Each year Sister Margie Schmidt gives away hundreds of plants from her pastoral care office at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. She has rooted and planted each one herself and has christened them the “Pastoral Care Prayer Plants.” They aren’t exactly free, though; each person who takes a plant must promise to pray for someone in need of healing.
Sister Margie’s crop results in a harvest of prayers, a natural approach for someone raised on a Greencreek farm on the Camas Prairie. In fact being a farmer’s daughter has influenced much of her pastoral ministry. “There is something about the work ethic,” she says. “For a farmer, the land comes first. For me, the needs of the people come first. If I need to stay later, I do…like a farmer does. This, to me, is the Gospel.”
What do patients need the most? “To be comforted,” says Sister Margie, “to be reassured that they will be cared for, their wishes respected, their beliefs honored.” As director of pastoral care, Sister Margie visits patients and families regularly, oversees a team of chaplains, leads televised prayer services, visits hospice patients in their homes, co-chairs the ethics committee, coordinates local minister visits and teaches community workshops on the dying process. She is an academy certified chaplain and a licensed professional counselor. “I love it. It’s hard work…good work. If you do your job well, you are drained at the end of the day. I’ve learned to rejuvenate in a hurry.”
Sister Margie is particularly excited about the hospital’s growing initiative on palliative care that began in 2008. She was a part of the original team of five that began the initiative. “It’s adding an extra layer of support to patients and their families when they are faced with a life-limiting illness,” she says.“It’s about really considering patients and their needs, and spending time with the family to explain options and treatment possibilities.”
Sister Margie has presented on palliative care at the Idaho Healthcare Conference in Boise and experiences the rapid changes in healthcare as both positive and sometimes challenging to keep pace with. “Everything I have done in my life has led up to this. To me it is such an honor to be able to be present to people — which is mostly what my work is about. I don’t find it a burden. I find it a great privilege. Each person touches my life in some way.” She is able to serve at St. Joseph’s along with Sister Kim Marie Jordan, who is a social worker. “We may not see each other often, but I feel a lot of support with her there. Our values and approach to ministry are similar.”
Sister Margie transitioned to hospital work from parish life ten years ago. She served as St. Stanislaus’ parish life director for five years after serving seven years as the pastoral associate. Before that she worked in the parish in Emmett as youth and family minister for six years and in Payette as pastoral associate for nine years. The change was initially difficult. “These are short-term relationships. At the parish when somebody died, I continued the relationship with the family. I don’t do that here. That’s somebody else’s ministry now…I have to believe that someone else will follow through with them. It took me a long time to resolve that.”
She also marvels at the diversity she experiences. “My community now is anybody, it’s more ecumenical. I love being part of something so big, coming in each day and greeting my colleagues. And it’s an honor when people accept me into their lives. They teach me so much.”
Sister Margie also finds support from her monastic community. She entered St. Gertrude’s right after high school and was professed in 1965 joining two aunts and her sister. Though at first she wasn’t so sure about her vocation. “I hated it,” she declares. “I was so homesick. But my friends rooted me there. Friendship is so important.” She taught school for 12 years in Boise, Pocatello, Nampa and Grangeville. She went to Seattle University to get her Masters in Religious Education and began a career in parish ministry. She received a Masters in Counseling (M.Ed) from College of Idaho in Caldwell in 1993. “The community has always supported me in the ministries that have chosen me. I will always be grateful. I know because of their support and that of those who have gone before us, we can do great things. It’s a profound responsibility.”