Shonka, S. Marie Madeline, Oral History, 6/29/2017




Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 1 of 16

JK: This interview is with Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka.
MMS: Yes.
JK: Ok. The interviewer is Jane Kenamore. We are at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth
Mother House in Leavenworth, Kansas, and the date is June 29th, 2017.
MMS: The year goes by.
JK: Sister Marie Madeleine, when and where were you born? [00:00:40]
MMS: I was born and raised in Chapell, Nebraska which is a small town in the western part of
the state, close to Denver and Cheyenne.
JK: Oh, it is. Ok.
MMS: Right in the corner.
JK: Oh, ok. Can you tell us about your parents and the values that they passed onto you?
MMS: Oh, yes. My mother was a staunch Lutheran, and my father was a staunch Bohemian.
JK: A staunch what?
MMS: Bohemian.
JK: Oh.
MMS: Czechoslovakian. And we had a wonderful family life. They were very good. My mother
was very humble. My father was a plumber, and we were poor but we never lacked for love and
JK: And your town was a very small town, I gather. [00:01:23]
MMS: 1,198.
JK: Oh, my gosh, yes. So, what was it like to grow up in a small town? [00:01:32]
MMS: You know, when you live in a small town you know everybody and everybody knows
you and you make friends, and you do all the things kids do in school. I worked in a soda
fountain at our corner drugstore and so I got to know a lot of people. Had a great life.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 2 of 16

JK: Oh, that's good. Did your town have a Catholic school? [00:01:57]
MMS: We were part of a very small group of Catholics in Chapell, Nebraska at that point in
time. In fact, there were very few Catholic families. And one of my good friends was Pat
O'Connor who later became a Sister of Charity and her sister Margaret became a Sister of
Charity. And their brother became a Passionist Father. So, they were a strong influence in my
family or to me, to me. But I enjoyed living and growing with them.
One of the joys of my life was on Good Friday. I was one of the only kids in school that could
ask to be dismissed at 12:00 noon so I could say Stations of the Cross.
JK: (Laughs) That was lucky.
JK: You started by going into nursing training. Am I right on that? [00:03:00]
MMS: Yes. Yes.
JK: Why did you decide to go into nursing? [00:03:03]
MMS: I mentioned earlier that we were poor. And after I graduated from high school I wanted
to go to college but I knew that that was impossible. And it was about that time that the Cadet
Nurse Corps was started. And my mother heard it advertised one day on the radio. And I came
home from school and she said, "Honey, I think you should think about going into the Cadet
Nurse Corps."
So, I looked at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver and made my decision to, yes, I'd go, and so I
entered there in June of 1944.
JK: Oh, and you actually served in the military then? [00:03:40]
MMS: No, it wasn't the military really. It was a program to try to get people interested in
nursing because we were in the middle of the war. And it was free tuition. It was free uniforms.
It was free everything. So we were really God blessed at that point in time to have that
opportunity. I hadn't had an inclination to become a nurse but the opportunity was there and I
took it.
JK: Oh, good. So, was that your first experience with the Sisters of Charity? [00:04:13]
MMS: It really was. I knew very few Sisters in my life prior to that time. There were Sisters of
St. Benedict or some group in Sidney, Nebraska, and they'd come down a couple of weeks

