sister jeanne germaine mcgovern
July 19, 1924 - December 28, 2008
As her sister, Pat, said of S. Jeanne, “My sister—no dearer words—my sister. She was ever an advocate for me, a puller of chestnuts for me, a guide for me, a leader for me, a companion for me, a dear friend for me, an inspiration. From our earliest days we shared, we dreamed, we anticipated each other, we lived together; we were sisters.” Loving words as these epitomize S. Jeanne McGovern, as testified to by many others who knew her and came under her influence.
S. Jeanne was born in Chicago but eventually her parents, Paul John and Germaine Ulrich McGovern, moved to Atlanta. When Jeanne wanted to become a Sister of St. Joseph immediately out of high school, her mother encouraged her to go to college first. In that way, her mother said, she would be an “asset” to the community. Jeanne followed her mother’s advice and entered the community for the Augusta Province at age 22 in 1946. She received the habit and the name S. Joseph Marie on March 19, 1947.
S. Jeanne’s ministry was certainly varied. She started out in elementary education, and while she was a good teacher, her heart drew her to health care ministry. She received a bachelor’s degree in home economics from the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., and was assigned as the first dietitian at St. Joseph Hospital in Augusta, Ga., in 1952. She remained there for nine years and then took the same position at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City.
Patients took priority for S. Jeanne when it came to food preparation. Not only did she provide nutritious meals, but her presentations were always attractive. As head dietitian she helped “break in” new folks on the job, one being S. Mary Carol Anth, who tells how on one New Year’s Eve, the two of them decided to make 300 cream puffs as a treat for the patients. After working until 2:00am they were “ecstatic” to see their baker return after the holiday.
After receiving a master’s degree in administration of programs in aging from North Texas State University in Denton, Texas, S. Jeanne wielded her most profound influence as she began her ministry with senior adults. From 1970-1975 she served as administrator at Nazareth Convent (NLC) Leaving that ministry, S. Jeanne served four years as consultant on aging for the St. Louis Province, using her expertise to help sisters remain mentally and physically active.
In 1981, she was tapped to be the first administrator at the newly constructed Mary, Queen and Mother Center in St. Louis, ministering in that capacity for nine years. She later returned to NLC as assistant administrator and consultant. For her selfless service at NLC, the skilled facility was named McGovern Commons in her honor.
Among her peers, S. Jeanne is a legend. She was a strong believer in the dignity and care that must be provided with compassion to senior adults. A mentor and teacher to many, S. Jeanne never asked anyone in the nursing facility to do what she would not do herself. She would make rounds several times a day to see for herself how residents were being treated.
As a professional, S. Jeanne was an active member of the Missouri Association of Homes for the Aging and worked tirelessly on its behalf as a board member, as its secretary, as the treasurer, and as a member of many committees. In 2001 she was honored as an individual who has dedicated her life to long-term care. She was made an MoAHA’s honorary member.
Besides creating a respectful, compassionate environment for aging persons, S. Jeanne challenged caregivers to strive for excellence; and shaped the way the facility ministered to residents, as well as family members, volunteers and employees according to Gospel values. In the hearts of those who loved her, Jeanne will always hold a special place. We pray in thanksgiving for this kind, humble, gracious and talented woman.
S. Rita Louise Huebner