Sister Trinita’s Legacy—A Heart for God

By on September 2, 2013
Share Button

By MARILYN TINNIN

Sister Trinita (Second from left) was the "middle" child of 10!

Sister Trinita (Second from left) was the “middle” child of 10!

It was a blustery November day in the heart of Springfield, Illinois, when baby Carol Marie Eddington came into the world. The year doesn’t matter, and, anyway, she is not going to share that with us. However, a quick look at her resume and her career achievements reveal this obvious truth: She arrived with an innate spirit of adventure and an unflappable courage that was not
what one might expect in the sheltered confines of her loving and devout Catholic home. She was sixth in birth order, and four younger siblings eventually rounded out the family. A family portrait reveals ten perfectly graduated little stair-steps.

Nurturing others came instinctively to her. In fact, when her mother brought baby number ten home from the hospital, Carol was 13 years old. She was not just kidding when she asked her mother if she could please have that one. To this day, she and her little sister, Judy, share an extra close bond.

Carol Marie became Sister Mary Trinita on the day she took her vows as a Springfield Dominican sister. She was eighteen years old and eager to jump into her sacred calling. Her first assignment was to Jackson, Mississippi, where the Dominicans operated a small hospital in an ancient refurbished facility on President Street in the heart of the capital city. She had never been out of her home state and had never been on a train at all when she boarded the Illinois Central en route to this brand new life.

Sister tells the humorous story of arriving at the convent around midnight completely unannounced, her papers in hand and eager to go to work. She explains that communication in 1954 was primitive by today’s standards. Long distance phone calls were considered outrageously expensive, and so, of course the sisters here in Jackson had no idea the Mother House in Springfield was sending this fresh faced young girl to join their ranks.

Trinita as a high school senior.

Trinita as a high school senior.

Sister Helen Marie, who was the hospital administrator at the time, quizzed Sister Trinita on her skills and areas of expertise. Are you a nurse? No. Are you a respiratory therapist? No. Do you sing? No. Do you play a musical instrument? No. The “Do you” questions continued, as did the “No” replies. Finally, Sister Helen Marie asked, “Well, what do you do?” to which Sister Trinita replied, “Nothing.”

Sister Trinita was first assigned to help in the pharmacy under the watchful eyes of Sister Mary Carl. Eight months later she was enrolled in the nursing school and well on her way to being one of the pillars who have helped shape the remarkable growth and development of St. Dominic’s multi-layered healthcare system.

Early Years

Growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Springfield, Sister Trinita was never at a loss for companionship, adventure, or hard play as well as hard work. She had the reputation among her siblings as being somewhat a “fearless adventurer.”

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 is the passage where Moses commands the Israelites to teach their children the scripture, to live it, to speak it and to make it the focus of life. Sister’s parents, Joe and Rose Eddington, apparently took that passage to heart because they did just that. Rose, who Sister describes as very Irish, looked to scripture for the rule and standard on everything. Sister Trinita says, slightly tongue in cheek, “We were to abide by scripture’s teachings…or at least to how she interpreted it!”

Joe Eddington was reserved, but always in agreement with Rose. He frequently stressed to his children Matthew 10:8, “Without cost you have received and without cost you must give to others.” That particular verse took on a life of its own for Sister Trinita when she saw her father live it again and again.

Sister Trinita in her elementary years—the smile as real as ever.

Sister Trinita in her elementary years—the smile as real as ever.

“I saw many people come into our farm when I was a child, and he would give them all kinds of vegetables. He would even give them money, and my mother would ask him why he was giving so much away when we were barely making ends meet ourselves. My dad was always very positive and he would tell her, ‘we’re going to make it fine.” Sister says that consistent generosity and faith her father demonstrated profoundly affected her. She saw that her parents’ walk matched their talk, and she wanted to be sure she followed that example.

It was during her eighth grade year that young Carol Marie was certain God was calling her to be a Sister. She begged her mother to let her enter the convent, but a very wise mother told her she was just too young right then, but that she would support that decision in a few years if she was still so sure of it.

Sister’s blue eyes and deep dimples still give a strong clue that she probably enjoyed a busy social life as a teenager! She does say that upon entering high school, there was a brief period when she discarded the idea of entering the convent because she was temporarily distracted by all the things that make for distracted teenagers!

