Franciscan sister leaves legacy in health care, law

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, February 13, 2011

In the highly commercial, dog-eat-dog world of modern-day law, Franciscan Sister Margaret Modde was as much a breath of fresh air as she was a diligent and accomplished canonical lawyer lending insight and expertise to the advancement of Catholic institutions throughout the United States.

"As a Franciscan sister, she represented the high point of Catholic religious life, living her life with tremendous piety and integrity, while she also served as a competent professional who advanced the needs and mission of the church, specifically in the health care setting," said Father William Grogan, the Cardinal's health care delegate in the archdiocese.

Grogan, a civil attorney who worked pastorally and professionally with Modde for 15 years, offered a memorial Mass in the late Franciscan sister's honor on Feb. 4 at St. Peter's Church, 110 W. Madison St. The 90-year-old Modde passed away in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 9, 2010.

Entered in 1938

Born Mary Romanus Modde, Modde entered the Sisters of St. Francis Congregation in 1938 and made her profession of vows three years later. Originally a schoolteacher, she joined the business office of Mercy Hospital in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1953, her first role in the health-care sector that would become so vital to her career and legacy.

In 1977, Modde earned her canon law doctorate from the Catholic University of America. She was one of the nation's first women to receive her JCL and JD degrees from the Washington, D.C.-based university. An active member of the Canon Law Society, Modde made history as the first woman elected to the organization's board of governors in 1979.

From 1989 to 2008, Modde worked with the Health Law Department at Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, providing counsel on the complex transactions of various Catholic institutions, including local health care systems such as the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago Service Corp. and Provena Health. A frequent seminar presenter, Modde also authored numerous articles for canonical publications, advancing her reputation as a trusted, reputable, and scholarly source.

"[Modde] was even-handed and even-keeled and her forthrightness was presented in a spiritual, firm way," Grogan said.

As a canonical consultant, Modde shared her expertise with health care systems across the nation's Catholic health ministry. Her colleagues, particularly those at McDermott Will & Emery sought her expertise in mergers, business administration and reorganizations of Catholic hospital systems.

"Sister Margaret's canon law experience, coupled with her dedication and creativity to numerous Catholic health care systems and their sponsoring congregations, helped change the Catholic health system environment and our health law group in immeasurable, positive ways," said longtime colleague Kerrin Slattery, a McDermott Will & Emery partner.

According to Grogan, Modde lived a life reaching out to people and living the Gospel. After Communism's fall, Modde ventured to Lithuania to help sisters to re-establish their presence in a region desperately needing their presence. As a collaborator with professional laypeople, she helped faithful professionals activate Catholic life in a secular world.

"She lived a life of integrity … and witnessed effectively on the personal and institutional level," Grogan said.