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 3 of 16

during the summer to give us some classes in catechism and all, but they were the only nuns I
ever knew. So, I had no drawing to Catholicism as a nun.
JK: Can you describe your nursing training? [00:04:44]
MMS: Yes, I was fortunate. It was a three-year program, the hospital schools of nursing, and it
was very good. And I so admired… I really admired the Sisters. I think that's where I came so
involved with the Charities because I watched the nursing nuns, and they were really the core of
hospitals at that point in time. I think the nursing nuns really built the hospital system in this
country. Powerful women.
JK: That's true.
MMS: Yes, it is.
JK: It was a three-year program and was there anything notable in it? [00:06:01]
MMS: I think we produced wonderful bedside nurses in the hospital schools of nursing. Later on
when I became an educator in nursing education the country was going through the process of
changing nurses from three-year programs to four-year programs with your BSN and that sort of
thing. And we struggled for years to keep the schools with the three-year programs open. But it
really wasn't fair to our graduates because they ended up with their RN but it took them two
more years to get their BSN. So, our hospital program, St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Vincent's all
phased out during that period of time.
JK: Oh, that's a good idea.
MMS: Yes, it was. We had women of vision. Really Sister Eugene Teresa McCarthy was one of
the leaders in moving nursing education from strictly bedside care to the hospital where they
were teaching women more how to interact with people and that sort of thing.
So, the hospital programs prepared us to take care of the body, and the college programs helped
us to take care of the whole person.
JK: Oh, yes. That's good. I'm assuming… I'll ask the question anyway. What attracted you to the
SCLs and going into religious life in general? [00:07:26]
MMS: Just my experience at St. Joseph's and my admiration for the Sisters that I saw working
there. And they were so… They were just great women. They were generous and competent and
kind and strong, prayerful. I mean they set a real pace for me.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 4 of 16

JK: Yes, good. Who were your early mentors in SCL? [00:07:50]
MMS: Sister Alice Marie Schwieder was a lifelong friend. And some of my other friends, Sister
Joan Allard and Sister Macrina Ryan, Mary Julie Casey, just some of the wonderful women I
met along the way. They weren't all in nursing but they were wonderful Sisters.
JK: Oh, good. When did you enter specifically? [00:08:15]
MMS: I entered the community on February the 11th, 1947. And that was three days before the
Sisters… When we entered, there were only five of us, and all the people in the novitiate were on
retreat at that point in time. So, we walked from the noisy, blustery world into a world of silence,
and we looked around and we wondered what we had gotten into. So, here we were.
And so the retreat was over on February 15th, and some of our Sisters made their first vows then
and so life went on.
JK: Did most of the classes begin in September? Is that why yours was small? [00:08:55]
MMS: No, no. We entered in February and most of the classes entered, the large classes entered
on August 15 of each year.
JK: Oh, I see.
MMS: And that's when the girls were out of college and the summer schools and high school
etc., etc. And at that point in time many women entered as you well know. So, the five of us
were outliers.
JK: Right. Yes, you were. But I guess that mid-year entry was probably small usually.
MMS: It was wonderful. Oh, yes. It didn't last too much longer. You know after a few years
they started to straggle in most times but not as group in February.
JK: Oh, I see.
MMS: So, the main entrance date for a while was August to my knowledge. And, again, you
know, I'm 91. (Laughs) So, I might be off on my timing.
JK: You were ideally prepared for your early ministries. What were your positions at St. Francis
in Topeka, St. Vincent's or St. V's in Billings and St. Joseph's in Denver? [00:10:04]
MMS: When I finished my… I made my first vows in February of 1950, I was sent to St.
Francis Hospital in Topeka. And I told God I that didn't want to be in OB. I didn't want to work

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 5 of 16

nights, and I didn't want to educate anybody. So, the first thing I did was to be assigned to
obstetrics. And, oh, my. We had more precipitations than the world dreams.
Then I was assigned to night duty, and that was another growing experience. And the education
part was something that I finally latched onto and continued in my progress.
JK: Oh, good. And then you went to St. Vincent's in Billings? [00:10:50]
MMS: Yes. I went to St. Vincent's, and I was director of the school of nursing, but I also was
teaching on the side a few classes. And I loved working with the young women, because they
would come in, and, you know, kids 18 and 19 are a little bit scatterbrained and all that sort of
thing. But as the years progressed and they worked ahead in their educational programs, they
matured beautifully, beautifully. It was a joy to watch that growth.
JK: But you were young then, weren't you?
MMS: Yes.
JK: How old were you when you were director of nursing? [00:11:24]
MMS: Oh, 24, 25, 26, something like that.
JK: You were director of nursing. Were many people working for you?
MMS: Director of the school of nursing.
JK: Oh, school of nursing.
MMS: School of nursing. School of nursing.
JK: Ok, but even still.
MMS: Well, it was a challenge.
JK: Yes, I can imagine. What were some of the challenges that you ran into? [00:11:44]
MMS: Finding my way around as the director.
MMS: And working with the young women, and making sure that our educators were good
educators and just life in general. But it was great. I loved my hospital life.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 6 of 16