It was during her senior year, however, that the sense of calling became quite strong. She says it was not so much a “surrender,” but something she wholeheartedly desired. “My faith was always such a natural and central part of my life even from my earliest memories, so I guess you could say His loving presence gently eased me along my path.”

A young 18-year-old Trinita on the day she took her vows as a Dominican sister. One day later, she headed to Jackson, MS, and a life that has impacted so many over the last five decades.

A young 18-year-old Trinita on the day she took her vows as a Dominican sister. One day later, she headed to Jackson, MS, and a life that has impacted so many over the last five decades.

She says, “I remember my father, who was a loving yet reserved professional man, gently telling me that a life without faith was not meaningful. After I announced my decision to join the Dominican sisters, my mother wrote me a tender, poignant letter telling me she approved but if I ever changed my mind I could always come home. I still have her letter.”

Tracing God’s Hand

When Sister Trinita entered the novitiate* of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, she encountered another postulant*, who was a nurse. She had brought all of her books with her, and Sister Trinita spent many hours reading them—often when she was supposed to be reading her holy books instead! Suddenly there was a struggle going on inside her as she thought, perhaps she would rather be a nurse instead of a sister. She went to Prioress General*, with this news, and she listened, but told young Sister Trinita to pray about it.

Shortly thereafter, the nurse books mysteriously disappeared. Sister Trinita went on to complete her preparation and to take her vows. What a joy it was when she got those first orders! She knew the assignment to St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson meant that she was going to enter the healthcare field. God had certainly had a hand in that story!

When Sister Trinita first set foot in St. Dominic’s Hospital, it was located in the old building on President Street. However, the first building on Lakeland Drive was under construction. Five months after she arrived, she was part of the team transporting patients and equipment down the bumpy gravel road to the new facility on the outskirts of Jackson. That location was not the sisters’ first choice, but they believed the city would soon grow up around them.

They had no way of knowing that the I-55 corridor would run right beside their hospital, that the unpaved Lakeland Drive would be the busy thoroughfare it is, or that the 20+ surrounding acres would become a sprawling village of physician’s offices, comprehensive clinics, and a state of the art hospital, all of which represent just a part of the St. Dominic mission.

Trinita, a new and very proud graduate of the St. Dominic Nursing School in 1957.

Trinita, a new and very proud graduate of the St. Dominic Nursing School in 1957.

By the time Sister Trinita completed her first nursing degree, she had been in Jackson three years. She began her career as a staff nurse advancing to the position of Head Nurse, Assistant Nursing Director, Nursing Service Administrator, and finally Vice President of Patient Care Services.

With each new position came new responsibilities and frequently requisite training. While going back to school can be a daunting assignment for most of us, Sister embraced the opportunities that came her way, receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, and a Master’s Degree in Nursing Administration with a minor in Community Health Nursing from Indiana-Purdue University.

The same very round Trinita, now a Nurse Practitioner, greeting patients in her clinic for the underserved.

The same very round Trinita, now a Nurse Practitioner, greeting patients in her clinic for the underserved.

When she stepped down as Vice President of Patient Care Services in 1993, she says, “I was just getting warmed up!” The previous 36 years, with all of her varied responsibilities, had opened her eyes to just about every strength and weakness of every phase and level of healthcare in the metro area. She took great pride in the strengths, but she could not rest without tackling some of the weaknesses!

So, in true Dominican form, she rolled up her sleeves and began!

A Heart for the Poor

I found it hard to accept that in a country so richly blessed by our divine Savior that we would have such a level of poverty and need.” Part of the DNA of the Dominican order is their deep commitment to community, to integrate into the community around them, and to represent the love of Christ everywhere they go to every person they meet.

Sister Trinita’s volunteer work in community outreach programs had exposed her to the difficult health challenges of those living in underserved areas of the city. In most instances, they are a stone’s throw from some of the best healthcare in the nation, but they face such obstacles as lack of money as well as lack of transportation to get to it. Sister’s burden was St. Dominic’s opportunity for ministry!

It was a very proud day when the Community Health Clinic opened at the Stewpot location on West Capitol!

