By Jenny Schlagenhaft
In a blink of an eye… a feeling became his knowing...a job became his vocation...an organization became his family...a purpose became his passion.
In a blink of an eye, a first became his fifty. This month, Tom Crowley marks his 50 years of service to St. Elizabeth's. A timely opportunity to reflect on the moments, memories and milestones that have exemplified a work-life well-lived and well-loved.
While organizational affiliations have changed over the years, his unshakeable commitment to its founders and mission has never wavered. A sit down with Tom in commemoration of this notable occasion illuminates certain golden nuggets that made this honorable journey sparkle.
Q: Fifty years later, what accounts for the longstanding presence of St. Elizabeth's in Wabasha?
A: We cannot celebrate the success of our organization without paying tribute to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (SSM). It was their deep faith and commitment to servant leadership that distinguished their care from all others. Despite great hardship and challenge, they exhibited joyful tenacity and resolute devotion. They came with nothing and depended on the goodness of others to equip them with the support and resources needed to plant the seeds of a healthcare ministry. Their passion to meet community needs, their patience to endure obstacles, and their promise to serve in all circumstances sustained their presence and shaped their vision.
Q: The SSMs have long since retreated from this ministry, yet the mission carries on. How so?
A: The sisters' passion, humility, and work ethic were inspiring. All one had to do was watch and witness how they wholeheartedly exhibited their love for God and His people as they cared for the most vulnerable. It was infectious! The mightiness of their compassion was a magnet. You couldn't help but want to emulate these qualities.
The sisters served as our mentors. They were gifted and educated pioneers that brought innovative thinking and clinical expertise to our communities. They were also the authors of our mission. They left a legacy worth protecting. We are blessed to have built a workforce that acknowledges and honors this heritage. Even though our sisters are present only in spirit, the lifeblood of their healthcare ministry lives on through the deeds and actions of everyone who is following in their footsteps.
Q: How has the mission contributed to St. Elizabeth's success?
A: The founding of St. Elizabeth's in 1898 was the result of an identified need and a vision for meeting this need. In the early days, the mission was not articulated in writing. It was integrated into everything the sisters did and bore out in their acts of caring and service. Mission was the guidepost for decision-making and the boundaries for growth.
The sisters were incredible visionaries and entrepreneurs. While they welcomed exploration, discovery and progressive ideas, they never compromised their principles. Alignment to the mission was the precursor to implementation. Finally, in the early eighties, a mission and core set of values were formalized and adopted as a way of ensuring their assimilation throughout the organization. I can sincerely say 50 years later that mission continues to be our true north. It defines our purpose and governs every action.
Q: Why is teamwork so important to the work of St. Elizabeth's?
A: No significant accomplishment has ever been achieved in isolation or in silos. Our founders knew this and every one since. Teamwork is at the heart of our ministry. There is no greater power than the collaboration of people drawn together by a common goal. St. Elizabeth's has been blessed immeasurably by the dedication of our employees and providers, the allegiance of our volunteers, the generosity of our donors, the engagement of our businesses and community members, and the trust of our patients and residents. This unified determination to preserve rural healthcare at all odds was the catalyst that sparked continued progress, advancement and expansion. Every project we pursued was met with success because the collective pursuit for the good of all prevailed.
Q: Fifty years and counting...what keeps you going?
A: I've been blessed with work that always felt more like a calling. And I am grateful for all the people who have surrounded and supported me through these years. It's been a privilege to help carry the torch of our founding sisters. They sacrificed so much. Being part of their ministry for so long is a rare gift that I have never taken for granted. To this day, St. Elizabeth's experiences a low turnover rate, and many who leave remain active volunteers. I think they feel the same way I do. We receive so much more than we give. Who wouldn't want to remain connected to this worthy commission?
Q: What are you most proud of as you reflect on your past?
A: There is something special about our organization. It's hard to put into words but it certainly can be felt. It's a culture with a big heart and a deep soul. People stop me all the time sharing their stories of gratitude for our staff and their experiences. It's the compassion exhibited by our employees, providers, and volunteers that I am most proud of.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges that have tested the strength and resolve of St. Elizabeth's?
A: There have been many over the lifetime of our organization. Maybe the fact that we remained resilient during the valleys of our journey and became stronger on the other side is worthy enough of a celebration.
Q: During your 50 years of service, St. Elizabeth's experienced many changes, including three different sponsorships. How have these changes impacted healthcare in our service area?
A: Throughout the course of our history, new paths and partnerships were forged to sustain our presence and stay true to our mission. They were necessary next steps in our ongoing evolution. These decisions were not made in haste and were carefully considered and evaluated to protect our past and prepare for our future. Gundersen Health System understands rural healthcare. Our adoption into this highly regarded system has set the stage for continued growth and investment in primary and specialty care close to home. I am excited I can still contribute to this meaningful outreach.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: "We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us." This is the title of a song that was written some years ago to commemorate our founding sisters. This month marks St. Elizabeth's 123rd anniversary. With the passing of time, the shoulders of many have set a firm foundation for the continuation of a thriving ministry of healthcare. It is not only a duty but a great honor to broaden our shoulders to ensure this remarkable legacy is preserved.
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