JK: Oh, that's good.
MMS: Yes.
JK: Did you like Billings as well? [00:12:03]
MMS: Yes, yes. Billings is a lovely town. I was there for about seven years, I think. And then I
was asked to go to St. Joseph Hospital in Denver for a year and to take some courses at Regis
College, I think. And at that point in time they asked me to get prepared in some of the math
courses and that sort of thing. And then the next year I was assigned to go to St. Louis
University, and I got my education and master's in Health Services Administration.
JK: Ok. So, did you like your program at St. Louis U? [00:12:52]
MMS: Yes. Yes. I really have liked just about everything I've had to do, and I just would kind of
roll with the punches, you know. I guess that came from Chapell, Nebraska.
JK: That's right. (Laughs) How did you decide to go…? Well, you were kind of heading toward
hospital administration, but how did you decide to go fully into it? [00:13:20]
MMS: I really didn't decide. It was kind of decided for me. At that point in time we were asked
if we would consider that, and so I was asked to go to school and get my master's in hospital
administration so I did that. So, it wasn't my choice.
JK: Right.
MMS: It was my challenge.
JK: So, one of your early experiences was as assistant administrator for St. John's Hospital in
Santa Monica.
MMS: Yes.
JK: What did you learn from this experience, and how did it prepare you for your later role?
MMS: Well, I was in California for 41 years and I loved every minute of it. And when I got
there in 1968 as an assistant administrator to Sister Mary Eloise Paul (phonetic) I was assigned to
be in charge of the Respiratory Therapy Department.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 7 of 16

And then as the years went on between '68 and '73 I started going to medical staff committee
meetings and was allowed to sit in on board meetings and things like that. So, Sister was kind of
helping me along to get acquainted with a broader picture.
JK: She was.
MMS: Yes.
JK: That's great.
MMS: Yes.
JK: Yes. So, when did you become the director of the hospital? [00:14:45]
MMS: Well, the title at that point in time, in 1973, was executive director, but it was one of the
times during our lifetime in constant change. But we were looking for executive directors and
CEOs and presidents, and the community was trying to get things organized so that we all would
be in sync in our many hospitals across the country. So, it was kind of an evolutionary flow. But
it finally ended up with being president and CEO.
JK: You must have appreciated the fact that you were a Sister at that point because in the
nonreligious world women, despite the fact that… well, the Women's Movement kind of began
in 1969 but in 1973 women weren't in leadership positions such as you were. [00:15:39]
MMS: I really didn't think about that.
JK: You didn't think about it.
MMS: No.
JK: Interesting.
MMS: I really didn't. I just didn't. (Laughs)
JK: Yes, interesting. So, you were in Santa Monica.
MMS: Yes.
JK: So, you must have run into a lot of celebrities of one sort or another. [00:15:56]
MMS: We did. We had a lot of people who supported St. John's over the years and were very
good to us. Mr. Sinatra had some programs for St. Johns. And Jimmy Stewart and his wife,
Gloria, were on our board of directors for a period of time.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 8 of 16

