BANGOR, Maine — Sister Mary Norberta, who has been at the helm of St. Joseph Hospital for 29 years, was applauded for her decades of leadership and service during a reception in her honor Wednesday at the Bangor Civic Center.
Though diminutive in stature, the Felician nun has been a powerhouse on the region’s health care scene. Besides turning what once was a small, local hospital into the eighth largest in Maine, under Norberta’s leadship the hospital reached the forefront of osteoporosis research and was the first north of Boston to provide digital mammographies, to name a few of her major accomplishments.
The reception was a “thank you” for Norberta’s contributions and a sendoff as she prepares to step down from her post as the hospital’s chief executive officer. Her successor, Mary Prybylo, most recently the chief operating officer at Waterbury Hospital Health Center in Connecticut, is expected to start work in Bangor later this summer.
During an hour-long tribute featuring her highlights and achievements, Norberta traded quips with some of the speakers, who included U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Gail Kelly on behalf of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Penobscot Community Health Care President the Rev. Bob Carlson and St. Joseph Hospital Executive Vice President Wayne Woodford. Edwin Clift, chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, served as master of ceremonies.
Hosted by St. Joseph Hospital, the three-hour event drew an estimated 1,100 people to the Bangor Civic Center, according to Amy Allen, a hospital spokeswoman. The event not only drew the expected dignitaries, it also drew many former and current employees.
“Sister Norberta not only is important to St. Joseph but she’s also important to the entire community,” BJ Dumoulin, a longtime employee of the hospital’s radiology department, said during the event.
Though devout in her faith and her commitment to the well-being of patients and staff, Norberta reportedly has a devilish side.
After Collins and Michaud both said they had entered her achievements into the Congressional Record, Norberta tartly called out from her seat, “It’s nice to see that the House and Senate are working together,” drawing chuckles from the audience.
In addition, several of those who attended shared anecdotes about some of the pranks she has pulled and watergun and hose fights she has engaged in.
Dr. Donald Krause, a rheumatologist who has worked with Norberta for 15 years, said she once called him into her office and began berating him, telling him how disappointed she was with him. Once she had him braced for the worst, she handed him paperwork announcing he had been chosen to receive a Blessed Mother Angela award, named in honor of the foundress of the Felician Sisters, the order of nuns to which Norberta belongs.
Dumoulin noted that Norberta is a regular fixture in the hospital’s patient rooms, offices and hallways as she stops by to see how staff and patients are doing.
“Her face lights up whenever kids are around,” Dumoulin said. A slide show that ran during the tribute included several photographs of a beaming Sister Norberta with an infant or toddler in her arms. Carlson noted that she spends some of her free time making clothing for children in Haiti from used blankets.
A highlight of the event was a surprise gift for Norberta — hospital employees chipped in for an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii for Norberta and a guest.
Though Norberta is stepping down from her official role at St. Joseph, that doesn’t mean she won’t stay involved.
“Sister Norberta is not going to let go of her baby easily,” she said during the tribute. After a much needed vacation and some time to indulge in photography, one of her many hobbies, Norberta plans to continue her work in the health care field on a volunteer basis.
She also dispelled rumors that she and the other Felician sisters in Bangor are leaving, noting much work remains for them and they intend to keep working.