Sister Bridget McCarthy, RSM: A Calling Answered with a Life of Service

From the age of eight, Sr. Bridget knew she wanted to become a Sister. “During those early years I was inspired and fascinated by hearing mission stories and seeing pictures of children in need in foreign lands, and I knew I wanted to help them.” she explains. As a high school student educated by the Sisters of Mercy, her principal was the first to tell her about the religious community here in Sacramento. Although she had never before left Ireland or her large family, Sr. Bridget set out for California to care for those children whose stories had inspired her. Sr. Bridget is very appreciative of the sacrifice her parents made in giving their blessing to her and later to her sister, Susan, to answer their respective calls to serve God’s people half way around the world.

As a student nurse, she did her clinical work at Mercy General Hospital, the only hospital sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy within the region at that time. “My favorite work was critical care nursing,” she says, “I got to do direct patient care and I saw miracles. People we thought may never recover would walk out of the hospital.” At the age of 25, she took her final vows as a Sister of Mercy and soon was called upon to transfer to the brand new Mercy San Juan Medical Center. She would serve there for six years, providing patient care in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and eventually becoming the unit manager. “Patient care was so much more basic at that time…it is remarkable how far technology has come,” she says. Despite what she describes as “unbelievably fast change,” one constant that remains is that the care is still delivered with great compassion and kindness to this day.

In 1980, Sr. Bridget responded to a call that would change her life: to pursue graduate education in Health Care Administration & Planning. When she returned to Sacramento in 1982, her career in leadership began. Initially serving as Assistant Administrator at Mercy General Hospital, she was soon promoted to the role of hospital CEO.

Following the formation of Catholic Healthcare West, in 1986, she was called upon to lead an effort that would culminate in a restructure of the Mercy Hospitals within the Sacramento region. This effort resulted in the consolidation of Mercy General, Mercy San Juan and Mercy Hospital Folsom into a single corporation, governed by a single board. In 1987 she was appointed President and CEO of the newly formed corporation, Mercy Healthcare Sacramento.

During her 10 years in that role, Sr. Bridget and her strong team of leaders shaped the Greater Sacramento Service Area into what it is today, overseeing the construction of the new Mercy Hospital of Folsom, the acquisition of American River Hospital, and the affiliations with Methodist Hospital of Sacramento, Woodland Memorial Hospital and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Not only did we bring the hospitals together and begin the consolidation of support services, but we focused on changing the culture by moving from independence to collaboration and inclusion. That is part of the story that continues even to this day. I believe it was our compelling Vision, Mission and Core Values that attracted community hospitals to affiliate with us, and today we are the stronger for those relationships,” says Sr. Bridget.

In 1997, Sr. Bridget was called upon to assume the role of Executive Vice President of Northern California Operations for Catholic Healthcare West. She has also served on the elected leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy, and as President & CEO for Mercy Foundation.

For her outstanding guidance and service, Sr. Bridget has received many prestigious awards. These include The Rescue Now Humanitarian Award, the Sacramento Regional Pride Award in Health and Medicine, the Salvation Army William Booth Award, and the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year, among others.

Over the course of her career, huge shifts have taken place within our community, the health care industry and the Catholic Church. “When I started nursing, Medicare had just passed,” she remembers, “and in 1965, Vatican II took place and dramatically changed religious life as well.” Sacramento has expanded rapidly over the past fifty years, as has the need for high quality health care for its growing population.

What has not changed is the dedication that Sr. Bridget and the other Sisters of Mercy demonstrate in meeting the outstanding needs of the most vulnerable members of the communities they serve. “It is our obligation to be in touch with the needs of the people,” she says, “There will always be a need for health care, but it may manifest itself in different ways.”

“Fifty years is a long time, and the road had many twists and turns,” she recounts. When faced with challenges, the example of Sister Mary Baptist Russell provides Sister Bridget the inspiration she needs to stay energized and committed to her calling. She would remember that during an earlier era, they didn’t have transportation and there was horrendous suffering and disease. Sacramento faced natural disasters like the flood of 1861, but the faith of the Sisters kept them steadfast in their service to the poor, ill and vulnerable. From this, Sr. Bridget draws strength. “Through it all I have been inspired by the Sisters and by those with whom I have ministered. God has called me, and my community has trusted me to do things I never could have done alone.”

We are deeply grateful to Sr. Bridget and the other local Sisters of Mercy who are a guiding force for our work. Thank you Sr. Bridget for your strength, leadership and faith. You have built an enduring legacy for all of us to follow.