Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Sister Celestia Koebel, SC Interviewed by Sister Andrea Koverman, SC and Sister Tracy Kemme, SC October 31, 2013




31, 2013
Sisters Andrea Koverman and Tracy Kemme
S= SISTER being interviewed.... Sister Celestia Koebel
M= Sister Monica Lucas....close friend of S. Celestia present and assisted at interview
I: Tell us a little bit about your life before you became a Sister.

S: I was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. I have three blood sisters. Mary, the oldest is deceased; Ann, who is
also a Sister of Charity; Jodie, my younger sister is married and has a family. She lives in Florida.
Three of us were nurses. Mary was an RN, and Jodie went through nursing, too, and then of course, I
went through nursing.
When I entered, I did not have a good feeling about teaching, so I kept telling people that I would
like to go into another field, mainly nursing. So, two other Sisters and I were placed in nursing
which was not the usual route after having taken first vows, it was usually teaching. So, I went
into a three-year program at Good Samaritan Hospital here in Cincinnati
I: Was your mother a nurse?

No, she was a simple housewife. My Dad was a CPA, had a full-time job and then kept books for other
establishments on the side. I used to help him put the checks in order when he had to do the
reconciliations. He died when I was in nursing
I entered in 1946 and was in nursing in 1947, 1948 and 1949.1 liked nursing very much, and I
always appreciated the fact that the three of us were picked for nursing. Sister Helen Cranley, who is
now in Mother Margaret Hall, was one, Sister Ann Seton Gallagher, who is deceased was the third one.

I: Do you have any memories or stories of when you were growing up with your siblings. What life what
life was like in your family home?
M: Tell them the fishing story.

We were out in the middle of a creek in our hip boots when my Dad had a strike. We were standing on
a log that was really in the water, so he told me to put my pole out there, and WHAM! I pulled so
hard that the poor fish went back into the water, but I just picked it up. That was the first time I
ever caught a fish. I used to go fishing with my Dad because he worked very hard to support his
family, but he liked to get up at 4:00 a.m. To go fishing before he went to work at 7:00 a.m. I
would go with him frequently and then I would go back home and slip back into bed. We had a
very close family. We did everything together.
All of us girls went to the Mount after we graduated from high school. I had Sisters of Charity

teaching me all during my school years. We went to St. Mary's in Chillicothe where the SCs were
there. We kind of grew up with the Sisters. We all went to College at the Mount on scholarships
because our family didn't have a lot of money, but we worked hard in school and were able to get
I: So what did you study at the Mount?

As I said,I knew that I didn't want to be a teacher, but I let it be known that I would like to be in
nursing. I went to school two years and then I entered. My sister, Rita, the second oldest, had
entered, and I got the idea that it was pretty neat so I entered too. My oldest sister, Mary went into
nursing at Good Samaritan and then eventually got married and had a family as did my youngest
sister Jodie.

M: What kind of nurse did you become?
S: I became an OB nurse. I think that I went into that right away. The first year I was out West at St.
Mary Corwin in Pueblo. After that I was sent to Good Samaritan and was an OB nurse there. That
was when we used to deliver about 500 babies a month.
I: So you entered the Community because your older sister did?

I think I got the idea from her, but I probably would have otherwise anyway, I'm not sure, it's
hard to tell.

I: How much older was she than you? S:

Three years.

I: Did you think about becoming a Sister earlier in life, like when you were in grade school and high school
with the Sisters of Charity?

I didn't think too much about it I don't think that I really felt that I had a vocation until I was
probably in College.

I: What are some memories of your early years as a member of the Congregation when you
were in formation and in the novitiate?

Oh! We did a lot of things. We tried to be very good and got our prayers and obey and everything, but
every once in a while we would get into a little bit of trouble here and there. We were young and
we had to see what we could get away with.

I: Can you think of any particular incident?



M: Can you think of anything, because, as a nurse, you were sent out quickly didn't you to Good Samaritan?
Can you think of anything that the young Sisters did. Roz has got lots of stories. Do you remember
when Grace Marie was your Superior or anything?

Oh! I think that Sister Grace Marie was instrumental in my being picked to go into nursing. She was
not only the Administrator at Good Samaritan, but she was also Coordinator of Health Care Services,
and she was instrumental in picking people to go to school, and she was a good friend.

I: Did you live in community when were at Good Samaritan?

Yes. We had a whole wing that was for the convent because there were so many Sisters there at the
time... probably about 20 or 25 Sisters.

I: That's a lot! Nursing School was pretty regimented in those days wasn't it? Didn't you have curfews where
you had to sign in and sign out?
M: Tell her the curfew story in Dayton with Sister Mary Romana when she was the Superior. After her term as
Mother, she became Superior at Good Samaritan, Dayton and you were OB nursing Supervisor.

