Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin, former president and CEO of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, dies

Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin trained as a nurse before becoming an administrator.

Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who was president and CEO of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson for two decades, died Aug. 17 from complications of a stroke at Assisi House, her order’s motherhouse, in Aston, Pennsylvania. She was 89.

“The measure of a life well spent is the amount of lives touched in service, compassion and fellowship,” Dr. Thomas B. Smyth, current president and CEO of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, said in a statement announcing Sister Marie Cecilia’s death.


Vicki Deyesu, and her late husband, Carmen Deyesu, have served on the hospital’s board for years.

“Sister Marie Cecilia was a very devoted, dedicated and loyal person,” said Ms. Deyesu, a Fallston resident. “She loved St. Joe’s, and her work reflected that and she was very progressive for her age. She had great insight and encouraged those around her to participate, which made the St. Joe community thrive.”


“Sister Marie Cecilia’s legacy of caring and respect continues to inspire us in our daily work at UM St. Joseph on behalf of the communities we serve. We are blessed — and called — to carry on her worthwhile work,” said Dr. Smyth, a resident of Baltimore County’s Woodbrook neighborhood.

Nancy E. Ashwood, who was Sister Marie Cecilia’s executive assistant from 1981 to 1994, remained a close personal friend.

“We had a wonderful professional and personal relationship,” said Ms. Ashwood, who lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. “As a person, she was very peaceful but private, who always said her job was her ’vocation.’ And while she had peace from within and was a very strong person, she knew she wasn’t the smartest or the brightest person, but chose those who were, and assembled a wonderful team.”

The daughter of Charles Irwin, an accountant, and his wife, Catherine D’Arcy Irwin, a secretary, Elizabeth Anne Irwin was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey.

When she was in grammar school, she was inspired by the Sisters of St Francis, and at an early age made the decision to enter a religious order.

“I truly believe that it is a mystery, why God calls people to do his work. The religious life is an affair of the heart, a relationship with the Lord,” she explained in a 1994 Baltimore Sun interview.

“My mother used to say I was brainwashed by the sisters, but it was who they were and what they did more than what they said. I made my decision when I was 18. My mother was not the greatest encourager. She thought I was too young. But I wanted to work with children. I’m sure it’s the maternal instinct,” she said.

Sister Marie Cecilia was a graduate of the old St. Mary’s Cathedral High School in Trenton that closed in 1972. She entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in 1949 and professed her vows in 1951.


Sister Marie Cecilia earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Catholic University of America and a master’s degree, also from Catholic, in nursing education. She was also a graduate of the St. Joseph School of Nursing in Reading, Pennsylvania, where she was a student nurse, trained as an ob/gyn nurse, and worked for 15 years.

“I got to work a lot in the labor room. I loved it there,” she said in a 2008 interview with Good News, a publication of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. ”The movement toward natural childbirth was still decades away. The moms barely knew what was going on. We basically knocked them out. It seems ’barbaric’ when I look back on it.”

Prior to coming to St. Joseph in 1975 when she replaced Sister Mary Pierre, who had worked there for 27 years until being appointed head of St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, Sister Marie Cecilia had served in administration at Morris Hall Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Sister Marie Cecilia assembled an executive team who shared her vision.

“It was a wonderful team which she called a “participative management style,” and she knew in the end that she would have to make the final decision,” said Ms. Ashwood, who was executive assistant to the hospital’s president at the time of her retirement in 2006.


She played an important role in the development of clinical programs that included Open Heart, the Digestive Disease Center, the International Center for Skeletal Dysplasia, Pediatric Express, now known as Pediatrics After Hours, and a family-centered childbirth experience.

Facilities such as the O’Dea Medical Arts Building, the South Building, the Radiation Oncology Center and parking garage were built on its campus during her tenure.

She also remained acutely aware of those in need, which resulted in outreach and various other mission such as preventive health and wellness screenings for the underserved or marginalized as well as establishing an Employees’ Assistance Fund.

“I can’t discount the hospital location. Many people have the resources to pay for their care. We are really blessed,” she told The Sun in the 1994 interview. “We’re in an affluent area, but that doesn’t mean we are not taking care of the poor. We have nearly 400 volunteers. There’s a tremendous trend of men and women retiring with a lot of energy and financial resources and the desire to serve.”

Sister Marie Cecilia also established the Employee Advocates positions, which assisted her in keeping “employees’ needs at the forefront of decisions made,” according to the St. Joseph profile. She also founded the Eucharistic Ministers program, which assisted chaplains in providing sacramental ministry to patients, families and staff.


She was a ubiquitous presence and could be found walking the halls and visiting with patients or serving staff meals at Christmas.

In 1988 she was awarded the Andrew White Medal from Loyola University Maryland, and two years later, she received a papal medal, the Pro Ecclesia Pontifica award, given for accomplishments and distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Morning Sun


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When she retired in 1994, the road leading from Osler Drive to the hospital entrance was renamed in her honor and the building that houses the hospital’s day care center was named the Sister Marie Cecilia Irwin Daycare and Education Building.

After returning to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, she worked with new and expectant mothers at the Mother Bachman Maternity Center in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, for six years, and served in the local house ministry at the Visitation Center for several years. She was also on the board of Neumann University and was chair for development of the congregation.

After moving to her order’s motherhouse in 2004, she remained until her death working in its prayer ministry.


Sister Cecilia was an avid reader and an accomplished needleworker who enjoyed quilting and crocheting.

Services held Tuesday at Assisi House because of the pandemic were private.

Sister Cecilia is survived by a sister, Kathleen Maiorano of Bensalem, several nieces and a nephew.