing. This was her physical existence since the late 1950’s until her death, fifty-plus years later.

She moved to the Motherhouse in 1993 and retired from the Marriage Tribunal in 1995. By that time her physical condition had deteriorated considerably. Eventually, she moved to Mt. Joseph Senior Care Village. She wrote in her spiritual autobiography: “A cross permitted in my life has been diagnoses of several rare illnesses … [which] cause a considerable amount of pain and physical incapacity. I have never questioned why My Loving God permits me to have these incurable and painful illnesses, especially when I carry a constant desire to be of greater service to Him/Her in one or more of our CSJ Ministries. Yes, I know that God wants me where I am and that the Ministries that are the most important to me now are those of CSJ presence, prayer and loving relationships. With the help of God’s grace, I continue to try to integrate my CSJ religious and professional ideals in my approach to life. I am very grateful for the gift of life which allows me to enjoy deep peace and satisfaction in serving God’s people, even though, my current state of health causes me to limit CSJ physical services more than I would like.”

For many years I had the privilege of companioning Louise Marie in her journey toward wholeness. What she said about her journey was true. She never asked, “Why me?” She never complained of the pain. She amazed me about the matter of fact way she approached what was continuous acute suffering. It was part of her life. What she really wanted was a life in union with God and if this suffering were part of that, then she would befriend it. She spent her nights awake with pain. She regarded these nights as opportunities for prayer.

During the early 1980s she worked with The Institute of BioSpiritual Research under Ed McMahon and Peter Campbell. There she learned a special kind of focusing, a method that led to new levels of integrated human consciousness by balancing body-knowing (felt sensing) and headbrain-knowing (abstract thinking). This, she said, led her into a contemplative prayer life. This focusing method also enabled her to see through her intense pain to what she desired most – consciousness of God’s presence. Her practice was to “offer her suffering as prayer in union with the sufferings of Christ.”  Once she had made this offering she was able to simply rest in God’s providence. In her Spiritual Autobiography, she says that her deepest peace came from knowing that God made her, God loved her and God cared for her. She spent much of her night time in deep, silent presence with the one she called “Lover” while her body raged with pain.

I worked with Louise Marie on at least two projects during the 1970’s and early 80’s; I sat with her month after month during the late 1990s and most of the years since. Never did I notice a manifestation of pain. Her greatest distress was the worry that she was not praying enough or praying correctly. I could tease her about her need for perfection and she would laugh and relax once again into being content with what she called her “silent nights.”

She ends her life review this way: “I want to express deep sentiments of gratitude and joy for the ‘gift of life’ and all the blessings and graces I have received. I hope that God will continue to grace me with a positive attitude toward life with its joys and sorrows. I believe I will be able to go through my period of physical dying with peace as this last period will release me from the material world so I can truly go to my God.”  She did, indeed, live with a positive attitude and she went to her God on Nov. 12, 2012.

• • • • •

Memorials for Sister Louise Marie may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/ Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia KS 66901. Or you may make a donation in Sister Louise Marie’s memory online, through a secure server with PayPal, by clicking on the DONATE button below.

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