If the suggestion of retirement is music to your ears, then for Sister Mary Janice Brink, RSM, it will be played by a dulcimer.
After 43 years of ministry, Sister Janice is retiring and relocating to the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Nashville.
When asked what she planned to do in Nashville, Sister Janice said she looked forward to having time to pursue her hobbies and to pray – and finally master the dulcimer, an instrument that she began playing three years ago.
“I like to play the dulcimer — but I’m just learning,” she jokingly warned.
At a reception held July 17 at Physicians Regional Medical Center, formerly St. Mary’s Hospital, friends and colleagues gathered to say goodbye to Sister Janice and thank her for her work at the hospital, a legacy measured by the way her dedication to Christ’s teaching has touched so many people.
At the reception, a long line of friends, coworkers and acquaintances greeted Sister Janice, giving her hugs, a kisses, cards, and their best wishes for retirement.
Clark Strange, a hospital staff member, fondly greeted her in the receiving line. “She’s just like family,” he said. “She’s been super, super to us all throughout the years.”
Becky Dodson, Physicians Regional Medical Center’s vice-president of mission, has her office near the chapel where she often overheard Sister Janice interacting with visitors and patients.
“She would just be so kind dealing with people who needed help, really in the spirit of Catherine
McAuley (Venerable Mother, founder of the Sisters of Mercy), serving the most vulnerable.”
Laura Lauer, a Mercy Associate (a lay apostolate with the Sisters of Mercy), said she has known Sister Janice “forever.” “I think she has made a difference for the Mercy Associates,” she said. “It was such a pleasure, all the meetings and all the retreats that I have been, where she had something to do with them.”
Sister Janice was born and raised in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., the oldest of five children. As a young girl in a small Catholic school, she was taught by the Sisters of Mercy and their influence led her to forgo college — even after receiving two scholarships — and enter the order as a novitiate. While in training at the convent, she also received a bachelor’s degree in education that she used throughout her life.
“The job I liked the best was the actual teaching,” Sister Janice said.
Her experience demonstrates that love for teaching. Between 1959 and 2002, Sister Janice served at 10 Catholic schools as a teacher and administrator. In the Diocese of Knoxville, she served at St. Mary (1960 – 1963), Sacred Heart (1967 – 1969), St. Joseph (1972 – 1983), and St. John Neumann (1997 – 2002).
Sister Janice noted that she continually meets former students, and recalled seeing several at services at Sacred Heart Cathedral, people whom she taught in the 1960s. “I look up at them and they have gray hair, and I shake my head and say, ‘Where have I been,’” she said.
Two former students, Veronica Hintz and Michael James, attended the reception to offer best wishes to their former principal at St. John Neumann School. Both Hintz and James were part of the inaugural class at that school.
At Physicians Regional Medical Center and the former St. Mary’s Hospital, Sister Janice went from teaching children to mending hearts. For the last 10 years, she has visited patients to offer them encouragement after orthopedic surgery and therapy.
“It’s not uncommon to get positive feedback for all the Sisters, but in particular we receive it for Sister Janice on our orthopedic floor,” Mrs. Dodson said. “We are known for out orthopedics — that’s our strongest health service line. She plays a key role in delivery of that service.”
Dodson also praised Sister Janice’s work in the hospital’s Women’s Pavilion. “As a retired educator, Sister really loved working with the women there, and especially the older siblings of newborns.”
Sister Janice also took care of the hospital chapel and assisted the priests assigned to the medical center. She was there with an open heart for those who came to the chapel seeking consolation.
“People would come into pray,“ Sister Janice said. “I would ask them if they had someone in the hospital and I would pray with them, whoever they were.”
Sister Janice attributes her dedication to serving others to her mother. She recalled, “My mother taught me, really … when anybody she knew, from the church or town, was in the hospital or sick at home, we would go and visit. She would get these little pill cases, in blue or different colors, and she always had wonderful flower gardens, and she would cut some flowers … and being the little girl, she would get me to hand them the flowers, and I would give them a kiss, and tell them I hope they got better — and this was training for what I would do in life.”
In addition to mastering the dulcimer, Sister Janice expects to have more time to pursue painting and reading in Nashville. When someone remarked that a smile never seemed to leave her face, she laughed, saying “Well, it’s been a happy life.”
The name chosen for her religious life — Janice — means “God’s greatest gift.” The long stream of friends, students, associates, colleagues, and well-wishers at her reception indicated that she has been that gift to many people who have crossed paths with her, whether in the corridors of a school or on a hospital ward.