Sister Lauren Weinandt, Mayo Clinic's longest-serving staff member, passed away on July 31, at the Saint Marys Campus, where she lived and worked for nearly 70 years.
Sister Lauren Weinandt, a beloved Mayo staff member who embodied the Franciscan and Mayo Clinic values, passed away peacefully in her sleep on Monday, July 31, at the hospital she loved and worked at for 67 years. She will be remembered for her open door, open heart, and decades of service to both patients and staff. She was 101.
"Sister Lauren showed us how to live and work with joy," says Ken Ackerman, associate administrator of Hospital Operations. "Her smile was ever-present. She lived a life devoted to service and love. Mayo Clinic is a better place because she was a part of it."
Sister Lauren was born Magdalen Teresa Weinandt on Aug. 2, 1921, on a farm near Brewster, Minnesota, in the southwestern corner of the state. She was educated in a one-room schoolhouse through eighth grade and later attended Brewster High School. After graduation, she attended Oshkosh Business College in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then worked at First National Bank in Brewster and for the Diocese of Winona.
In 1954, she joined the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester and took the name Sister Lauren. Her first assignment was serving as the executive secretary to Sister Mary Brigh, the hospital administrator at Saint Marys. When Sister Mary Brigh retired, Sister Lauren worked for Sister Generose Gervais, another hospital administrator. Later, she served as a receptionist in Administration. Her final formal role was as the archivist for Saint Marys Hospital — a position she held for more than 25 years.
From the time she was a young girl, Sister Lauren dreamed of serving the poor as an overseas missionary. Health issues prevented her from realizing that dream, but she still found a way to be of service to people from around the world.
"I call myself an armchair missionary," Sister Lauren said. "The world came to me."
Sister Lauren also reached out to the world. In 1968, she became a certified amateur radio operator to support Mayo's emergency preparedness efforts. The position allowed her to connect with people in 206 countries over many years, including a couple from Guatemala who invited Sister Lauren to visit them. The poverty she witnessed on that trip inspired her to start what would become known as the Sisters Sales.
For 48 years, Sister Lauren and other volunteers collected and sold household goods, clothing and homemade treats, including pies, jellies and Sister Generose's famous pickles. Proceeds from early Sisters Sales funded a 20-bed hospital in Guatemala. Money raised from later sales — more than $1 million in all — went to the Poverello Fund, which provides financial support for Mayo Clinic patients in need.
"Sister Lauren exemplified the values of Mayo Clinic's founders, the Sisters of Saint Francis and the Mayo family," says Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic. "She was a role model for putting the needs of the patient first."
Sister Lauren's ready smile and warm, accepting demeanor made her a favorite of patients and staff alike. Her door was always open to visitors, many of whom stopped in to ask her to pray for them or for their loved ones. She comforted the anonymous and the famous, including Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush and Mother Teresa. All who came through her door were treated with the same dignity and respect.
"Sister Lauren loved without discrimination," Sister Cashel Weiler said. "Her heart kept no business hours. God told St. Francis to rebuild the church. Sister Lauren rebuilt the church day by day, hour by hour, ministering to everyone who walked into her office from all walks of life, from all nations, from all faiths and races, from all cultures."
In 2021, in honor of Sister Lauren's 100th birthday, Mayo Clinic made a gift of $1 million to the Poverello Fund and announced plans for the Sister Lauren Weinandt Staff Gazebo, which is being built on the south side of the Saint Marys Campus. Both were fitting tributes. One honors Sister Lauren's commitment to serving the poor, and the other, the Mayo Clinic staff she cared for deeply.