A Calm in the Storm
By Cynthia Machamer
Alzheimer’s patients. Drug addicts. Sexually abused and domestic-violence victims. The terminally ill. Maureen Donovan ’00 brings hope to these and other forgotten people in inner-city Chicago.
Since 2005 she’s been a cardiac intensive care and telemetry social worker at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital and Medical Center. There, she meets patients with whom she seems to have nothing in common, except maybe the need for a little understanding—and a smile is nice once in a while, thank you.
Donovan seems called to take her place among the sick and dying. She says she was surrounded by strong women growing up, not the least of these her grandmother, Elizabeth “Betty Jo” Donahue Donovan ’41. She started Birthright of Oklahoma, a social service organization to help single mothers in need. “She was an unofficial social worker,” Maureen says. “I remember participating with her in drives for unwed mothers.”
“At Saint Mary’s, Professors Fran Kominkiewicz and JoAnn Burke pushed me past my comfort zone and taught me to think critically about issues facing underserved populations.”
Maureen credits her physician father, too, for showing her that it is good to reach out to those less blessed than you. But she says she wanted to learn not only to care for the body but for the pain you can’t see. That’s why she chose to major in social work at Saint Mary’s.
She says she received an education at Saint Mary’s that equaled or surpassed her master’s degree preparation at Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois in Chicago. At Saint Mary’s, Professors Fran Kominkiewicz and JoAnn Burke pushed her past her comfort zone and taught her to think critically about issues facing underserved populations. “The Social Work program at Saint Mary’s is one of the best in the country,” she says. “The professors are jewels of the school. They are Saint Mary’s to me. They are my extended family.”
Four months after she graduated from Saint Mary’s, Donovan landed in Asumbi, Kenya to organize a residential substance abuse treatment program for villagers who had contracted HIV/AIDS. With no resources to start the program, she says she felt overwhelmed. She was in tears, but the first call she placed outside of the country was to Professor Kominkiewicz. “I had to call Fran,” Donovan says. “I needed her encouragement.”
The marks that Africa—and Saint Mary’s—left on Donovan’s life seem like a world away, she admits. Yet she knows that every day when she goes to work at Mercy and she’s able to help a patient, like the Asian woman who couldn’t understand English and thought her beloved husband was dying, that her experiences and her mentors and her educational resources are right there. “I’m constantly evolving in this melting pot,” says Donovan. She continues to find her destiny and use her education. When the beeper goes off as she walks through the hospital doors at 8:30 a.m., it could be someone needing to be placed in a nursing home. It could be a person dying who needs to be set up for hospice care. It’s different every day, she says.
What doesn’t change is that Donovan brings great hope to her patients. “I am a tool, a bridge,” she says. “I believe in divine intervention.” She says she is constantly humbled by her patients, who teach her that they deserve no less than anyone else. “I am an educator and an advocate,” she says. “The rest is up to God.”
Donovan prefers not to posit a guess at where she’ll be in five to ten years. She says she might be working for the International Red Cross or disaster relief here in the States. Or maybe she’ll still be at Mercy. She doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know. For now, she is living her destiny and happy to be a calm in the storm, happy to use her professional training to make a difference.