JK: Oh, really?
MMS: Yes. And Irene Dunne, and most of the people listening to this won't even know who I'm
talking about because they're so long ago, but Irene Dunne was one of the people who really
helped St. John's get started. She helped our Sister Mary David especially to get St. John's
moving and raise money for St. John's etc. We've been blessed with good friends and many,
many wonderful lay people. We've had so many wonderful lay people on our boards and in our
foundations over the years, so it was an exciting time to be with people.
JK: It must have been.
MMS: Yes, it was. And I really enjoyed getting to know them and working with them.
JK: So, what was Frank Sinatra like? [00:16:56]
MMS: Around us he was very nice.
MMS: I guess he has another history.
JK: I think so, yes.
MMS: I remember particularly R.J. Wagner who was very good to St. John's too, and he had
just become acquainted with St. John's, oh, many, many years ago.
JK: Is that Robert Wagner? [00:17:20]
MMS: R.J. Wagner, Robert Wagner, uh-huh. One morning he called… They called me to come
down to the Emergency Room that he was down there and his mother was a patient, and his
mother died right in front of us.
JK: Oh, no.
MMS: And poor old R.J. was shaken but her eyes were wide open. So, I closed her eyes and I
said a prayer with him and then we kind of helped him to… He had never been faced (phonetic)
with something like that really. He was pretty busy in his career and that sort of thing. It seemed
to help him.
So, years later he wrote a book and of course the book contained many of his activities as a
younger person. He was a real ladies man etc., etc. And one day one of the people who worked
with me at Seton Center was reading his book and my name was in it.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 9 of 16

JK: Oh really? [00:18:16]
MMS: She poked her husband and she said, "Bill, Bill. Look at this. Sister's name is in here."
And so R.J. put the incident of closing his mother's eyes into his book. So, I think something
touched him.
JK: Yes, obviously.
MMS: I think the Holy Spirit.
JK: Right. And who were some of the other people you mentioned? [00:18:37]
MMS: Oh, I don't know. There were so many that were so good to us and most of them really
weren't high powered, but Mr. Campion... People who worked in big business in California were
good to St. John's. Conrad Hilton, I mentioned before, Baron Hilton. Some of the people in the
city who were prominent were always very good to St. John's and assisted us on boards and in
the foundation.
JK: That's good. So, in 1994, I think, the Northridge earthquake took place.
MMS: Sure did.
JK: So, can you describe the earthquake and its affect on the hospital? [00:19:20]
MMS: Ok. Well, I wasn't home the morning of the earthquake. I was back here in Leavenworth
for a board meeting. And my COO called that morning and said, "Sister, this is a terrible
earthquake. You'd better come home." So, I finally got home about six o'clock in the evening.
And I drove from the airport back to the hospital.
And I drove around the hospital and it was severely damaged. Our entire north wing was
severely damaged. They had to evacuate the nursery. We had babies in intensive units. They
evacuated all the people into our main wing for security purposes. The elevators weren't working
so the men had to carry patients from the fifth floor downstairs into another wing of the hospital.
So, people were truly heroic and so thoughtful and so good. And they just all stood up and were
counted. It's amazing how brave we can be when we're called to do that.
So, anyhow, the hospital, as I said, was severely damaged. And the inspectors from California
came down right away, and they said that you have to close the hospital…
JK: The whole hospital.
MMS: …and rehab this facility.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 10 of 16

JK: So, during that period of time we had to let all of our employees go.
JK: Oh, really.
JK: So, we had over 600 people, and we gave them all their benefits and all their payment and
that sort of thing. And that was in about May, I think, or maybe earlier, that all of our employees
were going. And the only facility that remained open during that time was the John Wayne
Cancer Institute which was housed in the building across the street. And so they were able to
carry on their clinics and their activity during this time. But those were the John Wayne
employees that were there and all of ours were gone.
JK: Where did you send your patients? [00:21:24]
MMS: Where did we send them? We had to have them evacuated to… Many went to Cedars.
Many went to UCLA. Many went to Daniel Freeman. It was a whole day of evacuating the
patients from the hospital. The ambulances were lined up. And it was well-organized. I must say
that, you know. We were God blessed that everything went as well as it did. And nobody was
killed or injured at St. John's during that time.
JK: That's good.
MMS: Yes. It was very good. So, during the summer… I'll just continue for a minute.
JK: Please.
MMS: During the summer our COO and our personnel director and our finance person and the
leadership team of St. John's were working, and we were getting ready to reopen as the hospital
was being prepared to close down and to raze the north wing. So, we finally were stabilized and
were able to reopen the hospital in September of 1974, and on that day 69 percent of the people
who came back were the people we had to let go.
JK: Oh, that's great.
MMS: Yes. They wanted to come home. I'm rambling. (Laughs)
JK: So, you had to do a lot of fundraising, right? [00:22:48]
MMS: Yes, we did. Yes we did.
JK: And in a short time.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 11 of 16

