Reflecting on our time sponsoring Divine Savior Healthcare

In an earlier time line story, we shared the history of Divine Savior Healthcare (DSH) in Portage, Wis., and how our sisters instilled our core values through religious sponsorship. Sisters of the Divine Savior sponsored DSH for more than 100 years, until the official transfer of sponsorship to Aspirus Health Care in January 2020. We are excited for the newly named Aspirus Divine Savior Hospital to thrive in a system committed to community-based health care. To celebrate this collaborative venture that came to completion in our 125th anniversary year, we asked current and former employees to reflect on their service at a SDS sponsored institution.

Jennifer Bieno, Retired Executive Vice President, Divine Savior Healthcare

I had the privilege to be part of the mission of the Sisters of the Divine Savior since 1990. When I first came to Divine Savior I was the executive vice president responsible for operations of a 111-bed nursing home, environmental services, two distinct dietary departments and therapy services. Always striving to respond to community needs, we added new services including physician clinics, dialysis, infusions, urgent care and emergency medical services .We expanded inpatient and outpatient surgery, and put together a continuum of care with wellness programs, home care and assisted living.

In 1990 we employed about 350 people. Today, Divine Savior employs almost 1,000. At the time of our transfer to Aspirus, I was responsible for assisted living, home care, skilled nursing, social services, discharge planning across the continuum of care and a consolidated dietary department. We contract out fewer services, and directly employ our providers to ensure the same standards across all services: Divine Service. Staff and facilities are held to these standards, with expectations set during orientation. People can come to Divine Savior and know that the Sister’s mission has made the Portage Community a better place to live and receive health care.

Sponsorship makes a difference
Sponsorship is how Divine Savior Healthcare came to be back in 1917. The Sisters founded an organization by investing their own resources in the Portage community. The Sisters staffed and ran the hospital, and shaped the organization to reflect their mission, vision and values. That same commitment to service and God gave the Sisters the foresight to open a home for the aged in 1923.

Those foundations continue today, as we have spent the last several years focusing on Divine Service.  The mission, vision and values statements that have come from the Board and Sponsorship over the years have been our guiding principles. In writing a plan for performance and quality improvement, I used the mission, vision and values to direct the how and why of projects and what we needed to change to stay focused on our foundations. 

Moving the mission forward
Health care is a turbulent and dynamic industry, and without foundations we would falter. The mission is our everyday work, and it keeps us grounded. While technology has changed what we offer, the sound reasoning for strategic initiatives and moving forward remain rooted in the founding values of Divine Savior Healthcare.

I feel there is no part of the continuum that needs greater focus than skilled nursing and assisted living. It’s a privilege and opportunity to help people at the most difficult times of their lives. It might be that we provide rehabilitation and send them home; or, we walk down the final path of life with them.  That final path may be long — or short, but we walk it together. 

The name of our long term care continuum, Tivoli at Divine Savior derives from the founding site of the Sisters in Tivoli, Italy in 1888. Tivoli at Divine Savior also recognizes the Salvatorian Sisters’ co-founders, with one side of the assisted living facility named for Mother Mary and the other side named for Father Jordan. Recognizing the sometimes short and rehabilitative nature of our nursing home inspired naming one unit Renaissance, “to renew,” and another, Providence, “never making a difficult walk alone.”  Their mission continues today!  It is my most sincere effort every day to assure we remember these important values.

Significant memories
I have many memories from Divine Savior Healthcare. One of my first is birthing both of my daughters at Divine Savior Hospital. The birthing suites were the last place I visited before Divine Savior Healthcare moved from the old hospital on Pleasant Street, because I had such wonderful memories there that I will always hold dear.

I can recall many times utilizing Divine Savior Healthcare as a young growing family. We made emergency room visits for sprains, breaks and cuts from broken glass. Divine Savior Healthcare provided skill, care and support to our family and many other young families in the community. I was always very proud to say I was a part of this organization that made a difference in so many lives. A highlight of my career was being part of the DSH campus redesign. From 2000 until 2014 the foresight to make a complete continuum of care has been the most difficult and rewarding part of my 30-plus years in healthcare. How this organization has changed to meet the changing needs of the people we serve demonstrates commitment to the original mission, vision and values.

Retired Chaplain Monica Holden

I was employed by Divine Savior Healthcare for more than 24 years. My first five years was as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the Extended Care facility. With encouragement from Sister Kathleen Dooley who served as a chaplain for Divine Savior, I felt called to take Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). A position in our Spiritual Care Department opened, and I was hired. I’ve served on both the Ethics Committee as an LPN and as chairperson for our Mission Integration Committee at Divine Savior Healthcare.

I’ve been inspired by Divine Savior Healthcare nurses and other staff, along with the Salvatorian Sisters to be a part of this wonderful healing ministry. Back in 2012, I was invited to a Mission Focus Day in Milwaukee. When I stood in front of a display with the shoes of SDS co-founder, Blessed Mary of the Apostles, I was awestruck to think of where they may have walked. I’ve always felt that we follow not only in her footsteps, but also in those of each sister who’s offered such great love and care to the people of Portage and the surrounding communities. I’ve met and worked with so many of the sisters. I want other people to know and to remember them too.

