Serving her patients and the Church

Your Faith
Eileen Gianiodis | Photography by Tom Gennara
May, 2015

Sister Jane Mary, M.D. focuses on healing

When Sister Jane Mary Firestone, RSM, M.D., one of four children, told her father she wanted to leave home at age 15 to enter religious life, he did what any parent would do. 

He called in reinforcements, asking the priests he knew what should be done.

“I met several priests, and one of them suggested that I speak to his cousin, who was a Sister of Mercy. She was a nurse and a religious woman, and this was very attractive to me.  After meeting her, I decided to enter the Religious Sisters of Mercy,” says Sister Jane Mary. She joined the order at age 17.

For most people, the rest might be history. But this is just where Sister Jane Mary’s story begins. 

Twenty years into her religious life, she and seven other sisters began a program of renewal, and received permission to continue this as a community in Alma, Mich. The community of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma was established in 1973 in response to the call for renewal in the Second Vatican Council, continuing in the tradition of Mercy. Sister Jane Mary now serves as the vicar general for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy are health care professionals, teachers – or, as Sister Jane Mary describes them, “Highly educated to serve the Church, and very intent on their religious vocation.”

Sister Jane Mary attended the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Medicine, and felt very accepted by her class of almost two dozen doctors. After graduation and a residency at Sinai Hospital in Detroit, she became board-certified in internal medicine.

In 1982, she started practicing in Alma at the Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center – a Catholic health care clinic. The center was established by the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma to provide health care for a community in need, and has served countless patients over the past 30-plus years. 

Over the years, Sister Jane Mary also has served as chief of staff at Gratiot Community Hospital and as the medical director of St. Francis Nursing Home in Saginaw, Mich. Three years ago, she was called to become the local superior in the Religious Sisters of Mercy Convent in DeWitt in the Diocese of Lansing, and so she commutes to Alma three days a week to see her patients.

At the clinic in Alma, the sisters provide an environment where life at all stages is reverenced, and the particular needs of patients and their families are respected. Sister Jane Mary enjoys working with the elderly, attending to their medical needs. The charism of the Religious Sisters of Mercy is focused on the mercy of God and the misery of humankind. The care of the sick is very intimate to the religious vocation.

 “It’s important in to meet people where they are, and to speak to them in their language,” she says. She sees tremendous courage in her patients.

“They do more healing than they are healed,” she says. “It’s a blessing to be around patients.”

She’s learned a lot from them, too.

“It is important that our patients trust us,” she says. “They have to trust that relationship to know us and that we will meet them where they are and assist them to enter into the changes that will bring about healing in some way.”

In that way, Sister Jane Mary says, religion and medicine are very similar. They both involve meeting people where they are in order to establish a relationship, and then encouraging them to make those choices which are good for themselves and for others. 

In other ways, she says the two are different: “What you learn when you get to be an old doctor like me, is that what’s absolute in medicine, won’t be absolute in 10 years. That’s not how our Church is; there are absolute truths that remain the same no matter how many years go by.” 

For more information on discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, contact Father John Linden, director of vocations, at 517.342.2507, or Dawn Hausmann, director of consecrated vocations, at 517.342.2506, or visit www.dioceseoflansing.org/vocations.