MMS: Yes. Well, you know there was a period of time when people were looking at St. John's
about whether we should… should we rebuild or should we move in to ambulatory care or
should we do this or should we do that. And the people, our board of directors and the people
who had supported us for so many years, were so anxious for us to rebuild and carry on.
So Sister Mary Kathleen Stefani was our community director at that point in time, and she came
out for a board meeting and she heard the passion and the desire to really rebuild and so she
authorized our rebuilding and getting started to see what we could do. So, at that point in time
our foundation's total effort was in raising over 100 million dollars because our first estimate of
rebuilding was 150 million. Eventually, over the years, as the building went on and the raising
went on the total cost of the project was around 500 million, but the 100 million got us off and
JK: That got you back in business.
MMS: It got us back in business. Yes, indeed. So, we had the architects and the building
committees and the construction types and…
JK: And you did all that in nine months? [00:24:07]
MMS: No, not nine months. But just so many people were there to help us, you know. And the
building committee evolved over that period of time, 'cause we had to get the architects, and we
had to get the construction types and that sort of thing. But we had very bright guys on our
committees there, the building committee, etc. etc. And they were entrepreneurs, and they were
architects and construction types and that sort of thing. And they helped us to develop the vision
that we had for St. John's of the future which was to be, at that point in time, a smaller hospital.
At our first point in time our greatest number of patients was 551. Then over time we got down
to 350 at the time of the earthquake. And when we reopened the hospital we had 300 beds.
JK: And you don't need as many beds with the new…
MMS: We were going through that period of time when people were looking at ambulatory care
and outpatient clinics and things like that.
JK: Right, right. But to get a…
MMS: The medical staff was really a support in all that because we had wonderful obstetricians
and cardiologists and surgeons etc. The medical staff was outstanding. Still are today. Even
though there's so much transition in healthcare and so many people have to go here or to go there
because the grass looked greener, our sole supporters were still there, and they just held St.
John's together and helped us to grow back to become very healthy.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 12 of 16

JK: That's fantastic. One of your awards, one of many, I'm sure, cited the following: You
"ensured St. John's was able to sustain a potentially devastating nine-month closure after the
1994 Northridge earthquake, and, moreover, pioneered the situation into an opportunity to build
for tomorrow and improve healthcare delivery through the west side."
You already answered the question about the staff. You had to let them go and I'm sure there
was… but 60…
MMS: 69 percent.
JK: 69 percent returned, so that's phenomenal. [00:26:37]
MMS: On the first day.
JK: Yes. And what were some of the renovations that you did that brought the hospital into the
21st Century? [00:26:46]
MMS: We had long since looked at ambulatory care and we were working with doctors in
getting the offices tied in closer to St. John's. And we strengthened our orthopedic program. We
strengthened our cardiology program, our cardiac surgery program, our obstetrics program, and
internal medicine. We had a plethora of doctors who were truly experts.
We used to tease that we were the crown jewel of the hospitals. And at that point in time Sister
Marianna Bauder was at St. Joseph's in Denver and they thought they were the crown jewel. So
we called St. Joseph's St. John's East and she called St. John's St. Joseph's West. So there we
JK: (Laughs) Can you think of anything specifically that you added that was particularly
forward-looking? [00:27:49]
MMS: I think it was my spirit that I was not ever going to stuff up (phonetic). I mean we worked
diligently to keep things moving and as people would become depressed, you know, you go
through periods of up and down and that sort of thing, but we had to keep it going so we did.
JK: Good. Good.
MMS: It was God.
MMS: Yes, truly.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 13 of 16

