May 19, 2017
UTICA, N.Y. – Growing up in Syracuse, New York, Sister Catherine Michael Napier was shaped by factors that made her want a religious life. Born Judy Ann Napier, she attended parochial schools. Unfortunately, she was also a sickly child, who spent some time in hospitals with severe bronchitis. And as she grew, she was often asked to tend her younger brother and sister. While she loves people, by high school she’d decided that she didn’t care to be a parent and, with her upbringing steeped in Catholicism, she wanted to become a nun and a nurse, to give her life to God and to the care of His people.
After entering the Sisters of St. Francis in 1966, she took her final vows in 1974 and earned her associate degree in Liberal Arts at Maria Regina College in Syracuse followed by her nursing degree from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. Her first mission was St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse in the early-to-mid 1970s, plus a year at the Mother House complex, caring for the order’s infirm sisters. In 1977, she was sent to Hawaii for three years.
“I was a nurse at one of our hospitals, St. Francis, in Honolulu. The weather was great, but I had to learn the culture,” she said with her distinctive laugh. “If you were white, you were still considered a foreigner then. It was a melting pot of people of Filipino, Japanese and Chinese descent – I loved the people and I loved the culture. But I only wanted to stay there three years.”
Looking back on her 50-year anniversary, she feels strongly that Utica is home. Sister Catherine came to St. Elizabeth Hospital in 1980 (the name changed to Medical Center in 1996) and practiced as a floor nurse into her 40s. “I loved patient care,” she said. “Still, after I had some back and neck injuries, I had to change what I was doing.”
Since then, she has worked in Utilization, Case Management and is now working in the Quality Department as a Quality Professional. An ardent fan of Syracuse sports – basketball is her favorite, with football and lacrosse next – she also loves to travel and see the world.
“The highlights of my life have been traveling,”Sister Catherine Michael said. “Going to Molokai, Hawaii, was one and visiting the remains of St. Marianne Cope when they were still there.” Since then, she’s returned to Hawaii five times. Other memorable adventures were visiting Rome and Assisi on her first trip to Italy for her 25th jubilee and a journey to the Holy Land with Sister Adele Bullock and relatives. The most recent high point was attending St. Marianne’s canonization in Rome in October 2012.
Although she knows that she has sacrificed some parts of life, Sister Catherine has no regrets. “I knew I wanted to be a nurse and I had never traveled,” she said of life before joining the order. “You might leave things behind, but the blessings are so many – you meet great people.”
She will celebrate her jubilee with a Mass at the St. Marianne Cope Chapel on the St. Elizabeth Campus at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, 2017, and with a luncheon afterward. Attendance is by invitation.