In her 38 years as a volunteer at the Cabrini Clinic of Holy Trinity Parish in the near-downtown Detroit area, Sheila Keefe has seen such an increase in need that, most nights, some people must be turned away or referred elsewhere. On the second and fourth Thursday evenings of each month, Sheila is on hand when the clinic opens at 6 p.m. and she dispenses nursing care, nutrition information as well as compassion until 9 or 10 to the patients who come from all over southwest Detroit, many of them homeless. She helps out often outside of her scheduled hours. For instance, she recently arranged to pick up a 72-year old woman for an appointment at the Kresge Eye Institute. When she was unable to get an answer to her worried knocks, she returned with the clinic director and they were able to convince the landlord to open the woman’s door where they found her unconscious on the floor surrounded by the chaos of 14 cats. It was Sheila’s persistence that saved this woman but she stands in awe of the capacity of those she serves to survive. She describes the lives of those she assists as real life, decidedly unglamorous versions of the “reality” Survivor shows.
Sheila followed up her Marygrove degree in Biology with a Masters in Microbiology from the University of Michigan and, a decade later,completed a degree in nursing at Mercy College. After working for several years in hospital nursing, she found her real calling – Public Health Nursing with the Oakland County Health Department, a career she pursued professionally for 22 years and four and a half more with the Head Start program in Pontiac. Sheila says her career choices were influenced by Sister Mary Anne Huddleston (Stanislaus), IHM, and Father William Gannon, OP, from Aquinas College.
Retirement in 1998 gave Sheila more time to volunteer. In addition to the Cabrini clinic, she is a member of two spiritual development teams that help developmentally disabled adults in some of the 13 residences maintained by Angel’s Place in metro Detroit. She also assists in placement of applicants to Angel’s Place.
She speaks to groups requesting information on Elderhostel Programs as an ambassador using her personal experience at a place called Esperanca in northern Brazil in the Amazon valley near the equator. She and a crew of volunteers and local teens built a children’s health center in 1998, hauling bricks, sand and cement.
She has since served three stints as a volunteer nurse at the Bon Samaritan Mission in Montrousis, Haiti, beginning in 2003. Last year’s was cut short by an advisory to evacuate foreigners during a period of unrest. With the political situation calmer, she plans to return again this year, as usual at her own expense.
Because she believes that everyone is entitled to health care and years of observation that those without health care coverage are sicker, suffer more and die sooner, she was led to join the Interfaith Help and Hope Coalition for Health Care Justice in 2003.
At the Red Cross, Sheila is a volunteer but, for a change of pace, not as a nurse. She does data input, envelope stuffing—pretty much anything she is asked to do in the Communications/Marketing department.
She has taken on many roles in her parish, St. Columban in Birmingham, including the Parish Council where she is working on the merger of her home parish with one nearby. She also serves on the Marygrove Alumni board, co-chairing the program committee.
“Follow your dreams and don’t be afraid to change gears” is the advice that Sheila offers today’s students.
Sheila’s professional, volunteer, personal and family life has been driven by a deep Catholic faith and a concern for the poor and voiceless. Single and the eldest of seven siblings, she enjoys being the beloved aunt to 24 nieces and nephews and 35 greats. She reflects the values of commitment, compassion and competence that are hallmarks of Marygrove.