It was a very proud day when the Community Health Clinic opened at the Stewpot location on West Capitol!

The homeless had “carved out” their own community around Stewpot ministries on West Capitol Street. It seemed a natural spot for a free clinic. This is truly Sister Trinita’s “baby.” After going back to school yet another time to obtain her nurse practitioner’s degree, she opened the St. Dominic Community Health Clinic in 1996.

In the middle of a west Jackson neighborhood that exhibits few clues to its former prosperity, Sister’s clinic is as pristine and immaculate as any 5-Star healthcare facilities you can name! She and her small staff, Alexander Young and Felita Brown, see as many as 40 patients in a day for physical exams, routine screenings, hypertension treatment, diabetes, or skin conditions. However, she has a cadre of nine specialists who volunteer their time on designated days making it possible to care for cardiac patients, those needing eyeglasses or hearing aids, those with gastrointestinal dysfunctions, or those who need a podiatrist, or a psychiatrist. Sister also has a network of physicians who will take her referrals when a critical diagnosis like cancer requires treatment far beyond the capabilities of her clinic.

Seventeen years and several thousand patients later, Sister’s enthusiasm and her commitment have not waned. In its first year of operation, the clinic saw 3000 patients. Last year it served 13,000.

Felita Brown, Sister Trinita, and Alexander Young work side by side every day to give the very best to the patients who come to the Community Clinic.

Felita Brown, Sister Trinita, and Alexander Young work side by side every day to give the very best to the patients who come to the Community Clinic.

“Hope is as important as any medicine we dispense at the clinic,” Sister says. It is incredibly fulfilling when she sees lives change direction, and she does frequently see addictions overcome, families reunited, and patients who find employment. The clinic strives to treat the whole person, to understand the many reasons that contribute to the lifestyle some of their patients have adopted, to judge less, to love more, and to treat everyone who comes through their doors with dignity even when the favor may not be returned!

A Ministry to the Elderly

At the same time Sister Trinita was going back to school to become a nurse practitioner and putting her plans in order for the health clinic, she was also busy designing and developing a program for a residential Alzheimer’s facility. As she says in her soft-spoken and unassuming way, “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.” She definitely lives by that adage.

St. Catherine’s Village, one of the numerous subsidiaries under the St. Dominic umbrella of services, is a residential retirement and continuing care community in Madison. Opened in 1988, the sisters soon recognized the need for a Dementia unit where the care was specifically designed to meet the needs of the individual in the most loving, compassionate, and skillful way, one that would offer meaning and superior care to those whose lives have been impacted by Alzheimer’s.

Sister Trinita’s thumbprint is everywhere. From the many windows and the natural light that comes streaming into the common areas, to the open kitchens and the caregivers who radiate a sincere concern that is much like Sister Trinita’s, it is clear that every detail of this unit was created by loving hands and the bar was set extremely high.

Campbell Cove began receiving residents in 1997. Sister Trinita continues to provide consultative services and spends a portion of each Friday there on its campus.

Sisters Trinita and Dorothea have been best friends over decades, and they share a love for travel. Canada was one of many trips they have loved taking together.

Sisters Trinita and Dorothea have been best friends over decades, and they share a love for travel. Canada was one of many trips they have loved taking together.

Looking back on more than five decades of service—you could say, “in the trenches”—Sister Trinita, along with her Dominican sisters, has made astounding contributions across the entire spectrum of healthcare in the area. And oh, yes—they are not finished.

I asked Sister what she does in her “downtime.” I’m not sure she has much of it, although she says she does like listening to “soothing music, watching movies, and spending time with family.” That “family” would include her biological family scattered from the Midwest to Maryland and Colorado and her Dominican sisters who share her very tangible love for others.

There does not appear to be a retirement plan on the drawing board anytime soon. Her energy, her mission, and her passion continue to be strong.

“It has been such a pleasure and blessing to serve at St. Dominic’s and our ministry in Jackson,” she says. “I never considered it work. I remember a line from the writings of St. Augustine. It goes like this: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you!”

Amen, Sister. Amen. 

*Novitiate is the place where those who are in training live.

*A postulant is a candidate for a religious order

*The Prioress General is the head of the congregation.