JK: That's good. So, you're back here now. It must have been sad to leave Santa Monica after
being there for so many years. [00:28:23]
MMS: Well, you know, there's a time when you know it's time to go.
JK: Right.
MMS: And when I decided it was time to move on I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I saw
an ad in a paper about home nursing, and I worked with a Sister of St. Joseph in Kansas City.
MMS: It was the director of a program. Sister Loretta Marie, who was a lifelong friend, invited
me to come live with her. So, I thought, well, I'll live with her and work in the home nursing.
And I tried that for a while but I was uncomfortable. I didn't like going into people's homes, and I
felt very uncomfortable in that work. So, Sister said, "Why don't you come work at Seton?" And
I didn't know what I wanted to do at that point in time. So, she said, "I'll put you to work in the
So, now I'm working in the pantry backup room. We set up all the commodity bags, and we set
up the cosmetic bags, the hygiene bags. And so I'm really blessed. I'm a happy camper.
JK: Oh, good.
MMS: You know I work about four or five hours a day.
JK: Perfect. [00:29:48]
MMS: And I like what I'm doing. And I love the people we're taking care of. And I love the staff
that's working with us. They're multi-national, and they're just wonderful people—truly blessed.
Sometimes you go out in the parlor and you'll meet somebody sitting there, and you know they
don't have two nickels to rub together. "How's everything going?" "I'm blessed."
JK: That's good. It must be really gratifying to be working among the people who need that so
desperately. [00:30:22]
MMS: Yes, yes. I'm happy. Yes. And we do a good, good work.
JK: Oh good.
MMS: We served over 1800 families at Christmastime last year.
JK: Do you really?

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 14 of 16

MMS: And we give them food, and we give them toys, and we give them clothing, and our
volunteers are just extraordinary. They're just extraordinary. They're so helpful in everything we
JK: So, do you give them clothing throughout the year or only at Christmas? [00:30:50]
MMS: No, we have a thrift shop. It's open four days a week. And they can come in, you know,
and some can come in and buy clothes for 50 cents or a dollar or two dollars or what have you.
And sometimes we'll get some very wonderful clothing, and they're able to come in and buy nice
things and leave the place looking like a million dollars.
JK: Oh, yes. That's good. Do you think you'll ever retire? [00:31:19]
MMS: Oh, I'm probably retired right now.
JK: No, you're not.
MMS: Well, I'm as close to that, I think, as I'll get. Retirement just means doing what you can
with what you've got and so that's where I am.
JK: And so when you joined the SCL I'm sure you didn't have any idea that you'd be heading up
a large hospital. [00:31:45]
MMS: I used to stand in the hallway at St. John's and say, "My God, what is somebody from
Chapell, Nebraska, U.S.A. doing at St. John's in Santa Monica?" I truly did.
JK: I'm sure you did. What were your career expectations when you joined the SCL? [00:32:06]
MMS: I'm not sure. I don't know. At the time that I entered the community young women could
be nurses or secretaries or what else?
JK: Teachers.
MMS: Teachers, exactly. And today they can go to the moon. So, with the declining numbers of
young women they're providing service in different ways than we did at that point in time.
JK: So, in a way, there are benefits. In many ways there are benefits of the new culture.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 15 of 16

