By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic
Sister Lucy Bonifas, OSF, became a novice with the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, Ohio, in 1955.
Sixty-one years of service later, and only retiring this past January, she has learned that religious life is “very special.”
“Women religious are more crucial now than ever,” said Sister Bonifas, who lives in Paducah, about 500 miles from her community’s Ohio motherhouse.
Sister Bonifas’ community was originally founded in 1867 by a parish priest and several female parishioners.
Their goal was to care for orphans and widows, said Sister Bonifas, and today it has blossomed into a “wide variety” of ministries, from healthcare, childcare, education, environmental activism, and much more.
Sister Bonifas’ experiences as a religious woman are similarly as diverse. She served as a seamstress – and to this day loves to sew – as well as house mother for the sisters’ orphanage in Toledo, Ohio. The sister also volunteered with the Red Cross’s blood bank, as well as the local 4-H Club.
From as early as high school, however, Sister Bonifas wanted to be a nurse. Her dream came true when she arrived as an LPN at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah in 1969.
She worked on the medical floor until a critical care unit opened some years later, where she stayed until 1982.
“Besides working eight hours a day, I was responsible to visit patients,” said Sister Bonifas. Her visits to patients, which was all volunteered time, often took up to seven hours a day.
The following years saw Sister Boniface as nursing department supervisor – “I worked with hundreds of nurses and patients” – and later as director of Spiritual Care Services, and chaplain, for the hospital.
“Hospice care fell under that,” said Sister Boniface, adding that bereavement services later joined that department.
“It was very rewarding, spiritually,” she said, “to be able to be present with families at difficult times in their lives.”
“In the early 2000s I felt that I needed to cut back, so I served just as chaplain and not as Spiritual Care director,” she said. In January 2016 she retired from her role as chaplain.
Though she has stepped back from the hospital, Sister Bonifas’s daily schedule hasn’t really slowed down.
She currently serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, as an active choir member and as an RCIA team member at St. Thomas More Parish in Paducah. She has been able to more fully embrace her love of gardening, sewing and baking, too.
“I am utilizing my drive to be of service to the people,” she said.
She does miss Lourdes Hospital, fondly remembering sharing her baked goods with the hospital staff, and spending time with the patients.
Sister Bonifas recalled that when employee announcements were made about the arrival of her cinnamon rolls, “they’d all come like ants climbing out of the woodwork!”
Sister Bonifas said that living a vowed life is “witnessing to the people in how we relate, reaching out to the poor, the lonely, those who are hurt in various ways.”
She emphasized that she still lives locally in Paducah, and wishes to continue being of service to the community in whatever capacity God wills.
“What a privilege, unworthy though I be, to be a part of peoples’ lives that way,” she said.