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She's a real soul sister: Sister Trudy Keefe to celebrate Diamond Jubilee June 13th

Though she only spent seven years as chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital and Nursing Center in Detroit Lakes, Sister Trudy Keefe made an indelible impression on the community.

"She's a special lady, I tell you," said Gary Wagner, one of the many whose lives Sister Trudy touched during her tenure here. "We've had four deaths in the family, and she's been here for us. That's the kind of lady she is."

Sister Keefe is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee as a member of the Sisters of Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this year. The community will host a mass and open house on Sunday, June 13, to commemorate the event.

On Jan. 20, 1950, Sister Keefe entered Our Lady of Mercy Novitiate, and was received into the community on Aug. 15 of that same year. She took her first vows on Aug. 15, 1952, and her final vows three years later, on Aug. 15, 1955.

But her affinity for the church began many years earlier, during her years growing up in Crookston, Minn., when she spent as much time as she could with the sisters of the Benedictine monastery.

She once told her third grade teacher that she wanted to be a nun when she grew up.

"I went to the Cathedral in Crookston for my first two years of high school," Sister Keefe recalled. "We got to be very close, they (the Benedictine sisters) were very supportive. I loved them dearly, and miss them still."

Sister Keefe also had two aunts who were members of the Sisters of Mercy, and they undoubtedly had an influence on her choice, but she said it went deeper than that.

"From when I was little on it seemed like there was always a part of me that loved being with the sisters whenever I could," she said.

For her first career assignment as a member of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Keefe was sent out to teach school, and she taught primary-age students from 1952 until 1980.

It was then that she decided a change in career paths was in order, and began studying to become a chaplain.

"One of my dreams had always been to do hospital work -- not realizing that chaplaincy would be the ultimate for me," she said.

Sister Keefe found the challenge of chaplaincy work to be very much to her liking, and has continued to follow that career path for the past three decades.

She served as chaplain at St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes from the fall of 1987 until 1996, while her parents were in the nursing home there. She decided to move on after their passing, and has been a chaplain at Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, Iowa, for the past eight years.

"I'm in my eighth year here, and I'd like to make it to 10, but I don't know if I'll persevere that long," said Sister Keefe, who will celebrate her 78th birthday in August.

"It's very fulfilling, and it's a profession that really is needed -- to help not only the patient but the families, to come to grips with the illness and dying time in their loved one's life," she added.

What she does is to help the families come to a greater understanding of the dying process, so they become less afraid of it.

"It doesn't help with the grief and the emotional pain, but when they are given some education about the process, it just makes all the difference," said Sister Keefe.

In fact, chaplaincy has become more of a calling than a profession for her.

"It's a marvelous ministry, very humbling, and there can be stress, but I try not to let it get to me," she said.

One of the ways she uses to relieve stress is that she leaves her work at the hospital at the end of each day.

"Before I leave the hospital at night I ask myself if I have done everything that day that I could possibly do," she said. "If the answer to that question is yes, then I can leave it behind and go home."

Her other secret? Having as much fun on the job as she can.

"While I'm at work I have a good time," she said. "I do some clowning around -- at Christmas I'm Mrs. Santa, on St. Patrick's Day I'm all dressed up in green as the Irish lass. I don't have to be dressed up to do those kinds of things, it's just a normal, natural thing.

"If I was working with nursing staff that were grouches, or always crabby it would be much more difficult, but the rapport I have with the staff is a wonderful one. They include me in their parties, and I bring treats for them. Those are the kinds of things that keep me healthy and keep me sane."

Sister Keefe will also undoubtedly have a good time at her upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebration on June 13, which will take place at the Sacred Heart convent in Cedar Rapids. There will be a mass at 1:30 p.m., and an open house reception from 2 to 4 p.m.

"It's for family and friends -- anyone can come," she said, explaining that the Diamond Jubilee for a priest or nun is much like a wedding or anniversary celebration.

Despite the fact that she has been a chaplain for 30 years now, Sister Keefe has no immediate plans for retirement.

"I'd like to get in a couple more years, and retire when I'm 80," she said. "I have the willingness, and I have the energy, so we'll see what happens."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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