Sister Madonna Rougeau, Robin Jean, and Norene DeLaurentis. Rougeau visits Jean and DeLaurentis at Lynn's Boutique in the cancer center at the Olympia Fields Hospital. Jean in is training and will replace DeLaurentis as a certified mastectomy fitter when DeLaurentis retires at the end of August. | Photo by Ginger Brashinger for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 25, 2014 4:35PM
Sister Madonna Rougeau’s transition in August from her ministry and administrative work for Franciscan St. James Health in the south suburbs to Our Lady of the Angels convent in Mishawaka, Indiana, will take her back to her roots in religious life, but it will be an emotional journey home.
“It’s bittersweet,” Rougeau said. “I say that because I’ve grown to love the people and the ministry here in Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields.”
After almost 10 years as the sister superior from the order of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration and as vice president of mission integration for Franciscan St. James Health hospitals in Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields, Rougeau will return to the grounds of the mother house in Mishawaka, fulfilling her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“In religious life, we are given assignments,” Rougeau said. “We live in community and we take the vows. The obedience part comes out every so often in how we get placed in our ministry.”
Rougeau said she may be leaving her work for the Franciscan Alliance, but she is not really leaving healthcare. Her new assignment will be to oversee the care of the retired sisters at Our Lady of the Angels “who have fulfilled a lifetime of ministry,” she said.
“Somebody has to be there to minister to them,” Rougeau said. “This is what I’ve been asked to do now.”
Rougeau moves on, but her legacy in the Southland will remain.
Rougeau was part of a transition that began in 2001 when the Franciscan Alliance owned by her order took over Olympia Fields Osteopathic Hospital, adding it to the fold that already included St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights and 11 other hospitals in Indiana, Rougeau said. Rougeau said she arrived in 2004 just as the Olympia Fields’ site’s emergency room and intensive care units were being completed.
“I’ve been able to see the opening and the blessing and the subsequent renovations … and the opening of all of the out buildings,” she said.
Rougeau said she has watched Olympia Fields grow to include the cancer center, the heart and vascular center, medical office buildings, a chapel and much more, as well as “to see the bar raised” for the medical staff who are also “policing themselves” to do a better job.
“Probably one of my greatest focuses has been customer service and satisfaction and quality. We have to provide good quality care and we have to do everything we can to meet the expectations of those we serve, and I hope that’s where my legacy lies,” Rougeau said.
Rougeau’s recent tenure with Franciscan St. James Health was actually her third experience working at St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights, she said.
One of 11 children born to Vernon and Jane Rougeau in Michigan in the late 1940s (Rougeau does not give her age but said only that she “barely” has a Medicare card), she entered St. Francis High School in Mishawaka as a teenage girl and remained there after graduation to enter the convent.
“I stayed with them,” Rougeau said. “It was a comfortable transition. I just felt at home with the sisters.”
While working on her nursing degree during her novitiate years, Rougeau was given her first assignment as a nurse’s aide at St. James Hospital.
After earning her nursing degree from Loyola University in Evanston, Rougeau was assigned to St. James again from 1975 to 1978, the second time as a nurse.
Rougeau went on to earn a master’s degree in nursing administration from DePaul University and a second master’s degree in nursing administration from St. Louis University, holding many positions and spending 26 of her 45 years in religious life in healthcare positions.
None have been more meaningful to her than the post she now leaves.
“It’s my third time here at St. James,” Rougeau said. “So truly, I’ve grown to love the people of the south suburbs. I leave a piece of my heart wherever I go. This one may take a bigger chunk out of it than some of the others because it’s the longest I’ve ever been in one place in my convent life.”