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Editorial: Sister Sheila did God’s work from the inside

Sister SheilLyne President   CEO Mercy Hospital Medical Center Thursday December 6 2012. | Provided Photo

Sister Sheila Lyne, President & CEO of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, Thursday, December 6, 2012. | Provided Photo

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:29AM

Some people fight for the poor and the dispossessed by marching on the castle, torches high.

Others, fighting the same fight, cross the drawbridge and work from the inside, maneuvering the levers of power, mastering the arts of management and politics.

Sister Sheila Lyne, who announced Thursday she is retiring as the head of Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, is the second kind of activist, remarkably so, having done much to make Chicago a more caring city for half a century.

Sister Sheila, 76, says it’s time she called it quits, but we suspect we’ll see her again. She is of a generation of Catholic sisters, and of a particularly steely order — the Sisters of Mercy — who tend to work until they can’t work anymore.

During the 1990s, Sister Sheila headed Chicago’s city health department, taking over a patronage dumping ground. She hired new managers and sent old ones back to school and created new divisions. The city’s infant-mortality rate dropped from 13 per 1,000 live births to 10.6.

She took on the cause of fighting AIDS, increasing care and prevention funding from $4 million to $40 million and — a bit unusual for a sister — promoted the distribution of free condoms.

Sister Sheila brought the same vision and skills to Mercy Hospital, which she ran for 27 years. If at times that meant engaging in classic Chicago clout politics, tapping a powerful South Side Irish network to secure key loans and tax breaks, well, it was all for an excellent cause.

“She is a Mercy nun — a title and a descriptor,” said one admirer. “They are smart, educated women who runs things. They are lawyers and nurses and doctors.”

They are tough and ramrod straight.

And we would rather they never retire.

Certainly not this one.

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