Was I Supervisor there? Yes, I remember. Sister Edward Cecile and I used to be late getting the office
closed, and I had been late leaving the floor. Mother would lock the convent doors at 8:15 because
we were all supposed to be in by that time. She would lock both the elevators and the doors so we
had to get Security to let us in. We would kind of tiptoe by her office because often times she was
still sitting there working. Sister Edward Cecile (Roz) was there too. She worked in the office. She
was always one for a good time. Be sure you interview her!

M: Sister Grace Marie is the one who asked you to go into Hospital Administration and sent you
to St. Louis University.
I: Were you interested in doing that? ?

Yes. I went to school and got my Masters in Health Administration. That was a one-year program at
St. Louis University, and the second year out in a hospital. They sent me to Providence Hospital in
Seattle, Washington.

M: Tell them the earthquake story.

Good Friday, I was in the chapel praying and I thought that it was a little strange that the votive light

was kind of moving back and forth. I didn't think too much about it until later when I found out
that it was an earthquake that had occurred that afternoon. It wasn't a bad one.
I really liked Seattle and I enjoyed the Providence Sister, Sister Gertrude, who was my mentor when I
was in the residency program. So, I got to take long train rides because we didn't fly in those days.
Going out to Seattle, Washington was quite a trip.
I: Were you by yourself?

Well, I could to that by myself, but there were certain things we couldn't do by ourselves, like
shopping, etc. But going on a long trip to Seattle, I could do that by myself, (chuckles all around).
So, then I finished my residency which lasted two years, one year in St. Louis attending classes and
one year in Seattle.
I had another Sister-friend. She was from the East Coast. She and I used to walk a mile down the
road (rain or shine) from where we lived in what was like a hotel. But it was really a dorm for St.
Louis University. It was good for us.

I: After your year in St. Louis, then you went to Seattle?


I: What did you do after that?

I graduated from St. Louis University with a Masters in Health Administration

M: After you graduated you were sent to Albuquerque to build a hospital. That's where you spent 25

There was an old hospital there that needed renovation or replacement. On one of my trips East,
Mother Mary Omer informed me that they had agreed to build a new hospital. It was an interesting
process, because I had no experience but I would meet with the department heads of our other
hospitals in the West and say, "Now, if you were building a new hospital, now would you do it?" So
,1 got a lot of help between them and working with the Architect. We tried to get it right.

I: So you were instrumental in designing the hospital?

The hospital opened on June 6, 1966 as St. Joseph's Hospital.

I: I know that hospital, it is huge and there is a big memorial to Mother Seton

M: that was in Celestia's honor. She went out two years ago, they had the dedication for the Memorial Park.
I: Lots of Sister of Charity worked there right?

Oh yes. But it is not ours anymore. There were many Sisters of Charity in Albuquerque at the time.
There were many in the hospital and then there were some in Old Town, St. Vincent's Academy and
other places. There were about seven Catholic schools in Albuquerque at that time staffed by the
Sisters of Charity.

I: After the building of the hospital, what was it like?

It worked out pretty well. It was quite a step from the small hospital, we had to get used to this 12story structure

I: It is still a vibrant, thriving hospital, so it is
still a legacy even though it is no longer our Community's hospital.
I: It has to be a little scary to be in charge of that big a project without having any experience

Well, that is why I used so many people to help me out.

M: I can remember one day when we lived in the old convent (which has since been torn down). She and I
were going out and I said that I would meet her at the garage (and the garage was very small) and
we both had learned to drive in New Mexico. I went out, and she was in tears, and she said, "I have
got to back and ask for $10,000,000 !

But I did go, and I got the money, and I did survive.

I: How long were you there at the hospital?
M: She was there 25 years. She probably would have stayed longer, but Sister Grace Marie Hiltz died and the
Community begged her to come back and take over SCHCS (Sisters of Charity Health Care Systems).
So she came back although she would have preferred to stay in Albuquerque.
M: (continued) She was involved with SCHCS for about ten years and together \ with two others got the
brainstorm of forming CHI (Catholic Health Initiatives)

Diane Moore out of Catholic Health Associations in Omaha where she led a group of eight or so
hospitals in her part of the country. She lived in Omaha. And with her and with Ron Aldridge who
was the head of the Franciscan Health Systems from Astin, Pennsylvania. The three of us met together
to see what we could do together. And, finally, in 1996, we founded CHI which was a separate

entity which took the place of the other systems. And then, the Sister of Charity of Nazareth Health
Care System in Bardstown, Kentucky came in and joined us within a year.
It was a very interesting process, because, here we were CEOs' appointed by our religious superiors,
trying to convince these superiors that we needed to let go of our health care institutions and agree
to be led by another organization.
I: Can you remember what led you to think that something like this should be formed?

