She's become an institution in the Brainerd lakes area, much like St. Joseph's Medical Center where she has worked for 28 years.
Sister Vivian Arts plans to retire Feb. 8, which happens to be her 80th birthday. In a few months she will return to Duluth and live at the St. Scholastica Monastery along with her other Benedictine Sisters.
"It just feels right," Sister Vivian said of her upcoming retirement. "It's been my pleasure to work at St. Joe's."
Sister Vivian grew up in a family of eight children in Hibbing and attended parochial school. It was at school where she became interested in becoming a Benedictine Sister. At 16, she joined the Benedictine Sisters during her freshman year at the College of St. Scholastica. Two years later, she took her vows.
After graduating with a nursing degree she worked in several hospitals in different positions, as an X-ray technician, nurse, director of nursing, administrator and a senior vice president. She also received her master's degree in nursing education at the University of Chicago in 1947.
She worked in Duluth, Crosby and Hibbing before she was transferred to St. Joseph's Medical Center in 1972. At first Sister Vivian wasn't that impressed with St. Joseph's; the hospital didn't seem as progressive as other institutions at the time.
"It didn't offer the full range of services like there are today," she said. "Part of the hospital was like a nursing home."
So she set to work.
Since she's been in Brainerd, Sister Vivian is responsible for helping to develop the Focus Unit in 1984, the Counseling Center in 1985 and the Grace Unit in 1987. She also wrote the business plans for St. Joseph's Home Care in 1976, and the hospice program in 1979. She helped develop the parish nursing program and is a longtime volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
She is now mission integration director at the hospital and, among other duties, oversees the social accountability budget and the hospital's charity care services.
Sister Vivian was honored as Brainerd Citizen of the Year in 1996 and has collected so many awards that the plaques now sit in boxes. There are too many to be hung on her office walls.
But even when surrounded by her awards, Sister Vivian remains humble and true to the Benedictine vows she took when she was 18. She rises at 4:45 a.m. each day, spending up to an hour in morning prayer and meditation. She prays and attends services several other times during her day.
For almost six years, Sister Vivian's real sister and fellow Benedictine Sister, Sister Helen Claire, has also worked with her at St. Joseph's. They live together in the St. Joseph's Convent. Sister Helen Claire plans to retire in a few months. At that time, the sisters will move together to Duluth.
"To me, she's really been the spiritual leader for this organization, both she and her sister," said Tom Prusak, CEO and president of St. Joseph's Medical Center. "What they mean to St. Joseph's Medical Center is difficult to describe. Sister Vivian has spearheaded a number of projects. It's been an absolute privilege to work with her. She's been a tremendous leader, not only at the hospital, but in the community."
Prusak said once the sisters leave, the convent will likely be used to house temporary hospital staff or computer technicians who have been upgrading the hospital's computer systems. He said the hospital will attempt to recruit other Benedictine Sisters to St. Joseph's. It will be a difficult task since there are fewer women who are becoming Benedictine Sisters.
Sister Vivian's recent health problems have attributed to her decision to retire. She recently spent two days in intensive care at the hospital because of heart problems. She also developed diabetes a few years ago.
St. Joseph's Medical Center is planning a party for Sister Vivian.
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