GREEN BAY — A familiar presence will no longer be found in the halls of St. Vincent Hospital. Sr. Jonette Devlin, who has served at St. Vincent since 1971, is returning home to Springfield, Ill.
“It’s hard to leave after 42 years and 10 months,” she said in an interview with The Compass. “I don’t know yet what I will be doing. I will probably do some volunteering.”
Springfield is not only where Sr. Jonette was born and raised, but also home to the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, the community she entered in 1946. A year earlier, Sr. Jonette had started her nursing education at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Most of the instructors were Hospital Sisters.
One Sunday, a group of first-year students was invited to the motherhouse. The visit spurred her call to religious life. Her vocation and nursing have worked in unison for her 62 years serving the Hospital Sisters Health System, she said.
“They go hand-in-hand because you are taking care of people,” said Sr. Jonette. “It’s a privilege to be a nurse because you are taking care of God’s creation. A nurse sees them at birth and sees them as they die, when they are going back to our Lord.”
She was the first clinical nurse specialist at St. Vincent Hospital and was responsible for teaching the registered nurses in the hospital’s adult critical care units. Countless nurses were educated by Sr. Jonette, who also taught at local nursing programs and was a preceptor (practical experience specialist) for students in master’s programs for colleges in Wisconsin and Michigan.
“I never thought I would be a teacher, but I guess it did come naturally,” she said. “I taught a lot of nurses. I wanted them to be the best nurses they could possibly be. I hope that I gave them a good example. My goal was to make them the best nurses possible and knowledgeable. You want to inspire them because they are taking care of God’s creation.”
Sr. Jonette also left her mark at St. Vincent through the development of a renal dialysis program, which has since become a regional dialysis department serving three Green Bay hospitals. She also started the organ donation program at the hospital.
“We became very active in the 1970s,” she said. “I found records where we did harvests of kidneys. They were red lighted to Madison. After they started doing other organs, Madison (doctors) came here, but it started out with kidneys and our doctors did the harvesting. They gave us a special recipe for the solution, which we would do. We would put the kidney in a special container and it was red lighted police car to police car. ”
In past years, Sr. Jonette also provided outreach in the community by offering pacemaker clinics and blood pressure screenings and working with the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin.
She credits her energy to her passion for health care and support from God.
“I thank God for being able to take care of his children,” she said. “My prayer life has always been important. Even though I worked long hours, I always try to get every prayer in, my morning prayer, my evening prayer, our (divine) office, Mass.”
Looking back, the years have included both struggles and rewards, said Sr. Jonette. Seeing people dealing with health problems due to addiction or their own doing was difficult.
“The hardest part is seeing where this could have been prevented,” she said. “It’s just sad.
“Some of the most memorable times were when the patients you’ve taken care of thought they were going to die and come back to visit you,” she added. “With some of the trauma cases and very critically ill patients, it’s very rewarding to see them go home.
“I had someone who I took care of 41 years ago come back to visit. He was visiting someone and asked if I was still here. I took care of him in his 20s after a bad accident,” she recalled. “I took care of a little child who was two months old. He was born premature. To see him married with children of his own is special. You could see God’s hand. It wasn’t his time. God gave him extra blessings. In other occupations you don’t always see the hand of God in a lot of things where in nursing you do.”
Sr. Jonette grew up on a farm in central Illinois. Her strong work ethic traces back to her childhood.
“I worked on the farm. I drove a tractor and all that stuff,” she said. “My dad and uncle were big cattle men, so we had a lot of heifers and steers.”
Sr. Jonette was the oldest of three children in her family. Her siblings are both deceased, but she has a large number of nieces and nephews in Springfield. A longtime Packer fan, she has converted family members in Illinois to cheer for the Green and Gold.
A Mass and reception were held in Sr. Jonette’s honor on Dec. 18 at St. Vincent Hospital. She is leaving many good friends, she said.
“People have been so kind to me,” she said. “It’s hard to leave them, but life goes on. I hope to come back to visit, God willing. I hope that I’ve left a good impression that will carry on. I wanted to provide the same ministry that St. Francis and St. Clare would if they were still alive.”