It was the fact that health care was getting very complicated,and that we didn't have the Sisters
interested in getting in and getting trained anymore. There were fewer Sisters at this time, and we
felt that it was important to keep the viability of the institutions alive.
I would also say that other Catholic institutions were looking to doing the same kind of thing that we
were so it kind of became a trend at that time. So we founded CHI. I have a whole book on it written
by S. Maryanna Coyle and Pat Cahill who at that time was the head of the Catholic Health
Corporation in Omaha made up a many hospitals around the Omaha area. We were all trying to educate
and motivate our leadership to have a new model for health care.

I: Was there much resistance in the Community for that?

I wouldn't say a lot. It was a leadership decision, of course. The Sisters were all informed about it
but the leadership could understand how complicated health care was getting at that time. So, I
would say that the fact that these other hospital systems were willing to work with us probably
made it easier for our leadership to accept.

M: They did a good thing. First of all, they took a year to educate all the staffs, the boards, etc. and then
for another year the team traveled to every convent and we had meetings where they explained the
plan. They would get questions, and they would send back the answers. Besides that, Celestia was a
firm believer in the laity. Some of the Sisters didn't want the responsibility of leadership. So it was
one of the marks of her whole , group to bring in the laity. After they had gone around for a year or
two, it was brought to a vote at the Chapter and it was accepted unanimously. She (Celestia) almost

It was a great moment. We knew that it would affect the Sisters who had worked in health care all
their lives to accept this...that we were sort of giving up our health care institutions. But I think
what probably helped was the fact that other health care systems were coming with us, joining with

I: That was so forward-thinking. We keep hearing in all our formation process comments about health care

and your work and your vision was so forward-thinking on that.
M: From what perspective have you heard about it?
I: Just visiting other communities. We've taken some trips to other
Communities and talked about how they have dealt with their hospitals and health care in general.
Everyone has seen this as sort of an example of a good thing, and the time was right too.

Health care was becoming too complex, and there were not enough Sisters involved or willing to
be involved in the leadership.

M: And they didn't have the money, that also was a big thing.

We founded CHI in 1996, and within a year the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth joined us.

I: Can you explain a little bit about what that meant, because, if I understand correctly, now that none of
the hospitals were sold, right? What exactly happened to all the hospitals?

We created CHI which was the sponsoring group for the new Health Care System. So, in essence, the
Congregations turned over the ownership to it. It did take a lot of education on our part to help the
members understand why we were doing this. But, we were able to pull it off. Sister Marianna Coyle
was President at that time, and she was a firm believer that we were doing the right thing and she
helped us a lot.

I: Was there a period of transition after that was formed? Did you stay involved with the hospitals,
or did you step out of it?

People were given the choice. If they were in a position in a hospital they were given the choice to
either stay there or not. But, it was almost the decision of the new group's leadership to pick
leaders for the institutions at that time.

I: So, did you stay in the position of leadership in the hospital?

No. By that time, I was the President of SCHCS, so I had left any leadership position in any
individual hospital.

I: What did you do?

M: When CHI was formed, the three of you decided that you should not be a part of that new CHI.

It wasn't such a big thing except to the individual hospital's administrators.

I: So that people who were employed there simply became employees of CHI?

Were you living in Cincinnati at that time?


Yes, I was President of SCHCS for 10 years and at the end of that time, I became a member of many

I: Did you enjoy that, traveling around and being on Boards?
M: Tell them how you were on 9/11. You were out in Seattle and you and your partner decided what?
S: I was a Board member at Providence Hospital then. Another woman and I wondered how we would get
back home since there were no planes flying. We thought about renting a car and driving, but we
were not that eager to get home.
I: What did you do after retirement? Did you really retire?

By that time, I wasn't too young.... how many years ago was that?

M: Well, you retired about 10 years ago, but you only retired from Board
membership about 8 years ago. And a few years later you started having health problems that has
been 6 or 7 years now.

And I'm now 85!

I: When you were commenting about how involving the laity was always really important to you, it made
me think of our class on Vatican II and I was just wondering about whether you had any memories
about when Vatican was happening. How did that affect your work and your life? People have told
us that Vatican II came out and there many changes in the liturgy, changes about how common life
was lived, the dress of Sisters etc. I don't know if you were in leadership at the hospital at that time
or what.

I think that all that was happening while I was still in Health Administration in

M: We received a memo saying that the Sisters would change their black habits for blue or not. There were
30 Sisters on staff at the time. Celestia was Administrator and I was Superior and every one of the
Sisters decided to change. Sister Grace Marie came out West about that time and she told us that the

nuns back East were saying that our Sisters had been forced to change, (laughter) The nurses had
more dealings with the laity and the doctors than a teacher would. The hospital Sisters, for the most
part, welcomed the change because their conversations with adults were always meaningful,
educational and collaborative.

It wasn't too difficult for us to change.

