September 11, 1923 – October 16, 2022
Sister Mary Madonna (Alberta) Ashton, CSJ, of St. Paul, Minnesota, had a long and impressive Minnesota-based career in public service and the private sector. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1946 as she began her career in medical social work (then a new field) at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul. After moving to St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she spent more than two decades, she transitioned into administration, ultimately serving as president and CEO.
Shortly after resigning her CEO position, Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich asked her to serve as the state’s commissioner of health. During an eight-year term from 1983-1991, she addressed public health by taking on the tobacco industry, which led to the banning of smoking in public spaces. She also addressed the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic.
After her term as commissioner ended, she became CEO of Carondelet LifeCare Corporation, and in 1992, impelled by her strong sense of justice and compassion, she founded St. Mary’s Health Clinics (SMHC) to serve the uninsured and those ineligible for government programs. Today, the often-recognized SMHC includes seven Twin Cities clinics with 150 volunteer physicians, nurses and support personnel who have served over 15,000 people this year alone through its clinics and outreach services. She retired from her CEO position in 1999.
Sister Mary Madonna continued volunteering and serving on various committees, and in 2011, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt asked to be the Delegate for Religious for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She served in that position until 2014 when, at age 91, she retired.
Among her many honors and awards, the National Women’s History Alliance named her a 2016 National Women’s History Month Honoree joining the ranks of such luminaries as Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Dorothy Day, Emily Dickinson, Coretta Scott King, and Eleanor Roosevelt. March 8, 2016, was declared Sister Ashton Day by then-Governor Mark Dayton and Sister Mary Madonna Ashton Day by then-St. Paul mayor Christopher B. Coleman.
Sister Mary Madonna Ashton held a B.A. from the College of St. Catherine in Sociology, a master’s in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota, a master’s in medical social work from St. Louis University and honorary doctorates from St. Catherine and Hamline Universities.
Sister Mary Madonna was a tireless and tenacious advocate for those in need and will be missed by her Sisters of St. Joseph and consociate community, family, friends and colleagues who loved and respected her.
A funeral service for Sister Mary Madonna will be held on Friday, November 18 at 11:00 a.m. Central time at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in St. Paul.