Sister Aileen Trainor is getting ready to say goodbye to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Oregon, where she’s held a job for the last 56 years. Now, she can’t go more than a few minutes without some of her colleagues, including everyone from food service workers to medical professionals, telling her how much they’re going to miss her. Over the course of her career, she has worked in just about every unit at the hospital all while doling out her signature sense of humor.
She spent most of her time in the urology department, or the “plumbing department” as she likes to call it. It’s not uncommon to see her wear a red clown nose just to liven up the mood.
“It’s not about being funny,” Trainor told the staff. “It’s about breaking the cycle of fear.”
She would often use humor as a healing technique when patients were at their most vulnerable.
“Every time you laugh, you’re pulling your diaphragm up, you’re oxygenating your brain, you can think more,” she said. “It’s a common language … you can break the walls down.”
When she started working at the hospital in 1971, she was one of 18 nuns on staff. She comes from a religious community of vowed women and associates focused on peace and social justice. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace are still involved with the hospital today, but Trainor is the last remaining nun on staff.
“On this campus in particular, we’re really proud of our behavioral health services that we provide, and they established that,” Alicia Beymer, chief administrative officer at PeaceHealth, said. “They’re (still) very involved in making sure that we are living our mission.”
Beymer commented on what it was like to work with Trainor for over 15 years. “For somebody like me, who is kind of a serious person, she just brings out that clown in you and helps you just relax and smile,” Beymer explained.
After working in the urology department, Trainor moved into risk management, where she worked for nearly three decades. She served on multiple boards throughout her tenure in an effort to improve patient care.
Todd Salnas, chief executive of PeaceHealth, said Trainor has been an inspiration to him and the entire community.
“I was walking on the path with her just a month ago and within a few minutes, I found myself telling her my whole life story … I felt like I was the center of the universe,” Salnas said. “What a great feeling that is. They say smiles are infectious. Same thing. You want to carry that forward to other people too. It makes me want to be present with other people in the same way.”
Trainor has yet to fully retire. She plans to continue working at St. Mary-on-the-Lake in Bellevue, Washington, another facility associated with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
Dozens of colleagues came by on her last day to pay their respects with one person even breaking out in song and playing the guitar. “Have a happy heart and be a healer,” she said to the staff before departing. “Be kind to each other. Be there when people need you.”