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Even in Retirement, Sister Janet Corcoran Vows to be a ‘Voice for the Voiceless’

Community invited to dessert social in honor of Catholic nun, who stepped down as head of mission services at Marian Regional Medical Center

Sister Janet Corcoran spent decades speaking up for the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and others, being the “voice of the voiceless” regularly at government and other meetings throughout Santa Barbara County.

To celebrate her “contribution and service to humanity” as she retired from her job — but not her mission to speak up for the afflicted — three local politicians will host a dessert social for her Saturday in Santa Maria.

According to Joyce Howerton, an aide to state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, Jackson, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, “wanted to celebrate the wonderful contributions that Sister Janet has made to our community.”

“If you know Sister Janet, you know she likes to have fun, so this will be a party,” Howerton said.

The event is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Elwin Mussell Senior Center, 510 E. Park Ave. in Santa Maria. In honor of the nun’s heritage and activism, it will include Irish music and peace songs. To RSVP, call Joann at 805.928.9651 or Kathy at 805.260.1402 or email [email protected].

“It just touched my heart when they said they were going to do this,” Corcoran told Noozhawk

The Catholic nun, who retired in August after 30 years as vice president of mission services at Marian Regional Medical Center, provided the “voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable” while making sure elected officials voted in a socially just way.

Corcoran frequently supported county staff requests for social programs with a simple statement — “Give them all they ask for and more.”

“I feel good about that — to support what needed to be supported,” she said of her regular appearances.

Her retirement from Marian comes four years after she marked her golden anniversary with the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. She was drawn to the order because of its health-care and teaching ministries, after having several nuns as instructors in high school and later seeing their hospital role.

An only child, Corcoran grew up in Southern California, attending her freshman year at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach before attending the former Pius X High School in Downey, where she was a standout basketball player and team captain. The school is now St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy.

When Corcoran was 15, cancer claimed the life of her mom, who was just 39 years old. Later, she cared for her father, who had emphysema.

“I thank my parents because it’s through dealing with their sickness and illness that I was drawn to take the nurse’s aide class and wanted to enter health care,” she said.

Serving as a nurse’s aide while in high school helped her became familiar with the hospital setting, and she intended to pursue a nursing career.

Poor grades in high school — she got a car and focused on fun and sports, more than academics — meant her hopes of becoming a nurse were dashed, as she was directed into nontransferrable courses when she started college. Yet, she aced those classes and soon moved into courses that transferred to a university. She repeatedly landed on the dean’s list while earning her bachelor’s degree.

Upon reflection, she is happy at the direction her career went.

“I would have been more limited as a nurse,” she reflected. “This way I was able to move through the hospital and reach out.”

Corcoran initially taught school, and her first assignment took her to St. Mary of Assumption Catholic School in Santa Maria from 1960 to 1962.

She taught at other locations, but asked to return to college. While attending college and caring for her sick dad, she worked part-time at a hospital as a discharge planner, social worker and chaplain, learning of other jobs where she could help patients.

She earned her master’s degree in behavioral sciences with an emphasis in gerontology. Her thesis title was “Don’t Get Caught Dead, Plan Ahead.” She taught a course on planning for death across the United States.

After a stint as a vice president of St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, she received orders to move to Santa Maria. She wasn’t happy.

“That was like home for me because I entered (the convent) from there, my family was 15 minutes away,” she said.

But she soon settled into her new community, and immediately got involved. Along the way, she served for 17 years on the Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Commission.

“I enjoyed it, we got a lot done,” she said.

In keeping with the mission of St. Francis and her order, she doesn’t just speak out for people; she also lobbies and acts on behalf of the environment. As an example, she described a tour she took of the landfill east of Marian Regional Medical Center. While there, then-public works director Paul Karp introduced her to the idea of harnessing the methane from the landfill to generate power at the hospital.

“I said, ‘Great. Let’s do it,’” she recalled, adding that Marian officials signed off on the idea when she presented it to them.

Corcoran notes the proposal was as off-the-wall as saying, “I want to go to Vandenberg and shoot off a rocket. I mean it’s that outer space-y.”

Today, the hospital is powered by energy produced by the cogeneration plant, and she proudly points out that there are plans to add a second one.

“So it saves us money but it also helps the environment,” she said.

Corcoran also started Santa Maria’s Peace Week celebration. Now in its 17th year, the event is intended to promote peace and stop violence.

Retirement from Marian doesn’t mean she’s ending all of her community work. She still serves on the board of Catholic Charities and a committee for St. Vincent’s Santa Barbara.

“I really thank my parents for that call,” she said. “The gift they gave me is greater compassion and understanding when people are going through something because I’ve been there and done that.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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