In my work at Tivoli or in the hospital, I met people who fondly remember sisters. They speak with such respect and gratitude for their care. There are fewer staff who have had the privilege of working next to them. Those of us who did are forever grateful. Some have made trips to Milwaukee to celebrate special jubilees or to honor their memory at their funerals. Divine Savior has also taken directors to Milwaukee to help them realize what work is being done through Salvatorian ministry and our heritage as employees of this ministry.

Looking back, I can tell you what the Salvatorians have personally meant to my family and me. Through their medical care, my great-grandmother, Emma VonArx-Pfister, experienced a time of renewed health and was at home with family before her death. My family’s gratitude was expressed in the local newspaper that printed her obituary. Her son, my grandfather, Albert, was cared for and lived another 10 years more than any of us felt he would. His daughter, my mother, Betty Pfister-Holden was in and out of Divine Savior and died at the age of 37 from the secondary effects of a virus. Many doctors, nurses, and other staff along with the sisters who worked there at the time, left their signatures in the book we still have. When my father, Bill, had Stage 4 colon cancer, he had surgery at Divine Savior Hospital and lived to be 90 years old. I was born at Divine Savior. My daughter, Stefanie, was born at Divine Savior. Her oldest and middle son have been cared for at Divine Savior. That’s six generations of my family cared for at this faith-based hospital. 

As my grandsons grew, they became involved in helping me with residents’ outings and visiting some of the sisters who were in Portage. Now in their 20s, they still talk about times they remember with the Salvatorian sisters. My grandson, Seth, was very fond of Sister Patricia Wieloch. He enjoyed sitting with her at Mass. My grandson, Severin, got to know Sister Mercy who was from Sri Lanka. He introduced her to garage sales while she was staying in Portage. My youngest grandson Spenser enjoyed carnival rides at St. Mary’s Catholic Church festival with Sister Beverly Heitke, who “borrowed” him as a grandchild to go on the rides. When Severin enlisted in the Marines, residents joined the priest and visitors after Mass in prayer for him as he went off to boot camp. Through his deployments, Sister Debbie Breese would pray for him. She celebrated with me when Severin safely returned. There are sisters whom I haven’t even met who have prayed for my family, friends, or co-workers over the years. Their intercessory prayer is so appreciated!

I remember many wonderful moments in my personal life and also through my work ministry. One I don’t recall but have been told repeatedly occurred the day I was born at Divine Savior Hospital. There were some complications and my Mom had some difficulties. Sister Loretta was there when I was delivered. My parents, my Grandma Hazel, and my mother’s sister, Joan, and the doctor who delivered me have all shared that Sister Loretta held me while the doctor came out and told them that he needed to watch my mother closely. I’ve been told that Sister Loretta held me until my mother was strong enough to hold me. The first 47 minutes of my life were in the arms of Sister Loretta. I remember her each year on my birthday and give thanks for her loving kindness and the privilege of being held in loving care by her. Before my father died, he told me that story again. He said, “When Sister Loretta said something, people listened. She told the doctor you were safe in her arms. He came out and told us to pray in the chapel for your mother. When we came back, Sr. Loretta brought you out to us, told us your mother had held you and was resting. I got to hold you and knew everything was going to be alright.” As with any family story, you wonder how much is true. I only know that my father was convinced the reason I’ve worked at Divine Savior all these years in Spiritual Care is directly related to being held for so long by Sister Loretta when I was born!

I’ve seen many changes with our entire Divine Savior campus. We continue to walk in the footsteps of all those Salvatorian Sisters who preceded us. We are living the Divine Savior Mission. The Salvatorians taught us to “bend in season.” We have grown to meet the changing health care needs. I continue to work with others through teams called, “Divine Service.” Divine Service is recognized and encouraged. We know that each of us is uniquely a patient/resident experience. The Salvatorians encourage the work of lay people to provide health care in this community. The mission is alive and well here in Portage because of the sisters’ inspiration.

Our 125 Year Celebration

As we look back on our 125th anniversary of coming to the USA, we invite you to reminisce with us. We've launched all 5 time lines with historical milestones and stories that bring to life the experiences of our sisters who came before us.

Era 1: 1895-1920
Responding to Immigrant Needs

The missionary response of hearty immigrant women religious characterizes the first 25 years of Salvatorian Sisters’ presence in the United States ...

Era 2: 1920-1950
Expanding in an “American” Church

By 1920, life for a Salvatorian Sister in the USA was radically different than it had been 25 years earlier. World War I ....

Era 3: 1950-1970
Embracing Renewal

Bob Dylan’s 1964 classic, The Times They Are A Changing, captures the high energy of this era.  Change was afoot both outside and inside the Salvatorian convent walls...

Era 4: 1970-2000
Building Collaboration

Events of the mid-1960s renewed the collaborative energy that had always characterized Salvatorian life. Cloistered living ...

Era 5: 2000-2020
Searching for New Footing in a Changing World

When the new millennium arrived on January 1, 2000, Salvatorian Sisters were already five years into our second century on USA soil.  Our ...