A lifetime of achievement

Sister Mary Jean Tague receives CHA Award

She’s 78 and recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association, but retirement for Sister Mary Jean Tague, a Daughter of Charity, in her opinion, is still a long way off.

   “I still have a couple more years in me,” stated Sister Mary Jean. “I am not ready to say ‘no’ yet, and I am not ready to retire.”

   Saying ‘no’ to helping others in need is simply not in Sister Mary Jean’s vocabulary. From the time she entered the convent in 1954, to her current position helping the less fortunate in Texas, Sister Mary Jean has always believed that a person should “Go where you are needed,” and has lived that philosophy in her nearly 60 years as a Daughter of Charity.

   When teachers were needed for Greensboro, N.C., she became a teacher. When pharmacists were needed, Sister Mary Jean earned a pharmacy degree from St. John’s University and became the pharmacy director at St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, N.Y. When nurses were needed, she earned a nursing degree. When Spanish-speaking nurses were needed, she learned Spanish and then served as the Director of Nursing and pharmacology instructor for the Elizabeth Seton Hospital in Cochabamba, Bolivia from 1967 to 1983. When visiting nurses were needed in Brooklyn, she left Bolivia, returned to the U.S. and became part of the Visting Nurse Service (VNS) in Brooklyn. When there was a need for health care administrators in Boston, she became the Director of  VNS.

   In 1995, she was sent by the Daughters of Charity to Balombo, Angola, to reestablish a Catholic Relief hospital. From there she spent nearly 20 years at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn., creating the hospital’s first Parish Nurse program, which has now grown to 250 nurses in 70 parishes. Last year Sister Mary Jean left St. Vincent’s to do mission work at Proyecto Juan Diego, a charity sponsored by the Daughters of Charity in Brownsville, Texas, near the border of Mexico. There, Sister Mary Jean helps Mexican and Mexican-American people in need through the program’s diabetic counseling and education program, citizenship program and afterschool program.

   “There is always something that can be done to help others,” explained Sister Mary Jean. “A third of all Mexican people have diabetes and I’m glad to be able to use my education to help them get the counseling and medication they need.”

   Sister Mary Jean grew up in Syracuse. She and her sister, Ann Byrne, both attended Catholic elementary school and high school at the Cathedral School of the Immaculate Conception, which was staffed by Daughters of Charity. “We actually had our second grade class in what are now the Sun’s offices,” laughed Byrne, who now lives in Fairmount and is still a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

   “I had a wonderful education [at Cathedral] that helped to lay the groundwork for the many things I have done in my life,” stated Sister Mary Jean. “The sisters were good teachers. I liked them and I was impressed by them.”

   Sister Mary Jean was so impressed with the Daughters of Charity that when a teacher asked her in high school to reconsider becoming a nurse and instead consider religious life, she did so.

   “It was so unexpected that she became a nun,” stated Byrne. “We all thought she was going to nursing school when she graduated high school, but when she told our parents she was entering the convent everyone was shocked, even our classmates.”

   Throughout the years, Sister Mary Jean never doubted her calling to help others. “Missionary life just gets in your blood and I have been able to do some wonderful work and have had so many great experiences through the years. It’s important to be open to God and to be ready to respond to His works,” explained Sister Mary Jean. “When I started out, I was just a scared kid, but God helped me through it all. Some of the things I thought I could never do, I did. I just tried and it all worked out.”

   Although Sister Mary Jean was surprised to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association, her sister Ann Bryne was bursting with pride at the news.

   “She deserves the lifetime achievement award,” stated Bryne. “She put her best foot forward and honored her vocation with the help of God. I think it’s great that she is being honored for her work. She deserves it.”

   But despite receiving an award for lifetime achievement, Sister Mary Jean has no plans to slow down. “I still feel I can be useful to others,” explained Sister Mary Jean. “And I have a little more mileage left in my tank to give,” she said with a laugh.

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