Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin, OSF
September 21, 1930 – August 17, 2020
On August 17, 2020, Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin, OSF, former President and CEO of University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center from 1975-1994, passed away peacefully at Assisi House in Aston, Pennsylvania, location of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Beloved by everyone with whom she came in contact, Sr. Marie Cecilia had a luminous spirit and gentle, loving demeanor, coupled with an unwavering commitment to excellence in medicine. Her resolute faith and natural compassion allowed her to seek innovations in care, while always mindful of the true needs of her patients and their families. Sr. Marie Cecilia’s legacy continues to inform the culture of reverence, integrity and excellence that is the bedrock of UM St. Joseph Medical Center today.
Sr. Marie Cecilia’s mother tried to discourage her from a religious life, but the young girl from Trenton, New Jersey, was undeterred, finding both the Sisters of St. Francis whom she encountered in grammar school and the Sisters of Mercy in high school to be inspirational role models. She could not envision any other path in life. In an article in the Baltimore Sun, published in 1994, Sr. Marie Cecilia said, “I truly believe that it is a mystery, why God calls people to do His work. The religious life is an affair of the heart, an unbelievably wonderful life in its relationship to the Lord and to people. I am so enriched.”
When Sr. Marie Cecilia was called to UM St. Joseph in 1975, she came with a wealth of experience in both hospital care, having trained as an OB/GYN nurse, and in administration, serving at Morris Hall Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lawrenceville, NJ. She had a vision and a determination to advance the mission of UM St. Joseph to provide loving service and compassionate care through innovation. During her 19-year tenure, Sr. Marie Cecilia chose an Executive Team that complimented her vision for the future. She was instrumental in the development of clinical programs and services that include Open Heart, the Digestive Disease Center, the International Center for Skeletal Dysplasia, Pediatric Express (now Pediatrics After Hours), and a family-centered childbirth experience to name but a few. Facilities such as the O’Dea Medical Arts Building, the South Building, the Radiation Oncology Center and the parking garage were constructed under Sr. Marie Cecilia’s leadership.
While growing the hospital with capital improvements and new services and programs, Sr. Marie Cecilia never forgot that serving those in need was the highest calling of all. Outreach and mission flourished under her guidance. She established preventive health and wellness screenings for the underserved population in addition to caring for the hospital’s employees through an Employee Assistance Fund. She also established the Employee Advocates positions that assisted her in keeping employees’ needs at the forefront of decisions made. These important programs continue to define the culture of UM St. Joseph today. Sister Marie Cecilia carried her love for God’s children into her retirement from UM St. Joseph. She continued to provide ministry and mission to others, working directly with the underserved, a calling for which her kind and peaceful nature was so beautifully suited.
Always mindful that a faith-based hospital serves its patients through God, Sr. Marie Cecilia strengthened the healing ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia during her tenure. She established the Eucharistic Minister’s Program to assist the Chaplains in providing sacramental ministry to patients, families and staff. Her presence was felt everywhere. Sister Marie Cecilia was as happy serving meals to staff at Christmas as she was presiding over board meetings. She could often be found visiting on the floors, comforting patients with her warm and loving manner.
Sister Marie Cecilia’s leadership contributions to health care were recognized both nationally and regionally. In 1988, she was awarded the Andrew White medal, a special accolade from Loyola College, given for her record of distinguished citizenship and her role as a leader in Maryland. In 1990, Sr. Marie Cecilia received a Papal medal, the Pro Ecclesia Pontifica award. This meritorious award is given in given in recognition of those who have achieved significant accomplishments in distinguished service to the Catholic Church.
Upon Sister Marie Cecilia’s retirement in 1994, the road leading from Osler Drive to the front of the hospital was renamed in her honor and the building housing the hospital’s daycare center was named The Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin Daycare and Education Building.
Sr. Marie Cecilia, OSF, was indeed a treasure to UM St. Joseph Medical Center. In short, the way she lived her life, with an abundance of warmth, compassion and altruism, while making the difficult and visionary decisions of a leader, served as a role model for the clinicians and staff who served under her. Just as Sr. Marie Cecilia found her solace and inspiration in the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, so too has everyone who had the good fortune to know this woman of faith, strength and love. Those who loved her take comfort in knowing that she is now safely in God’s loving arms.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter now into the joy of the Lord.”