Sister Mary Kieffer walks through the halls of St. Rose Dominican Hospital San Martin Campus, 8280 W. Warm Springs Road.
She greets each person with a warm smile and calls out to staff members by name. In her short time at the hospital, she has made her presence known.
However, Kieffer hasn’t always worked as a sister.
“I didn’t become a sister until I was 47,” Kieffer said. “When I look back at it with 20/20 hindsight, I wasn’t meant to be one when I was younger.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Kieffer was one of eight children born into a religious family.
“I’m what they call a cradle Catholic, which means I was raised Catholic,” Kieffer said. “I’m the third-oldest child in my family, and religion was always a huge part of our life.”
At 19, Kieffer moved to San Francisco, where she lived for about 28 years.
“I worked in the service industry as a bartender for about 12 years,” Kieffer said. “I kind of downplayed it when I first became a sister because it’s not very common.”
For about 10 years, Kieffer also worked for a nonprofit that tracked ships coming through the San Francisco Bay region.
“It was very exciting, and I enjoyed the jobs I had,” Kieffer said, “but there was always a sense of, ‘Well, this is just temporary until I find out what God really wants me to do with my life.’ ”
In her 40s, Kieffer began to feel empty and was drawn to work in a ministry, she said.
“My aunt had been a Dominican sister from the time she was 18,” Kieffer said, “I regretted wasting all those years wandering, so to speak. I convinced myself that I was too old to be a sister, but the empty feeling was persistent.”
One weekend, Kieffer decided to visit the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, a congregation north of San Francisco.
“I just said to myself, ‘You know, Mary, just go and find out you’re too old, and get on with your life,’ ” Kieffer said. “When I got there, that was it. I felt God was calling me to religious life.”
In 2000, Kieffer joined the Dominican sisters and lived in religious formation until she made her perpetual vow in 2008.
“You’re in the religious formation for quite some time because so many women join when they’re really young,” Kieffer said. “They give you plenty of time to discover if this is the life for you before you make your vows for life.”
In 2004, Kieffer moved to Reno to work at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center as a chaplain and director of sponsorship.
Former co-worker Tami Bradshaw said she instantly felt comfortable around Kieffer because she was open and friendly.
“I went to Catholic school, so I had a very different view of sisters and nuns growing up,” Bradshaw said. “(Kieffer) has an ability to get people to open up in a different way without making them feel judged or afraid.
“She’s the type person you can go to a baseball game and have a hot dog with, or you can seek counseling with her. That’s what really makes her so great in all situations.”
In August 2013, Kieffer moved to Las Vegas to work at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals as a vice president of mission integration and spiritual care departments.
Kieffer said her “long and winding journey” to sisterhood helped hone her communication skills, such as sizing people up and reading body language.
“I had already been hearing confessions over the bar for a while,” Kieffer said, “so it was like second nature for me to go into the hospital and speak to anyone about anything.
“When I joined the sisters, I really felt as if I had come home. I feel very humbled to be called to this life and to be a healing presence for all people.”
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Contact Southwest View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.