Sister Beatrice Tom: Making Every Decision Count
It has been said our lives are the sum total of the choices we have made. Quality decisions to serve God and care for others ultimately result in an extraordinary life of productive service that brings glory to God.
Sister Beatrice Tom, OSF, former Chief Executive Officer of St. Francis Healthcare System, and now President of Our Lady of Kea`au in Waianae, has been making quality decisions all her life, and this has given her opportunities to experience the love of God in exciting ways.
One of her first major life decisions was to become a Sister. She was born on Oahu, and attended Catholic schools when she was growing up in Aiea Heights. She initially went to St. Augustine’s School, which was operated by Maryknoll sisters, then went to St. Francis School, her first experience with Franciscan Sisters. After she graduated, she made her first major decision: to enter the convent and become a Sister.
Her mom, who was a Catholic, was against her decision to become a Sister. Ironically, her dad, who was not a Catholic, encouraged her. “He told my mother, ‘Whatever she wants to do, it’s her life, let her do it.’”
A Life-Changing Offer
Her first assignment as a Mission Novice was at Mount Carmel in Utica, teaching fourth graders in an Italian parish. She had continued teaching for several years. After Mount Carmel, Sister Be went to Amsterdam before eventually returning back to Hawaii to her alma mater, St. Francis School. She eventually crossed paths with Sister Maureen Keleher and was presented with another life-changing decision.
“She said to me, ‘You’ll want to go into hospital ministry. You’ll be bored sick in school.’ She coaxed me into hospital ministry and that’s how I switched over,” Sister Be recalled. This occurred when Sister Bea was finishing her master’s degree in religious education at St. Mary’s College, so Sister Maureen asked her to get a second master’s degree in hospital administration after Sister Eileen Griffith, OSF was named Superior General so that there could be another Sister to help in the hospital.
Frontline Ministry in Manhattan
Sister Bea’s first experience in healthcare was at Covenant House in New York City, where she stayed a number of years. That ministry was looking for someone with experience working with high school students for a program called “Under 21,” who were drug addicts and runaways. Sister Be had experience with high school students and welcome the opportunity to experience the excitement and energy of Manhattan.
“The challenge that I most enjoyed was with Under 21. The kids were rough, but they were very real. You couldn’t help but like them, especially when you heard their stories,” Sister Be said.
“I remember the first girl I took care of. Her name was Debbie. I was running 15th Street, a group home for girls. She was one of the oldest girls staying with us and was going to graduate that year. One day she came back and said, ‘I went to see my family. And she said they’re gone. They left without me.’ I told her, ‘Well, it’s good you have a room here. We’ll take care of you.’ She got her degree, found a friend, got a job, and she moved on. She was happy. But it was so sad that her family had left.’
An Introduction to Hospital Ministry
Back in Hawaii, when Sister Be was assigned to the men’s alcoholic ward. One night she recalled being on duty with a young intern, who informed her that a patient who was going through detox on her half of the ward had taken off all of his clothes — even though he was constrained so he wouldn’t be a danger to himself. She went back and redressed him.
“The second time, I told him, “No, no, no. You got yourself out, now get yourself back in. And I’m staying here until you get yourself back in. And he did. He just looked up and thought the whole thing was funny. And that was my introduction to working on the hospital floor!”
Sisters on Campus
Back in those days, the Sisters lived on the hospital campus and the Sisters played an intimate role in the lives of the patients.
“There’s something different about just being there and being there all the time. Whenever they needed help, the Sisters were always there. We were with them 24/7. They knew us and we knew them,” she said.
Purpose of West Expansion
The good thing about the West facility is that it reached out to Native Hawaiian people. When Sister Maureen built West, it was to reach out to Native Hawaiian people, to go to the Leeward Coast.
Ongoing Focus on Serving the Disadvantaged
Today, St. Francis Healthcare System continues to reach out those on the Leeward Coast, extending our ministry all the way to the Waianae Coast.
“Mother Marianne came to take care of the disadvantaged. We still take care of the disadvantaged. Now they’re called homeless,” said Sister Be, referring to the homeless outreach ministry to Waianae Small Boat Harbor and other areas. Former homeless individuals also live on the Our Lady of Kea`au campus, most of whom stay for two to three years before moving forward on their own.
Remaining True to the Charism
“We have to be true to our charism. We cannot do this to make money. You do this because we want to reach out to people and take care of people as the Lord asks us to. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ And when you do that, it can come back to you. But if you do for the sake of making money or to be popular, I don’t think it works too well,” Sister Be said.