MMS: Absolutely. They have many opportunities. Sometimes those people having multiple
opportunities and do exciting or extraordinary things. They kind of forget there's a God in
charge, you know, and so you see people kind of drifting. And my hope and prayer is that when
the time comes they'll come back. And I believe that especially with nieces and nephews.
JK: Oh, really, yes. Yes. How has the SCL community helped you to accomplish all that you
have in your life? [00:33:26]
MMS: Their support, their prayers, their willingness to let me serve, their guidance. I have a
wonderful community.
JK: You do. That's true. Do you think you would ever have accomplished all you have working
as a woman alone? [00:33:45]
MMS: I don't know. I don't know. I think if that would have been my choice I would have done
the best I could. So, God provides.
JK: So, how did the SCLs contribute to your love of life? [00:33:59]
MMS: Contribute to what?
JK: To your love of life?
MMS: They love life. They all love life. They're just such good people. Yes. They're prayerful,
good, inspirational role models.
JK: And how have you contributed to the community over the years? [00:34:24]
MMS: Oh, I think I've had a spirit that's been good. Yes. I think I had a spirit. I think I still do.
JK: I'm sure you still do. So many of the women that we've interviewed, well, all of them
actually, seem to have that spirit. [00:34:41]
MMS: Yes. You know we're going through great transitions at this point in time—what's going
to happen to religious communities and where are we going etc., etc. And it's up to God, 'cause I
won't be around to see where it goes, but I sure want to have the spirit to let them go. Is that it?
JK: I think that's it. Yes, I think that's it.
MMS: All right.
JK: We didn't cover this. Why do you think fewer people enter the order today? [00:35:20]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 25, 2017

Page 16 of 16

MMS: The reason I said before. They have so many opportunities today, others. But they end up
serving one way or another.
JK: Right. Yes.
MMS: So, the options are great and numerous and exciting.
JK: And also in the community as well.
MMS: Oh, yes. Isn't that wonderful? You know when Sisters left the teaching they were able to
go into social work, and they were able to go into religious work or whatever, counseling,
mentoring and that sort of thing. And so all of us have benefitted by the changes that have come
along. Been a lot of battles along the way about I don't like this; I don't like that, but you know
eventually we all get into the game and we roll with whatever direction we're going.
JK: We didn't talk about Vatican II and the affect it had on the community and actually on you
personally. [00:36:14]
MMS: '68 was a … Well, I've been in religious life more in post-Vatican that I was in preVatican, and so at the time I was really kind of… I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what
to think but I… As the community was making changes and we were doing things differently we
adapted you know. I don't think I fought it. I think sometimes I didn't like it, but I don't think I
fought it, the changes and all. So, I think I've been able to move ahead.
JK: Was that true for all of your friends in the community? [00:36:55]
MMS: No. We had a time in our community when sometimes if you weren't dressed as a nun
you weren't really too accepted. I mean, you know, they didn't like the changes in dress or the
changes in some things. But eventually God gave us all the grace to get over that and to continue
on being great women. So, that's the name of the game.
JK: That's true. All right. Do you have anything else you'd like to talk about? [00:37:24]
MMS: No. I'm finished. I probably talked too much already.
JK: No, you haven't.
MMS: You'll have a hard time screening this one.
MMS: Thank you.


Dublin Core


Shonka, S. Marie Madeline, Oral History, 6/29/2017


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth; Cadet Nurse Corps; Nursing; Health Ministry; Northridge Earthquake, California


She begins with a description of her childhood in Nebraska. She belonged to one of very few Catholic families in a small town. Because her family did not have a lot of money, when it came time to get an education, she took advantage of the Cadet Nurse Corps program. She describes meeting SCLs for the first time at her training hospital. Her admiration for their spirit and work ethic drew her to the community. Initially reluctant to be an educator, she tells of becoming the Director of the school of nursing at St. Vincent's and how she grew to love her role there. Eventually, she studied for her Masters in Health Administration and became the Executive Director of St. John's hospital in Santa Monica. She describes the great support for the hospital from the local community and the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake.


Shonka, S. Marie Madeline; Kenamore, Jane


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth






All rights belong to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth






Oral History


Shonka, S. Marie Madeline; Kenamore, Jane



Oral History Item Type Metadata

Original Format





Kenamore, Jane


Shonka, S. Marie Madeline


Digital Sisters Files


Shonka, S. Marie Madeline; Kenamore, Jane, “Shonka, S. Marie Madeline, Oral History, 6/29/2017,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed October 2, 2023,


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