Sister John, 84, has woven together a 60-year career that intersects faith and healing. With more than half of that service spent at Anesthesia Associates of Savannah in Georgia, Sister John’s decades of experience as a nurse anesthetist chronicles the advancements of her profession and highlights a spirit of perseverance.
Born Barbara Ann Moravec in Pennsylvania, the Sister’s story begins like many in the medical field, choosing nursing because “I liked to take care of people,” she said. Sister John earned her nursing degree in 1953, and after two years of operating room experience, she trained to be a nurse anesthetist. Things were different then, she said, “I worked in our small town, and at our small hospital there were very few anesthesiologists. I did everything and I was successful at it,” she said. The term “everything” often included staying late or overnight to treat patients. Many times her care included saying prayers for the injured and ill. She found herself going to church in spare moments, and she soon realized the level to which belief was influencing her life and career.
Becoming Sister John
It’s hard to explain “the mystery of a religious vocation,” she said, about her decision in 1959 to seek spiritual guidance. She wanted help to better understand the growing role God was playing in her practice of medicine. That same year she visited the Carmelite Monastery in Louisville, Kentucky, where she would remain for more than 25 years. Her mother was less than thrilled about the decision made by then-27-year-old Moravec. “My mother wanted me to join the Sisters of Charity, which served at the hospital where I was working,” she said. But she chose the Carmelite Sisterhood for its commitment to prayer and contemplation.
She became Sister John upon taking her vows; Mother Superior chose her name in honor of St. John of the Cross. For 13 years, Sister John lived a simple but admittedly happy life in the monastery, where she prayed seven times each day, worked to maintain the monastery, cooked and sewed. The sisters’ labor sustained the sisterhood until the late 1960s. As the economy waned, the monastery struggled. Looking for ways to help support the sisterhood, Sister John turned to her first passion. As an experienced registered nurse, she could contribute, and with permission from her superiors, Sister John pursued refresher training and then returned to work, joining Anesthesia Associates of Savannah.
For more than a decade, she practiced medicine in Savannah as a nurse anesthetist while residing in the monastery. By 1986, the economy had regained its strength and the Bishop called Sister John back to full-time religious service. Sister John left the practice, but before a year had passed, her nursing license was due to expire. “I had to work hours in practice to keep my license,” she said, “and when I really thought about it, I wanted to keep it.”
With permission from the Bishop, Sister John took her vows under him so that she could remain a Carmelite Sister but reside outside the monastery. For the first time in her life, in her mid-50s, she lived alone, and remains to this day in her own apartment. She laughed gently at the notion that so much time has passed. “It was a new experience at the time,” Sister John said of moving out, “Now I don’t think I could live with others.”
Committed to care
Although she lives independently, Sister John’s life is still one devoted to others, and in those six decades, she has watched the field of nursing – and medicine itself – evolve. With far too many advances to count, she noted the overarching contribution technology has made to health care; though many of those essential improvements were often not created for this world but for outer space. Auto blood pressure monitors were invented for the first moon landing. EKGs and pulse oximeters were for astronauts as well. “The technology was used in different forms for different experiences, but it came back to us and we benefited too,” she said. With each new development, Sister John has been trained to stay up to date.
That professionalism is what continues to make her an asset to her practice. In addition to her generosity in crocheting afghans for newborns, finding time to attend community events and sharing her love of cooking and baking with her colleagues, Sister John is a committed nurse anesthetist, and she attributes that to her practice. “My nieces and nephews say I’m one of the few who actually enjoys my work,” she said. “But I work with experts. Our physicians make me feel secure. That’s one of the reasons I’m so happy.”
About the Practice
Anesthesia Associates of Savannah has been providing anesthesia care in the Southeast Georgia market for more than 60 years. The practice employs 102 full-time clinicians that provide inpatient and outpatient anesthesia services, including general surgery, orthopedic, neurosurgery, cardiac, vascular and pediatric. Anesthesia Associates of Savannah has been a MEDNAX affiliate since March 2016.
Reviewed by Sister John via Evans Wright.