Article adapted from “Sister Trinita’s Legacy – A Heart for God” originally published by Marilyn Tinnin, Mississippi Christian Living.
It was a blustery November day in the heart of Springfield, Illinois, when baby Carol Marie Eddington came into the world. The year doesn’t matter, and, anyway, she is not going to share that with us.
However, a quick look at her resume and her career achievements reveal this obvious truth: She arrived with an innate spirit of adventure and an unflappable courage that was not what one might expect in the sheltered confines of her loving and devout Catholic home. She was sixth in birth order, and four younger siblings eventually rounded out the family. A family portrait reveals 10 perfectly graduated little stair-steps.
Nurturing others came instinctively to her. In fact, when her mother brought baby number 10 home from the hospital, Carol was 13. She was not just kidding when she asked her mother if she could please have that one. To this day, she and her little sister, Judy, share an extra close bond.
Carol Marie became Sister Mary Trinita on the day she took her vows as a Dominican Sister. She was 18 and eager to jump into her sacred calling. Her first assignment was to Jackson, Mississippi, where the Dominicans operated a small new hospital in a refurbished facility on President Street in the heart of the capital city. She had never been out of her home state and had never been on a train before she boarded the Illinois Central en route to this brand-new life.
Sister Trinita tells the humorous story of arriving at the convent around midnight completely unannounced, her papers in hand and eager to go to work. Communication in 1954 was primitive by today’s standards. Long distance phone calls were considered outrageously expensive, and so, of course, the Sisters in Jackson had no idea the Mother House in Springfield was sending this fresh-faced young girl to join their ranks.
The hospital administrator at the time quizzed Trinita on her skills and areas of expertise. Are you a nurse? No. Are you a respiratory therapist? No. Do you sing? No. Do you play a musical instrument? No. The “Do you” questions continued, as did the “no” replies. Finally, the administrator asked, “Well, what do you do?” to which Sister Trinita replied, “Nothing.”
And such was the not-so-impressive beginning of Sister Trinita’s illustrious career with St. Dominic’s!
Sister Trinita was first assigned to help in the pharmacy under the watchful eyes of Sister Mary Carl “so they could sort of size me up” she says. Eight months later she was enrolled in the nursing school and well on her way to being one of the pillars who have helped shape the remarkable growth and development of St. Dominic’s multi-layered healthcare system.
Growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Springfield, Trinita was never at a loss for companionship, adventure, play or hard work. She had the reputation among her siblings as being somewhat a “dare devil!”
Deuteronomy 11:18 – 21 is the passage where Moses commands the Israelites to teach their children the scripture, to live it, to speak it and to make it the focus of life. Sister Trinita’s parents, Joe and Rose Eddington, apparently took that passage to heart because they did just that. Rose, who Sister describes as very Irish, looked to scripture for the rule and standard on everything. Sister Trinita says, slightly tongue in cheek, “We were to abide by scripture’s teachings…or at least to how she interpreted it!”
Joe was reserved but always in agreement with Rose. He frequently stressed to his children Matthew 10:8, “Without cost you have received, and without cost you must give to others.” That particular verse took on a life of its own for Sister Trinita when she saw her father live it again and again.
“I saw many people come into our farm when I was a child, and he would give them all kinds of vegetables,” she says. “He would even give them money, and my mother would ask him why he was giving so much away when we were barely making ends meet ourselves. My dad was always very positive and he would tell her, ‘we’re going to make it fine.”
Sister Trinita says the consistent generosity and faith her father demonstrated profoundly affected her. She saw that her parents’ walk matched their talk, and she wanted to be sure she followed that example.
It was during her eighth-grade year that young Carol Marie was certain God was calling her to be a Sister. She begged her mother to let her enter the convent, but a very wise mother told her she was just too young right then, but that she would support that decision in a few years if she was still so sure of it.
Sister’s blue eyes and deep dimples still give a strong clue that she probably enjoyed a busy social life as a teenager! She does say that upon entering high school, there was a brief period when she discarded the idea of entering the convent because she was temporarily distracted by all the things that make for distracted teenagers!
It was during her senior year, however, that the sense of calling became quite strong. She says it was not so much a “surrender” as something she wholeheartedly desired. “My faith was always such a natural and central part of my life even from my earliest memories, so I guess you could say His loving presence gently eased me along my path.”
She says, “I remember my father, who was a loving yet reserved professional man, gently telling me that a life without faith was not meaningful. After I announced my decision to join the Dominican Sisters, my mother wrote me a tender, poignant letter telling me she approved but if I ever changed my mind I could always come home. I still have her letter.”
Tracing God’s Hand
When Sister Trinita entered the novitiate, the place where those who are in training live, there was another postulant, a candidate for a religious order, who was a nurse. She had brought all her books with her, and Trinita spent many hours reading them – often when she was supposed to be reading her holy books instead! Suddenly there was a struggle going on inside her as she thought perhaps she would rather be a nurse instead of a Sister. She went to the abbess, head of the convent, with this news, and the abbess listened, but told young Trinita to pray about it.
Shortly thereafter, the nurse books mysteriously disappeared. Trinita went on to complete her preparation and to take her vows. What a joy it was when she got those first orders! She knew the assignment to St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson meant that she was going to enter the healthcare field. God had certainly had a hand in that story!
