Sister Alice Strogen, Roxborough native and CHOP chaplain, dies at age 65

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia lost a beloved member of its team last week.

Sister Alice Edward Strogen, the Catholic chaplain at CHOP and a Roxborough native, collapsed and died of a heart attack in the hospital’s parking garage on Tuesday. Strogen was 65.

Many in the hospital community had seen her earlier in the day and were shocked by the news. 

“She was seeing people and staff right up until she passed away,” said Madeline Bell, president and chief operating officer at CHOP. “She was interacting, talking, sending follow up emails; it was quite sudden.”

As CHOP’s Catholic chaplain, Strogen was responsible for supporting families through the loss or life-threatening disease of a loved one.  In addition, she supported CHOP nurses, doctors, social workers and housekeepers through difficult situations at their patients’ bedsides.

“She was always the person who was there for us during a time of crisis, so having her gone creates its own crisis and now she’s not here to support everyone,” said Bell.

Instilling hope and faith during tragic times 

Strogen started at CHOP in the late ’80s, took a short break to be part of the Mother of Divine Providence parish in King of Prussia, Pa. and eventually made her way back to CHOP. Strogen recently told Bell that she wanted to carry out this type of work at CHOP until the day she died.

She was known at the hospital for lighting up a room with her smile, having an impeccable memory when it came to the thousands of names of families she worked with and having the uncanny ability to know when and where she was needed in times of tragedy or crisis.

“I used to think of her as a superhero,” said Bell. “I’m sure nuns don’t want to be described as superheroes but she had this ability to sniff out when and where she was needed in a horrible crisis and there she would be. She had this ability to give people hope and faith in the most tragic times of their lives.”

A friend and colleague reflects on time spent together at CHOP 

Jack Rodgers, CHOP’s former chaplain coordinator and director of pastoral and spiritual care, worked closely with Strogen for nearly 20 years before retiring in 2009. He said the two spent a lot of time dealing with and talking about death but shared plenty of laughs along the way.

“[Before coming to CHOP], she used to teach at a school in Bayonne, N.J. and she was the coach of the cheerleading team there,” he said. “So she’d often break out into one of her full cheerleading drills, you know the standard 2, 4, 6, 8 and she’d go through the whole motions in the office. As crazy as it might sound, it was her way, and our way, of being hopeful. She knew how to be sad, she knew how to hurt but her smile and her spirit would light up a room.”

Rodgers said her day normally started at 4:30 a.m. (if she decided to sleep that night at all) and a standard week would consist of at least two funerals, yet she continued to extend her support services beyond working hours.

“She and I had different boundaries and my boundaries normally stopped at the door of the hospital,” he said. “I think in her case, it was part of her closure to carry it through to the final burial and, in many cases, she spoke at the funerals.”

‘She’s irreplaceable’ 

On Strogen’s online memorial page, the parents of a child with Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), a medical condition primarily seen in premature infants, expressed their gratitude for Strogen’s care and compassion in this post: 

“To a young couple who had already experienced the loss of their first child, and who were making CHOP a second home – their second child had NEC, Sister Alice meant the world to us. She comforted us, gave us hope and made us feel that we’d live through the nightmare and someday be a normal, happy, healthy family. In the end, she suffered with us, but was able to give the eulogy at our Frankie’s angel Mass. We’ll never forget Sister Alice and what she did for us…”

According to Bell, Strogen’s devotion to her work would be impossible to match. 

“There is nobody that is going to be able to fill her shoes,” said Bell. “She’s irreplaceable.”

Relatives and friends are invited to Strogen’s viewing on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m at St. Joseph Villa.  The funeral will follow at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to St. Joseph Villa, 110 W. Wissahickon Ave. Flourtown Pa. 19031.

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