Mary F. Heinen, CSJ, Health Care Visionary and Leader

By Mary Kraft, CSJ

It was always hard to keep up with Mary Heinen, CSJ. Going back to her high school days, it was evident that she was not going to wait for someone to do something. “No,” she said, “Let’s do it now.” That attitude accompanied her throughout life as she exhibited leadership, especially within her life-long ministry of health care. At the time of her death on Jan. 1, 2014, Mary was serving as director of advocacy and public policy for St. Mary’s Health Clinics, a network of eight clinics serving uninsured and underserved people in the Twin City metropolitan area. She was 80 years old.

Mary recognized that good health is a gift and that it was the responsibility and moral imperative of the health care community to do all it could to help people maintain health throughout life. “Health care is basic human right,” she said over and over again, “and those of us involved in providing health care need to commit ourselves every day to this ministry.”

Long before the Affordable Care Act made headlines, Mary was promoting a common societal vision for health care based on such tenets as universal access, freedom of choice, cost containment, equitable financing, health promotion and illness prevention, cultural diversity options, and, above all, respect for the continuum of life. She frequently quoted former Minnesota senator and U.S. vice president Hubert H. Humphrey, “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

And Mary was always proud to wave the Minnesota banner because she considered it to be a “great state of health,” often setting a national challenge for others to follow such as being the first state to fund programs for reducing tobacco use among its citizens.
Mary’s ministry in health care began somewhat inconspicuously in 1954, three years after she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province. Her first assignment was that of a nurse’s aide at the former St. Michael’s Hospital in Grand Forks, ND. She returned to North Dakota a number of years later, this time to St. John’s Hospital in Fargo where her leadership as associate professor and director of the school of nursing was critical as the school of nursing curriculum was incorporated into associate and baccalaureate degree programs at North Dakota State University.

Later, while at St. Mary’s Junior College, Mpls., Mary helped develop programs in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other allied fields. Such focused course work served as an educational model and was among the earliest two-year health associate degree programs in the United States. Mary went on to serve as executive secretary for the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care Network, and as vice president for mission for the CSJ (Congregation of St. Joseph) Health Care Corporation in St. Louis. Her work in this position, established the foundation for today’s Ascension Health Network bringing together three major religious congregations.

In 1988, Mary was elected director of the St. Paul Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. This position included responsibility for the province’s ministries in education, health care, and social services. During this time, St. Mary’s Hospital, Mpls., was sold to Fairview and the groundwork was established for the St. Mary’s Clinics.

The clinics opened in 1992. As director of advocacy for the clinics, Mary brought to this ministry the same untiring enthusiasm and commitment that characterized all of her work. She carefully tracked health care legislation, especially bills pertaining to programs for medically underserved and uninsured people in Minnesota and made frequent contacts with legislators before, during, and after legislative sessions.

Mary’s success throughout life was made possible through continual professional networking and ongoing research and study based on earlier educational degrees — a bachelor of science from the College of St. Catherine, a master of science in nursing and nursing education from the Catholic University, and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Minnesota.

That Mary was a well-respected and recognized leader is evidenced, in part, by appointments to various boards, commissions, and committees. Up until the time of her death, Mary was a member of the St. Catherine University and Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics boards and the St. Joseph Hospital Reserved Powers Working Group. Especially as regards the latter, Mary’s ability to ask challenging questions and to establish benchmarks for success was critical to maintaining the Catholic commitment to St. Joseph’s and Woodwinds/St. Joseph’s hospitals, members of the HealthEast System.

Earlier, Mary had served on other boards including the Catholic Health Association of Minnesota, Minnesota Board of Nursing, St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas, HealthEast Care System, CommonBond Communities, Catholic Charities, St. Therese Southwest, Carondelet Health System, and the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health Advisory Council at St. Catherine’s University, and the Commission for Pastoral Health Care in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
She was also the recipient of many awards such as an Honorary Doctorate from St. Catherine University, the University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award, and the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s Lawrence D. Gibson Interfaith Social Justice Award.
Professional colleagues joined Mary’s family, friends, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on January 6th in honoring her life at a visitation service and a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated for her in Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel at St. Joseph’s Provincial House, St. Paul.