When Sister Trinita first set foot in St. Dominic Hospital, it was located in the old building on President Street. However, the first building on Lakeland Drive was under construction. Five months after she arrived, she was part of the team transporting patients and equipment down the bumpy gravel road to the new facility on the outskirts of town! That location was not the Sisters’ first choice, but they believed the city would soon grow around them.
They had no way of knowing that the I-55 corridor would run right beside their hospital, that the unpaved Lakeland Drive would be the busy thoroughfare it is, or that the 20+ surrounding acres would become a sprawling village of physician’s offices, comprehensive clinics and a state-of-the-art hospital, all of which represent just a part of St. Dominic’s mission.
By the time Sister Trinita completed her first nursing degree, she had been in Jackson for three years. She began her career as a staff nurse advancing to the position of head nurse, assistant nursing director, nursing service administrator, and finally vice president of patient care services.
With each new position came new responsibilities and frequently requisite training. While going back to school can be a daunting assignment for most of us, Sister Trinita embraced the opportunities that came her way, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, and a master’s degree in nursing administration with a minor in community health nursing from Indiana-Purdue University.
When she stepped down as vice president of patient care services in 1993, she says, “I was just getting warmed up!” The previous 36 years, with all of her varied responsibilities, had opened her eyes to just about every strength and weakness of every phase and level of healthcare in the metro area. She took great pride in the strengths, but she could not rest without tackling some of the weaknesses!
So, in true Dominican form, she rolled up her sleeves and began!
A Heart for the Poor
“I found it hard to accept that in a country so richly blessed by our divine Savior that we would have such a level of poverty and need,” Sister Trinita says. Part of the DNA of the Dominican order is their deep commitment to community, to integrate into the community around them, and to represent the love of Christ everywhere they go to every person they meet.
Sister Trinita’s volunteer work in community outreach programs had exposed her to the difficult health challenges of those living in underserved areas of the city. In most instances, they are a stone’s throw from some of the best healthcare in the nation, but they face such obstacles as lack of money as well as lack of transportation to get to it. Sister Trinita’s burden was St. Dominic’s opportunity for ministry!
People experiencing homelessness had carved out their own community around Stewpot Community Services on West Capitol Street. It seemed a natural spot for a free clinic. This is truly Sister Trinita’s “baby.” After going back to school yet another time to obtain her nurse practitioner’s degree, she opened the St. Dominic Community Health Clinic in 1996.
In the middle of a west Jackson neighborhood that exhibits few clues to its former prosperity, the clinic is as pristine and immaculate as any 5-star healthcare facility you can name! The small staff, now led by Nurse Practitioner, Mary Watkins, sees as many as 50 patients a day for routine screenings and treatment for various conditions.
Despite a temporary closure in 2022 due to flood damage, the clinic reopened in November 2023 and immediately saw the steady return of many new and familiar patients. Twenty-seven years and several thousand patients later, Sister Trinita’s enthusiasm and her commitment have not waned.
“Hope is as important as any medicine dispensed at the clinic,” Sister Trinita says. It is incredibly fulfilling to see lives change direction, and the team does frequently see addictions overcome, families reunited and patients who find employment.
The clinic strives to treat the whole person, to understand the many reasons that contribute to the lifestyle some of their patients have adopted, to judge less, to love more and to treat everyone who comes through their doors with dignity even when the favor may not be returned!
Ministry to the Elderly
At the same time Sister Trinita was going back to school to become a nurse practitioner and putting her plans in order for the health clinic, she was also busy designing and developing a program for a residential Alzheimer’s facility. As she says in her soft spoken and unassuming way, “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.” She definitely lives by that adage.
St. Catherine’s Village, one of the numerous subsidiaries under the St. Dominic’s umbrella of services, is a residential retirement and continuing care community in Madison. Opened in 1988, the Sisters soon recognized the need for a dementia unit where the care was specifically designed to meet the needs of the individual in the most loving, compassionate and skillful way, one that would offer meaning and superior care to those whose lives have been impacted by Alzheimer’s.
Campbell Cove, the St. Catherine’s Village area dedicated to memory care, began receiving residents in 1997. Sister Trinita’s thumbprint is everywhere. From the many windows and the natural light that comes streaming into the common areas to the open kitchens and the caregivers who radiate a sincere concern that is much like Sister Trinita’s, every detail of this unit was created by loving hands and the bar was set extremely high.
Looking back on more than six decades of service – you could say, “in the trenches” – Sister Trinita and her Dominican Sisters have made astounding contributions across the entire spectrum of healthcare in the area. And they are not done yet.
When asked what she does in her “downtime,” Sister Trinita says she enjoys to listening to “soothing music, watching movies, and spending time with family.” That “family” would include her biological family scattered between Illinois and Alabama and her Dominican Sisters who share her very tangible love for others.
Although she has transitioned out of daily direct patient care, there does not appear to be a retirement plan on the drawing board anytime soon. Her energy, her mission and her passion continue to be strong. She can be found most days at St. Dominic Hospital, welcoming and assisting patients and visitors alike with her warm smile and quick wit.
“It has been such a pleasure and blessing to serve at St. Dominic’s and our ministry in Jackson,” she says. “I never considered it work. I remember a line from the writings of St. Augustine. It goes like this: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you!”
In the coming months, to recognize the work, ministry, and legacy of Sister Trinita, St. Dominic’s plans to officially name the Community Health Clinic in her honor.
We invite you to be a part of Sister Trinita’s legacy. Your tax-deductible gift will help us continue serving the Jackson area with much needed medical services. Visit https://tinyurl.com/stdgve.