Performances honor a chaplain's work and memory

Mary Lou Quinlan performs her play "The God Box" in honor of the late Sister Alice Strogen, who worked with oncology patients and their parents at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years.
Mary Lou Quinlan performs her play "The God Box" in honor of the late Sister Alice Strogen, who worked with oncology patients and their parents at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 11, 2014

PHILADELPHIA In November 2012, Sister Alice Strogen saw author Mary Lou Quinlan perform her one-woman play, The God Box, about how her mother had scribbled concerns and fears on little scraps of paper and tossed them into a wicker box: "You're in my God box," she'd tell those with problems.

Quinlan's play was about letting go and having faith in God by relinquishing what was out of her control.

Sister Strogen also believed the play's message - perhaps even a God box itself - could help ease the suffering of the distraught parents in the 50-bed cancer ward at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was a chaplain.

She contacted Quinlan within three days by e-mail and spoke with hospital staffers about the play. "She thought this will be wonderful for families. They could give their worries over to God," said Susan DiTaranto, the department's nurse manager.

Sister Strogen was so taken with the idea she even had a file. "A God box file," said the Rev. Millicent Wess, a chaplain at Children's who shared an office with her.

But before Sister Strogen, who was 65, could fully develop her plan for a God box, she suffered a heart attack while pulling her car out of a spot in the hospital parking lot less than two weeks after seeing Quinlan perform the play. Thousands came to her viewing, her sister Pat Cross said yesterday.

Hospital staffers, stunned by the death, were determined to finish the God box project for her.

"They wanted the dream to come true, and they continued the conversation," said lifelong friend Sister Bernadette Dougherty, who had attended the play with her.

On Sunday afternoon, Quinlan performed the play at Arcadia University's Spruance Theatre for about 130 people who were connected to Sister Strogen through family, religion, or the hospital. Proceeds of Sunday's performance and two others will go toward the Spiritual Care Fund in Honor of Sister Alice.

Quinlan, who wrote the best-selling book of the same title as the play, will give a second performance at 7:30 p.m. Monday at St. Joseph's University's Bluett Theater, and a third at the Kimmel Center's Innovation Studio at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets cost $30.

A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill since 1966, Sister Strogen was assigned to the hospital for almost 20 years. "The hospital grew up around her ministry," and she prayed each day to "God to lead her to the people you need me to see," Dougherty said.

She said the hospital service was stressful, with Sister Strogen going "from one emergency to another with one critically ill child after another."

What she sought with the God box, Dougherty said, was to "lessen the burden and let God carry the burden" for the parents.


bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897

@bobfernandez1

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