Led by Sister Mary Ambrose Naughton, human angels of charity, love and kindness abound at St. Joseph Villa.

The Salt Lake nursing home's executive director of the past 21/2 years loves her work, and patients and staff seem to love and appreciate her.She radiates the spirit of a caring staff at the 165-bed facility, a private non-profit corporation owned and operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, which has headquarters in Houston, Texas.

The nursing home at 475 Ramona Ave. is not only a place of caring for elderly and other patients but a "place of healing" for about 140 employees.

"It is so necessary that caregivers have someone to whom they can talk and who will be non-judgmental. I try to see myself in that role," Sister Mary Ambrose said.

Staff members work to "give dedicated service and to keep the humanity of Christ alive and visible" for patients and those who give care. Another challenge is to maintain good interpersonal relationships among the employees, said Sister Mary Ambrose, who before coming to Salt Lake City was a member of the congregation's governing board.

She was born in southern Ireland, where she was reared in a closely knit Catholic family. At 23 she made a firm decision to prepare for a religious life and first entered a formation program near Shannon, Ireland. After about six months she continued her religious preparation program in Houston, but it wasn't until two years later that she took her temporary vows.

Such a period of contemplation and testing gives sisters time to discover whether they have made the right decision, because perpetual or final vows in a religious congregation are viewed as a life-time commitment.

"I've always felt this is where the Lord wanted me to be. Regardless of day-to-day situations, I've always had an underlying conviction that what I was doing was the right thing. I've always been very happy with my choice," said Sister Mary Ambrose, who also is a registered nurse with a speciality in psychiatric nursing.

She received a master's degree in psychiatric nursing from Catholic University of America and worked 15 years at St. Mary's Hospital, Galveston, Texas, where she was director of psychiatry.

During a Deseret News interview she discussed her religious philosophy and the need for good health care for the elderly and other patients.

Dressed in a blue habit and matching veil, Sister Mary Ambrose made her way around the hospital encouraging patients. She stopped to see Ellen Johnson, 93, a Salt Lake woman who has been in the nursing home nearly three years and whose room was bedecked with Valentine's and other greeting cards and pictures; Edith Beless, 101, who talked about her favorite nurse, Clara, and of the fun she has playing bingo every Saturday night; and with Ercle Hopkins, 95, a former Cedar City resident.

"I could have gone to live with any of my three children and would have been welcome, but I wanted to come here," Hopkins said, proudly talking about her family and latch hook rugs and other items she has made.

Hopkins cannot lie down and spends most of her time in a reclining chair. Two years ago she enrolled in a psychology correspondence course and enjoys writing letters and keeping abreast of the news.

"She has adjusted so well for someone who had to let go of some of her independence, but she's still excited about life," said Sister Mary Ambrose.

Throughout the hospital Sister Mary Ambrose stopped to talk with staff members and patients, often touching them or clasping their hands as she walked by. She recalled details about their life that could only be learned by a good listener.

Once a month she conducts an ecumenical prayer service for the staff. It's a time for "sharing of burdens, faith and healing."

Her day usually begins with prayer and lighting of a candle in her room between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., a gathering with other sisters for prayer in the chapel at 6:30 and checking with the night supervisor on the conditions of patients. Then she makes personal visits to many patients.

"I feel the urgency to just touch them and let them know I care," she said.

In lighting a candle each morning and communicating frequently in prayer, Sister Mary Ambrose sets the tone for the day.

"I give my life over to the Lord, asking him to enable me to experience his presence and to be a channel of his love to those whose lives I touch during the day," she said.