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Nun remembered for service

Dec. 03, 2012 @ 11:05 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A woman her fellow sisters lovingly called the Pallottine Valentine died Sunday at the convent infirmary at St. Mary's Medical Center.

Sister Celeste Lynch, 88, entered the Pallottine Order on Feb. 14, 1945, earning her the Valentine moniker. She went on to serve as director of St. Mary's School of Nursing and as president of Pallottine Health Services, the parent corporation of St. Mary's Medical Center. She was known not only for her leadership, work ethic and critical decision-making, but her compassion, sense of humor and incredible faith.

"She was a woman of deep prayer and incredible faith," said Sister Gail Borgmeyer, president of Pallottine Health Services. "Anytime I'd go complaining about how God is doing things, she would tell me to start trusting because God would take care of it. She also had a delightful sense of humor that kind of bubbled up and balanced everything else out.

"She really believed in the education of nurses and that it's their hands that really touched a patient and provided them with the care, love and respect they deserved."

Lynch's absence is already being felt through the halls of St. Mary's, Borgmeyer said.

"It's going to be a big hole. I could feel it last night already, like a presence was leaving the building," Borgmeyer said. "She was so much a part of everything here."

Born Mary Lee Lynch on June 19, 1924, in Bristol, Tenn., Lynch grew up on a dairy farm. Because Bristol did not have a Catholic school, she and her six siblings attended public school. Each summer, however, they visited with the Pallottine Sisters from Huntington who traveled to Bristol to teach Bible history and the Catechism of the Catholic church. After high school, Lynch chose to pursue nursing and because of her connection to the Pallottine Sisters, selected St. Mary's. She arrived in 1944 and, six months later, felt called to enter the convent, which she did while earning her degree in nursing education and a master's degree from Catholic University in Washington D.C.

She worked as a staff nurse, head nurse and supervisor before relocating to Sacred Heart in Richwood, W.Va. Three years later, she returned to St. Mary's as a faculty member and in 1959, assumed the role of director -- a position she held for the next 17 years.

During her tenure she was known for her ability to implement critical decisions that served to keep the nursing program current and resulted in the only hospital-based program in West Virginia still in operation today. Under her leadership, the first married student and the first male student were admitted to the nursing program, and an affiliation was established with Marshall University, where nursing students could take support classes and receive college credit.

In 1986, she was elected Provincial of the North American Province of the Pallottine Sisters. In 1995, she became president of Pallottine Health Services, where she served another 17 years before retiring in 2012 at the age of 88. In the past year, she was honored with The Herald-Dispatch's Special Community Impact Award for helping sustain and grow the health care ministry known throughout the Tri-State for its cardiac care and nursing program, and as an inductee into the St. Mary's Medical Center Wall of Fame.

"Sister Celeste Lynch inspired us all on a daily basis at St. Mary's with her tireless work ethic and determination to provide the most advanced health care for patients," said Michael G. Sellards, president and CEO of St. Mary's Medical Center. "She'll be remembered for her compassion and her sense of humor. St. Mary's Medical Center would not be what it is today without the contributions of this amazing woman. Her life was truly dedicated to serving others with Christ in her heart."

Funeral liturgy will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, with burial to follow in Spring Hill Cemetery. Visitation will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the foyer outside St. Mary's Medical Center's main chapel. It will close with a wake service in the hospital chapel. Reger Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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