Sr. Loretta Mann, 85, a Sister of St. Francis of Assisi since 1948, retired from education in 2008, but not from service, and she joined the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn., as a "cuddler," where she volunteers three times a week.
"Mothers who have grown kids or have other responsibilities, they can't be here, but I can," Mann says. As a cuddler, she rocks the babies and keeps them company, often reading books and singing to them.
Mann joined the convent when she was 19, knowing she wanted to work with children. She taught in Pennsylvania for two decades and was then sent to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to get a master’s degree in administration. While she was not happy about the transition at first, she understood that it was part of God's plan. "I always believe that God puts you where he wants you," she says.
After working as a principal in Media, Penn., she was placed in the Hartford area as the curriculum coordinator for the archdiocese and later became superintendent, a post she held until she retired.
"Did I want to retire? No. But I knew it was time. And do you know what? I was at the St. Francis NICU the very next day as a cuddler," she says.
Her services are appreciated by many at the hospital, including Dr. Jose Arias-Camison, the director of the NICU, who says Mann's loving touch helps the infants recover.
"As we know, for many years when the mothers come and touch and hold their babies, their vital signs improve. Sister is not their Mom, but it has the same effect," Arias-Camison says.
Mann's kind spirit and willingness to help spreads throughout the NICU, and she loves making sure the infants know someone is there."I have loved every job, every ministry I have been in," she says. "When I gave up teaching, I thought that was the best job in the world, but then I came here."