Sister Mary Gretchen Elliott, RSM
6/4/1941 - 10/3/2010
Sister Gretchen left imprint on education, healthcare, art, women religious
Sister Mary Gretchen Elliott, RSM, was a woman of faith who shared that faith in myriad ways: Through art, teaching, religious formation, leadership and healthcare. Sister Gretchen died at McAuley Center, Farmington Hills on Oct. 3, 2010. She was 69 years of age and had been a Sister of Mercy for 51 years.
She believed in the beauty of all creation and rejoiced in it. Her works of art expressed her love of life and her vision prompted her to move beyond the ordinary, to serve as an inspiration for others to follow their dreams. She was alive to the needs of others, especially women in our society.
"Sister Gretchen was a woman of passionate dedication, creativity, and great energy who served the Mercy community in many ways over the years,” said Sister Judith Frikker, RSM, member of the West Midwest Community Leadership Team. “Whether in direct service as a teacher, in elected leadership for the Sisters of Mercy or in the ministry of guiding our sponsored works into forms that would serve them for the future, Gretchen was generous and committed. She will be remembered for her positive zeal, enthusiasm and kindness."
A talented leader, Sister Gretchen left her imprint in many areas. As president of the former Detroit Province, she energized and enriched the community, as a board member at Mercy College of Detroit she supported its merger with the University of Detroit and then served on the newly formed University of Detroit Mercy Board of Trustees.
Her vision and tenacity enabled the merger of Mercy Health Services with the Holy Cross Health System to form Trinity Health and her further service within the system focused on its core mission. “Sister Gretchen exemplified a truly beautiful soul, demonstrated by her selfless support of her colleagues and dedication to our Mission of service to the poor and the underserved,” said Joseph Swedish, Trinity Health President and CEO. “Were it not for Sister Gretchen’s leadership and devotion, Trinity Health would not be the health system it is today. She was an inspiration to us all and we will continue her legacy that calls for compassionate care to the most vulnerable among us.”
Sister Catherine C. DeClerc, OP, vice president of governance and sponsorship at Trinity Health, agreed that Sister Gretchen had a tremendous impact on the organization. "Sister Gretchen taught us how to be Mercy in ministering to everyone,” she said. “Her sensitivity to others, boundless energy, creativity and generosity were among the many gifts she shared so generously with Trinity Health. Her devotion to the Mission led her to the work in Palliative Care, a lasting legacy in fulfilling our Mission to serve in the Spirit of the Gospel."
Born to Laurence and Margaret (Varga) Elliott on June 4, 1941 in Dearborn, Sister Gretchen was the eldest of eight children. She graduated from Our Lady of Mercy High School, Detroit, in 1959 and joined the Sisters of Mercy the following September. After eight years of spiritual and professional preparation, she made perpetual vows on Aug. 16, 1967 at Mercy Center, Farmington Hills.
Sister Gretchen earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Mercy College of Detroit and a master’s degree in painting from Wayne State University. She pursued post-graduate studies in graphic layout at the Boston Center for Adult Education and studied architecture for non-architects at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her many gifts as an artist were shared in classrooms in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Farmington Hills and Detroit.
In 1971, she became a member of the Sister Formation Team which prepared young women to be Sisters of Mercy and then served as program planner at Mercy Center and part-time art teacher at Mercy High School and Mercy College of Detroit. In 1977, she moved to Newton, Mass., where she studied and also taught on a part-time basis. In addition she became an art consultant/designer and was commissioned for several murals and other art pieces. In 1984 she was elected to serve on the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States and resided in Silver Spring, Maryland. She returned to Michigan in 1990 when she was elected to serve as president of the former Detroit Province.
In 1998, Sister Gretchen joined Mercy Health Services as vice president for mission services. When Trinity Health was formed in 2000, she became Trinity Health’s first senior vice president of mission integration. In that role, Sister Gretchen was instrumental in guiding the formation of Trinity Health’s identity and for helping write the organization’s Mission statement.
Her interest in palliative care led her to a new position in the health system in 2007. As vice president of palliative care, she worked with all of the hospitals in the system to assure and improve care for persons with life-threatening illnesses. In 2009 she resigned from this position and from her role as chair for the Supportive Care Coalition for health reasons, but continued her interest in this ministry.
Another facet of Sister Gretchen’s life was her great love of music. Gifted with a striking soprano voice she often led the community in song and was an active member of the local parish choir where she especially enjoyed preparing for and presenting the Christmas and Easter cantatas. She also attended as many Detroit Symphony concerts as possible, enjoyed reading and conversations about recent publications.
Sister Gretchen was dearly loved and will be missed by her brothers and sisters, Larry (Jackie) Elliott, Theresa (Richard) Wagner, Christine (Erich) Dietrich, Connie (Guy) Trayling, Kathy (Rick) Campy, Randy Elliott and Michelle (Michael) Domine, many nieces and nephews, colleagues, friends and her Mercy community.
Funeral services include a welcoming ceremony at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010, at McAuley Center, 28570 Eleven Mile Road, Farmington Hills, Michigan, with visitation until 8:30 p.m. A Scripture/prayer vigil will be that evening at 7 p.m. On Wednesday, Oct. 6, visitation will continue from 9 a.m. in the Mercy Center Chapel, 28650 Eleven Mile Road, Farmington Hills until the Mass of the Resurrection at 11 a.m. Burial will follow in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield. McCabe Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Memorial contributions may be made to: the Sisters of Mercy Ministry Fund, 29000 Eleven Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48336; the Sister Gretchen Elliott Palliative Care Fund, Trinity Health, 27870 Cabot Drive, Novi, MI 48377; Mercy Education Project, 1450 Howard Street, Detroit, MI 48216; or All Africa Conference: Sister to Sister at 2715 Bainbridge Ave., Bronx, NY 10458. www.allafrica-sistertosister.org
For more on her life from Trinity Health: