VOL 124 NO. 27
Just like sisters
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Friend sets up scholarship fund on behalf of Sister Camilla Smith, OSF
UTICA — According to Betty Kemz, Mother Marianne Cope isn’t the only Franciscan religious worthy of sainthood. Her dear friend Sister Camilla Smith is also up for the honor.
Kemz and Sister Camilla, who passed away this March, met in 1972 and were friends from that moment. Kemz knew the Franciscan sisters connected with Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Liverpool. When their superior had to take the car to New Jersey for the summer, she asked Kemz if she wouldn’t mind helping the sisters out with errands and transportation that summer. Kemz was happy to help and said that the summer of ‘72 was one of the best she’s ever had.
“Sister Camilla was always on the go,” Kemz said. “She wanted to go everyplace and she loved being with people. She was the nicest person you could ever know. Ours was a once-in-a-lifetime friendship.”
Kemz often took the sisters on drives to Old Forge to experience the beautiful scenery. They were concerned about returning to the convent on time, however, Kemz said. “They had to be home by 8 p.m. but they would be having such a good time. I set my watch back a few hours once,” she laughed.
The ladies’ friendship lasted through the years and grew especially close as Sister Camilla moved to Utica to serve as a volunteer at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a role she filled for 27 years. She would visit patients and pray with them, some of whom had no other visitors. Then, as her arthritis worsened, she took great care to keep herself busy and useful. Sister Camilla kept the other sisters at the convent next to the hospital supplied with homemade baked goods and prepared dinner for them on Saturdays. “She loved to be in the kitchen and she loved baking,” Kemz said. “She was never too busy to help someone.”
The two women had lunch together once a week and shared many an observation and loads of laughter over the years. Kemz, who is a lively 82, said Sister Camilla loved taking drives in Kemz’ Cadillac with the sunroof open. “She loved nature,” Kemz said. “We went to Old Forge last fall and she said, ‘This is the last time we’ll see these colors.’ I told her that we’d see them again, but she said no. Every single time we went anyplace there was always someone who knew her who would come over and say hello to her. Even in Old Forge, there were people who knew her.”
Now Sister Camilla’s legacy will continue in a very meaningful way as Kemz creates the Sister Camilla Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund at St. Elizabeth’s College of Nursing. With $50,000 in start up funds, Kemz is keeping her dear friend’s memory alive by offering a scholarship that will help someone studying to be a nurse at the hospital where Sister Camilla spent so much time.
Marianne Monahan, dean of the nursing college, said there are 221 students enrolled this fall. “Many of our students have families and many of them have been out of the workforce and they could really use this scholarship,” she said.
Sister Rose Vincent Gleason, OSF, is the retired administrator of the hospital and knew Sister Camilla for decades. Sister Rose Vincent has spent all her religious life working in some capacity at St. Elizabeth’s so this scholarship fund not only honors her friend, but also benefits her favorite hospital. “She [Sister Camilla] was a role model for everybody,” Sister Rose Vincent said recently over lunch at the hospital. “I’m just a shadow of hers. When she first came to St. Elizabeth’s she visited patients and prayed with them. They remember that; and she always came to them with a big smile. She had a beautiful smile. Everything she did, she did with enthusiasm. She did it from her heart.”
Raised on a farm in New Jersey, Sister Camilla was one of nine children. She entered the Franciscan convent at age 15. She began her career by teaching and as she reflected on her early years as a sister, she told friends that she was probably more afraid of the third graders put in her care than they were of her. Her mentor was Sister Loretta Scharoun, a bursar at the Franciscan motherhouse in Syracuse for many years. Sister Camilla’s family delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to Sister Loretta’s convent in New Jersey before she came to the motherhouse. The two formed a friendship that helped ground Sister Camilla in Franciscan spirituality.
Sister Rose Vincent feels that Sister Camilla’s giving nature and the way she treated patients are direct connections with the mission of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital which was founded in the late 1860s. The sisters will care for everyone and no one will be refused care. “We handle 5 to 6 million charity cases each year,” Sister Rose Vincent said. “We are blessed to be able to do that.”
The Sister Camilla Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund is open to a nursing student who experiences financial need. Kemz said the first scholarship recipient will be selected this fall. She has found the best way possible to honor the friend she said was “one in a billion.”
Anyone else wishing to honor the memory of Sister Camilla is welcome to do so by contributing to the scholarship fund. Checks should be payable to the Sister Camilla Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund, and mailed in care of Betty Kemz to PO Box 2172, Syracuse, N.Y. 13220.