The end of a Mulvaney era

Updated: Dec 29, 2020


Sister Beth Mulvaney, CSC, reads to a young patient at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. The beloved Sister retires after 21 years at the hospital. (Courtesy photo/Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center)


By Emily Woodham

Idaho Catholic Register


BOISE – Service to the patients, staff and volunteers at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center was such an integral part of the work of Sister Beth Mulvaney, CSC, and her older sister, Sister Patricia Mulvaney, CSC, that the huge medical campus on Boise's west side named a building after them.


The Mulvaney Medical Office Building on the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center campus in Boise is named in honor of Sisters Patricia and Beth Mulvaney, CSC.


Sister Beth Mulvaney of the Sisters of the Holy Cross has been a mainstay at the hospital for 21 years and retires at the end of this month. Sister Patricia Mulvaney, her older sibling who passed away in 2018, was the last religious administrator – the equivalent of president and CEO – for the hospital in the 1970s. The Mulvaney Medical Office Building just behind the hospital’s main building is a testament to their more than 50 years of service.


The Mulvaney sisters are part of an extended family of Sisters. Sister Beth was born in Wyoming, the youngest of three girls and two boys. All three girls entered religious life. They were inspired by an aunt, also of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who visited the family regularly.


Sister Beth’s maternal grandfather and his family converted to Catholicism while he was a professor of music at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Her mother’s sister became a Sister of the Holy Cross and was a huge influence on the Mulvaney girls. “She was always so much fun,” Sister Beth said of her aunt. “And the other Sisters who came with her were wonderful to us children.”


Her two older sisters had made professions with the Holy Cross Sisters when Sister Beth was in grade school. During her years at college, Sister Beth began to discern what would make her life meaningful. "By the time I was ready to graduate, I was pretty sure that God was inviting me to His way of life."


She graduated with a degree in English from a Dominican college and it was there that she discerned her calling. She made her first vows in 1967 with the Holy Cross Sisters at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind. She did not begin her ministry in health care, choosing education as her focus instead. From the Mother House, her work took her to Idaho (teaching English at Bishop Kelly High School from 1968-71), California, Colorado, Utah and the Holy Land.


“My Dad used to tease and say, ‘Join Holy Cross and see the world,’ ” Sister Beth said.


After teaching in California for a year, Sister Beth returned to Boise to work for the Diocesan Education Office in 1972, the same year she made her perpetual vows.


For six years, Sister Beth worked with some of the Benedictine Sisters from St. Gertrude's in Cottonwood and with the late Father Bill Wassmuth. Part of their work was to help formulate catechesis for parishes to incorporate reforms from the recently concluded Second Vatican Council.


“This was when all the exciting, wonderful changes were happening in the Church,” Sister Beth said. “After Vatican II, there was an expectation that every member of the Church had a role, that everybody was called to holiness and to be a disciple and even called to be evangelists to share this good news.”


Before Vatican II, she said, there was less emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s faith. “It was more about accepting things at face value and doing a checklist of do’s and don’ts,” she said. The influence of Vatican II, she said, has been to prompt Catholics to be willing to ask, “What does this faith really mean in my life?”


In 1978, she left Idaho to return to the Mother House at Notre Dame to work with the community. During the 1980s, she spent time in Colorado, helping to form young women for religious life with Holy Cross. She also helped with religious education in parishes in Utah.


In 1992, she was asked to coordinate an education program in Galilee, Israel. “Women from different communities in Africa and Asia would come there for a semester. They would have the opportunity to study the scriptures, to make a retreat and to travel to the places where Jesus ministered,” she said.


It was only in her most recent calling, for the last 21 years at Saint Alphonsus, that she devoted her ministry to health care.


"I think Catholic healthcare offers the whole perspective of Catholic social teaching in a very practical way," Sister Beth said. "The social teaching of the Church is really based on the dignity of the person. When people are sick, that's when they really need that kind of reverence and encouragement of their worth – even when they are not at their best.”


At the end of this month, she retires from her role of Mission Educator, a role she has loved. “I’ve been able to offer opportunities for education for staff to really see what’s underneath our mission statement. I can explain why we have these core values of reverence and commitment to whomever comes in the door, and to help them see where that comes from in our Catholic tradition,” she said.


A favorite aspect of her work at Saint Al's has been forming relationships with staff, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed her role significantly. "Rules are changing, and everything is being taught virtually," she said.


A replacement has yet to be named. Sister Beth is asking Catholics to pray for a new Mission Educator.


Sister Beth is staying in Boise after retirement and is “retiring more into religious life,” looking forward to having more time to read and study. However, she will not be sedentary, she said. She will be accompanying other Sisters who need to discern retirement.


I’ll see how I like it myself and then whether or not I can encourage them,” she said with a laugh.


“I have been so blessed in my life. God has always opened ways for me,” she said. “It’s such a shame that religious vocations have been declining. I would encourage every young woman to consider a vocation to religious life. It is a fabulous way of relating with God and with other people. Pretty much all along, I’ve been aware that this is really where God wants me.”



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