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Sister Romaine: Successor likely a lay person

Longtime Holy Spirit leader talks about her past and the hospital's future

Sister Romaine Niemeyer said her successor will likely be a lay person. - (Photo / Submitted)

For Sister Romaine Niemeyer, announcing her retirement from Holy Spirit – A Geisinger Affiliate – is a time to give thanks for God’s blessings on a long career.

It’s also a time for Niemeyer, chief administrative officer of the East Pennsboro Township-based health system, to think about who will succeed her after she steps down on June 30.

Niemeyer, 79, acknowledges that unlike her, that individual is likely to be a lay person.

While there is no specific succession timetable yet, Niemeyer said Monday that she expects the search process to get underway before she steps down June 30.

What’s most important, she adds, is “picking out the right person,” though she also notes that Holy Spirit’s new leader will be someone who respects the hospital’s ongoing Catholic mission.

“As we look to the future, we want to make sure that mission will continue in a very positive way,” Niemeyer said.

She expressed confidence that it will.

For one thing, Holy Spirit will continue to have a member of the order overseeing matters related to the mission, currently Sister Mary Joseph Albright, SCC – like Niemeyer, a member of the hospital’s founding Sisters of Christian Charity.

“The presence of the sisters is very important,” Niemeyer said.

Secondly, Niemeyer stressed that the need to continue that mission “was spelled out very clearly” in the definitive agreement under which Holy Spirit became affiliated with Danville-based Geisinger Health System in October 2014.

Niemeyer praised Geisinger and its CEO, Dr. David T. Feinberg, for being supportive of Holy Spirit’s Catholic tradition.

“That is very precious to us,” she said.

“Holy Spirit has grown tremendously throughout Sister Romaine’s leadership tenure,” Feinberg said.

“She has always led the organization with a deep conviction and compassion to do what is best for patients, and she can take pride in the respect that those at Holy Spirit, throughout Geisinger and the community have for her.”

As for her own continuing influence, Niemeyer doesn’t expect to wander too far. After 46 years at Holy Spirit, she plans to retire to its convent.

“I’ll be around for a while,” Niemeyer said.

A life of service

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Niemeyer’s family later moved to Rhode Island.

Entering the religious life at 17, she served as a teacher and principal for more than a decade, at posts including Williamsport, Allentown, suburban Wilkes-Barre and New Jersey.

Niemeyer went on to receive her master’s degree in hospital administration from Saint Louis University, in St. Louis, and joined Holy Spirit in 1970.

At that time, the hospital itself was still relatively new, having opened in 1963.

For the next 20 years, Niemeyer served in senior administrative positions under the direction of Sister Ursula Frei, Holy Spirit’s first administrator. Niemeyer succeeded Frei as president and CEO in 1990. Her title became chief administrative officer following the affiliation with Geisinger in 2014.

In addition to her stewardship at Holy Cross, Niemeyer has taken on leadership roles inside and outside her order and the church. She is a recipient of the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, also known as the Cross of Honor of the Roman Catholic Church, bestowed by Pope Benedict XVI and presented by then-Bishop of Harrisburg Kevin C. Rhoades.

She currently is a member on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

“Sister Romaine has been a faithful and exemplary servant, as well as a well-respected leader throughout much of Holy Spirit’s 53-year history,” said Holy Spirit Health System Board Chairman Bruce Brown.

“We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that she has done for Holy Spirit, our patients, and community, and we will be planning celebratory events in the coming months to honor and thank her for her service,” Brown added.

“I personally consider it an honor to have been the board chair these past six years and have the opportunity to work so closely with Sister Romaine,” he said.

Changing times

Niemeyer would rather talk about those who share in her vision for supporting the hospital and its mission.

There have been, of course, dramatic changes in technology and techniques over the course of her career.

Then, too, there have been many changes over the decades to insurance and finance, including the shifting relationships between payers and providers.

She also is optimistic that the number of uninsured Americans will continue to decline.

Most of all, however, Niemeyer feels blessed for the people she has worked with over the years, from sisters to nurses, physicians and administrators, whether clerical or laypeople, Catholics or non-Catholics.

“We continue to build on the shoulders of wonderful, wonderful people,” she said.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

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