Sister Mary Jo Schmidt’s dream for the elderly

April 2, 1997 – Before finding her stride at board meetings, nursing homes and Hadley Terrace Senior Apartments, Sister Mary Jo Schmidt was a young nurse eager to devote herself to missionary work in China. Arriving in China in 1948, she stayed one year until the Communist Party takeover forced her and fellow Salvatorians out. Back on U.S. soil, Sr. Mary Jo returned to nursing, and later earned a license in nursing home administration.

Sr. Mary Jo’s credentials placed her on the first boards at St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau, Wis.; Divine Savior Hospital and Nursing Home in Portage, Wis.; and St. Joseph’s Community Hospital in West Bend, Wis. Eventually, she became administrator at St. Mary’s Nursing Home, located at our St. Mary’s Convent on 35th and Center Streets in Milwaukee. She served there from 1966 to 1978.

It was during this time that Sr. Mary Jo’s dream took hold to build an assisted living/retirement home for needy seniors in the backyard of St. Mary’s. As the administrator of the Nursing Home, she was aware and grateful for the many people and programs that helped needy people. She reasoned, “It’s amazing how many people help. It’s also amazing the number of people who are still in need.” Her dream would be a costly endeavor, and it remained unrealized until Sisters of the Divine Savior received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hadley Terrace opened in 1996 and Sr. Mary Jo was one of the first to move in.

Sr. Mary Jo with Hadley Terrace residents

Her dedication and love for Hadley Terrace was made clear by her actions. Sister Karlyn Cauley, also a Hadley resident, described Sr. Mary Jo’s involvement as a “practical mission.” She organized Bingo games, movie nights, and birthday suppers that often showcased residents’ culinary masterpieces.

Sr. Mary Jo with a Hadley Terrace resident and her grandchildren

Sr. Mary Jo knew how to be a good neighbor. She spoke about the importance of having good relationships with Hadley residents and making them feel at home. “We’re neighbors to all, but each of us gets to know the neighbors on our own corridor. These seniors have gifts they freely give us sisters. They’re concerned we take care of ourselves so we can live here a good long time. They say we make good residents and they’ll keep us.”

Hadley Terrace kept Sr. Mary Jo until 2013, when congestive heart failure prompted her move to Salvatorian Sisters Residence. She passed away on March 1, 2014 at age 93, but Sr. Mary Jo’s legacy in the former backyard of St. Mary’s Convent, continues to shelter Milwaukee’s most vulnerable elders with safe and affordable housing.

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