As Sister Mary Ann (M. Rose Michael) Mozser walks the halls of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland with a smile and a friendly word for everyone she meets, it’s easy to see that she is in her element.
“I just love this place,” she says.
As the hospital’s unpaid coordinator of volunteer services since 2014, Sister Mary Ann oversees nearly 100 volunteers doing everything from serving as Eucharistic ministers to arranging bulk mailings. Women from Beta Sigma Phi, an international social service organization, have been serving St. Vincent for more than 40 years. Another group of ladies make pillows and lap robes for heart patients and others as well.
Sister Mary Ann keeps track of them all, encourages them and, of course, thanks them for their gift to the hospital. She’s a cheerleader for the volunteers and staff.
“No matter what, she’s always there,” said Sarah Burens, a student at The Ohio State University who is volunteering in the admissions and outpatient oncology departments this summer. “She’ll always listen and give a helping hand. She means a lot to everyone.”
The enthusiasm Sister Mary Ann brings to the job stems from her previous position as Vice President of Mission and Ministry at the hospital. She retired from that post in 2014 after 12 years, but continues to assist her successor, Sister of Charity of St. Augustine Miriam Erb.
It was as vice president that Sister Mary Ann made her mark at St. Vincent. When she learned that nurses were paying out of pocket for bus passes and medicine for patients who didn’t have resources, Sister Mary Ann reached out to well-to-do friends and raised more than $40,000. That was the seed money for what’s become the Emergency Pharmaceutical Fund to provide emergency assistance to indigent patients who cannot afford their prescriptions at discharge. This fund is supported by a share of the proceeds from vending machines in the hospital. Sister also helped to create a program for indigent patients to have bus passes so they can return to the hospital for follow-up appointments. This fund is supported through grant monies received from the Maria Anna Brunner Fund of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
She also helps to manage a fund that hospital employees can use to borrow up to $500 for emergencies and pay the money back through a small payroll deduction over the course of a year.
Located at the edge of downtown in the poorest community of the city and state, St. Vincent is a community hospital that serves those in need and no one who needs treatment is turned away. While health care reform has helped the poor, people still fall through the cracks. That’s where St. Vincent comes in.
“I do believe that’s why St. Vincent has to be here,” Sister Mary Ann said. “If St. Vincent wasn’t here, who would care about this whole part of town? Nobody.”
As vice president of mission and ministry, Sister Mary Ann was charged with ensuring that Catholic tradition and practices were maintained at St. Vincent as the number of Sisters working in the hospital decreased.
“That’s really what the core of the job is,” she said. “To somehow keep alive the mission in the hospital so that every caregiver understands the mission and how we are different. It’s how we treat people here because our basic philosophy is that every person who comes through those doors is a child of God.”
To that end, she creates a monthly mission reflection for staff. Both Sisters Miriam and Mary Ann invite the Charity Sisters to hospital events, prepare prayers for services and functions, serve on committees to ensure Catholic social teaching is maintained and express gratitude to the staff for working so hard. Sister Mary Ann still regularly walks the halls reaching out to staff, asking about family or how they are feeling. She lends an ear and, when needed, offers a shoulder on which to cry.
“Hospitality is very important here,” Sister Mary Ann said. “I always tell the volunteers that they are the face of hospitality that recognizes the dignity of people. You look them in the eye. You greet them. You always deal with them on the level of a professional. It gives them a sense of value and safety.”
Working at St. Vincent, which is operated by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, is especially meaningful to Sister Mary Ann and brings her full circle.
Growing up on Cleveland’s west side, she wanted to be a Sister and work as a nurse in then-St. Ann Maternity Hospital run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Her vocation blossomed in grade school when as a Girl Scout she helped Sisters care for children with special needs at a residential facility.
One of two children born to Hungarian immigrants, Sister Mary Ann’s family was active in Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Cleveland. Her father, a butcher who ended up owning a neighborhood grocery store, enjoyed the diversity and welcoming aura of the parish. The pastor spoke several languages and the parish was rich in ethnic cultures. The school had 1,100 students.
“I always did want to be a Sister,” Sister Mary Ann said. “We weren’t a holy, holy family, but we prayed the rosary and my parents were faithful and churchgoing.”
Young Mary Ann got to know the Sisters and Missionaries of the Precious Blood who operated the parish and her vocation continued to grow. She attended Precious Blood High School in Dayton and entered the Congregation at age 16 in 1956.
She then began a 42-year ministry in education. She started out teaching in Cincinnati and Dayton, before being sent home to teach at Our Lady of Good Counsel. She taught there for four years and was principal for 10. She then spent 13 years as principal at the Church of St. Dominic Parish in Shaker Heights.
Sister Mary Ann loved watching kids grow and bloom. She enjoyed the adult friendships that were formed through the parents and students. Still, she didn’t want to overreach her limitations as a teacher as the years went by.
“In a school every year you have three- and five-year-olds who need the same energy as when you first started out,” she said. “I always said I will leave when they are sad to see me go instead of glad to see me go.”
After taking a year off, Sister Mary Ann took a job with Parma Hospital in medical records. She had previously worked there part-time while principal at Good Counsel and Church of St. Dominic. When she was offered the vice presidency of mission and ministry at St. Vincent, the opportunity to work in a Catholic hospital with the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine was too good to turn down.
As Sister Mary Ann talked about her work, LaKisha Thomas, a housekeeper at the Medical Center, buzzed around the room emptying garbage cans. Sister cheerfully called out a greeting and the two chatted for a moment.
“She has a very lovely spirit,” said Thomas, who has worked at St. Vincent for six years. “She’s a very special lady. She’s always able to put a smile on everyone’s face.”
Story and photos by Dave Eck