Herrin -- Sister Clara Ternes served God by taking care of patients and inspiring change in the health care system.
Her tenure in nursing came to a close last month, when she closed a 17-year tenure as corporate director of mission, value and ethics for Southern Illinois Healthcare with her retirement.
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"It was probably about time," the 85-year-old Ternes said, laughing. She finished a stay at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel convent in Herrin earlier this month and has now made the transition to the Ruma Convent, where she'll enjoy her retirement.
Ternes began her nursing career in 1949. She had the opportunity to serve as a nurse's aide and enjoyed the experience, so when she saw a need in the community, she committed herself to the medical professional.
She first came to Southern Illinois in 1957, when she was assigned to what would become St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, now part of the SIH system. She would go on to pursue a graduate degree in medical ethics from the Catholic Theological Union.
Through the years that followed, she would come and go from Southern Illinois, taking her expertise where it was needed, including a five-year stint teaching ethics in Houston, where she had completed her residency.
Upon her return to the region, Ternes served in a number of roles, including a new one for her: hospital chaplain at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville and St. Clement Hospital in Red Bud.
When St. Joseph Memorial became part of the SIH system, Ternes was tapped to help establish the corporate mission, values and ethics practices.
"They liked what they saw at St. Joe's and wanted to extend that through the whole system," Ternes said. She began in that role in February 1996 and served through her retirement March 29.
Ternes praised SIH and the organizations ethics and values system, touting it as "marvelous" and saying she had support from leaders from the very beginning.
Part of the ideology behind Ternes' approach was for caregivers to develop relationships with patients beyond the traditional doctor-patient interactions.
"I may be able to perform a service well, but if I have no relationship with the people I'm working with and caring for, it doesn't work very well," she said.
Looking back at the past six decades, Ternes had a lot to be proud of at each stage of her career. While retirement pulled her away from the day-to-day world, her heart will always be with those she helped.
"It was a very interesting and satisfying professional all the way through," she said.