I: So you welcomed the change.... it felt natural?
S&M: Yes
M: I've never seen anyone who has been able to meet change like her (Celestia) she is not excitable
about things. that's her temperament.

This book (CHI) was written by Pat Cahill and S. Maryanna Coyle about the time that all this

I: Thank you, we would enjoy looking at that.
M: That's about one of the last things Maryanna did. A couple of weeks later she called us and asked us
to go out to dinner, and she told us that she had cancer. She lasted about a year and a half after that.
Monica (addressing Celestia): What did Maryanna say about CHI? That it was a good idea? She had
not really bought into it at the beginning. She said that the reason that she wasn't too sold on it was
because it had not been her idea, (laughter)
I: Can you talk about the Community charism or what sustained you through all your years as a Sister of

I was always happy in my vocation and when all this happened, it didn't affect me much. My sister (S.
Ann Koebel) was OK with it too. Others could do whatever they wanted to do, but I felt that I still
had a vocation and wanted to live it out.

I: What do you like specifically about the charism of our Community?

That is hard to answer, because I don't know what other Communities charisms are..

I: What do you like about this Community, how about that?... what's the best thing about being a Sister of


I think that our Community has grown with the sociatal changes that have happened; have accepted
that, and we haven't tried to hold on to a lot of things. I was just happy in my vocation and I wanted
to stay there. Fortunately, I didn't have the temptation to do something else.

M: I think the charism, you know, taking care of the poor, ministering health-wise, and social justice
issues and things like that, we may not be involved in per se, but we pray for those who are and we
are glad that the Community is open to them. Open placement is something we had not experienced
before, and when we did, it was a little bit difficult because we were held responsible for what we
chose to do. The hospitals, I think, saw more of the Sisters who left because they were sent to the
hospital for us to get them ready, getting them dressed etc, In Santa Fe, they had a lot of young
Sisters, too and for whatever reason, a lot of them left from there. Celestia made sure that when they
went out, we as a Community were behind them, had jobs for them etc A few stayed at our
hospital for some time.

Well, that was what we did in those days, it was all part of being a Sister of Charity, and we, at the
hospital, probably had more resources to help them.

I: You were talking before about having fun times out in the West. You've had some pretty big jobs but
what have you done for fun throughout your life as a Sister of Charity?

Well, we were able to take trips. In my job I was able to go out of town periodically to attend
professional meetings, and when I could , I would take someone else with me. Or sometimes, I
would stay maybe a day or two extra to enjoy the place. That helped.

I: It sounds like you have a strong spirit of adventure.
M: She went up in a hot air balloon and sometimes when we had golf
tournaments some people would offer rides in a small plane, and, she once had a beer with Willie
I: Tell us how that happened.

He was entertaining at one of our golf tournaments and invited me in.

M: The guy she really liked and got to come every time because he became a sponsor, was Charlie Pride...
she still gets a Christmas card from him.
I: Do you like to read?

I love to read. I read a lot. I like a good novel.

I: Did you ever play golf?

Not really. I was too busy trying to raise the money

I: Do you like Willie Nelson's music?

I really don't know. I like classical music

I: Have you gone down to the symphony?
S. Yes, I have. We have a great symphony here.
I: Throughout your life as a Sister of Charity you've seen lots and lots of
changes in the Community and in religious life. Do you have any thoughts about the future of
religious life?
S: Changes, yes. But, changes probably brought on by changes in life in general. I think that religious life
is always going to adapt to changes socially, too. That just kind of happens. But our primary goal
as vowed religious isn't going to change.

Dublin Core


Sister Celestia Koebel, SC Interviewed by Sister Andrea Koverman, SC and Sister Tracy Kemme, SC October 31, 2013


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati; Monasticism and religious orders for women -- Catholic Church -- History; Catholic hospitals -- History


An interview with Sister Celesia Koebel by Sister Andrea Koverman and Sister Tracy Kemme. This recording is a part of the oral history series housed at the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives.


Koebel, Sister Celestia, SC; Koverman, Sister Andrea, SC; Kemme, Sister Tracy, SC


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives Oral History Series




Online access is provided for research purposes only. For rights, reproduction, and use requests or more information, please contact the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archivist






Oral History


Sister Celestia Koebel, SC Interviewed by Sister Andrea Koverman, SC and Sister Tracy Kemme, SC October 31, 2013



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Koverman, Sister Andrea, SC; Kemme, Sister Tracy, SC


Koebel, Sister Celestia, SC


Cincinnati (Ohio); Albuquerque (N.M.)

Original Format



1 Hour 27 Minutes 36 Seconds


Koebel, Sister Celestia, SC; Koverman, Sister Andrea, SC; Kemme, Sister Tracy, SC, “Sister Celestia Koebel, SC Interviewed by Sister Andrea Koverman, SC and Sister Tracy Kemme, SC October 31, 2013,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


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