History of the School of Nursing 1914 - 1966

St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson

School Activities

The fiftieth anniversary of the arrival in Arizona of the first seven Sisters of St. Joseph was a time of special festivity in Tucson. As its share in the general celebration, the School of Nursing emphasized the third annual graduation of May 1920. In recounting the event the local press gives the names of the graduates - Mary Coady, Mrs. Frances Edith Geffs, Miss Aimee Graves Hendy and Mrs. Lillian Conocer Thompson. Dr. Arthur Olcott, Chief of the Medical Staff, conferred the diplomas; Dr. Edward J. Gotthelf Jr., Secretary, presented the pins; Dr. A. Garfield Schnabel made an address on "Preparation." Dean Byron Cummings of the University of Arizona made the opening address. The news story concludes with this personal touch: "Little Martha Geffs led the march into the lecture hall which was tastefully decorated with palo verde and columbine blossoms against branches of peppertree foliage."

Mary Coady was the first alumna of the school to make her profession as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and to return to Tucson to join the hospital staff. For many years she supervised the maternity department both in its first quarters in the original hospital and in the new section on the top floor of the north win-g. From 1941-1947 Sister Mary Eileen Coady was the Superintendent of St. Mary's and Superior of the Sisters. Mrs. Frances Geffs, her classmate, was also closely associated with St. Mary's. After practicing nursing for many years in Tucson, Mrs. Geffs joined the hospital management team in 1942 as Executive Housekeeper which position she developed and filled until she retired in February 1959.

As the school records show, entrance requirements were flexible. Throughout the 1920's an applicant could be received though she might not have completed high school. A four year high school education was a luxury not available to all. The results of State Board examinations justified this less rigid practice. These examinations were first taken in 1923. The graduates of that year assembled at St. Mary's School of Nursing and over a period of three days answered three or four sets of questions each day. The previous year no such examination had been required. Sister Guadalupe Saucedo who graduated at that time says, "When the Governor handed me my diploma and Registered Nurse Certificate he said, 'You earned these'." Sister Guadalupe is R.N. No. 122, a much higher number than that of Mrs. Geff of the class of '20 who is R.N. No. 98. Mine of 1939 is No. 2481.

One of Sister Evangelista's students, Mrs. Bernice Roberts Hesidence states that Sister grasped every opportunity to improve and expand the educational program of the school. For example, in 1922 she made arrangements with the Home Economic Department of the University of Arizona for her students to enroll in a special course of dietetics. The students paid for the course themselves. "It was a rewarding experience," Mrs. Hesidence recalls. It was good, too, for the University staff to know through personal contact with St. Mary's students that a fine job of education was being done at the hospital.

Stella Roof visits the Sisters' farm, St. Mary's Hospital, 1916
Stella Roof visits the Sisters' farm, St. Mary's Hospital, 1916 


Dr. Arthur Garfield Schnabel
Dr. Arthur Garfield Schnabel

Home-made recreations were a delight to Sister Evangelista throughout her life. Many a time in later years, although she was our senior by nearly half a century, Sister led a group of us in planning activities to entertain the rest of the Sisters. This type of creative fun she cultivated in her students in those early days at St. Mary's. There were song fests, dramatic presentations from simple to studied playlets, parties, dances, teas and special programs presented for patients. Outdoor activities were popular with the students, especially horseback riding and hikes.

Sodality of Mary, May Procession 1951
Sodality of Mary, May Procession 1951

Sister inspired her students to grow spiritually as well as academically and socially. The Sodality of Our Lady was canonically established in 1925 for the students. Father Howard P. Lawton was their first advisor. The Sodality program included the annual May procession terminating in the crowning of a statue of Mary. The Sodalists in their light blue capes, ribbon and medal of their ensignia were preceded by their banner and joined by those classmates who wished to attend and by the Sisters, all praying and singing together. On each Sunday the students were allowed an extra hour off duty to have time to fulfill their religious obligations. Those girls who observed Saturday as their day of worship had their extra hour on that day. This practice continued until the early 1940's when an effort was made to establish a straight eight hour tour of duty.

The length of course originally set for two and one-half years was extended in 1929 to a full three year program to meet legal requirements. Those graduates of the thirty month course who wished to join the hospital staff for a six month period were permitted to do so, and were given credit for a three-year course. Mrs. Helen Rivera says that after she had worked for two years at the Pima County Tubercular Hospital as an R.N. she returned to St. Mary's for an additional six months of experience under Sister Evangelista's guidance.

Sister Evangelista served Arizona nurses on the State Board of Nurse Examiners for many years beginning with the first meeting in Governor Thomas Campbell's office, June 14, 1921. During the years of his terms as Governor, 1923-1929, George W. P. Hunt annually confirmed Sister's appointment to the Board. In 1929, Sister was transferred to Lewiston, Idaho where she remained during the term of Governor John C. Phillips. In 1931, George Hunt was reappointed Chief Executive of Arizona. It is not easy to estimate how much influence he exerted in effecting Sister's return to Tucson. Nevertheless, June 12, 1931, he appointed Sister to fill a vacancy on the Arizona State Board of Nurse Examiners. In 1932, for the first time, Sister was President of the Board. The following year, when Benjamin B. Moeur became Governor, Sister returned to Lewiston.

Some of the doctors at St. Mary's began to interpret the transfer of Sisters from Tucson to Lewiston, Idaho as an established pattern. The reader may get the same impression from these notes. However, that is not the manner of mission assignments. Actually, there is no pattern for transferring Sisters from one mission to another, only needs to be filled - institutional or personal.

Lewiston was Sister Evangelista's last assignment. In 1950 the Arizona State League of Nursing presented Sister with a certificate of perpetual membership in the National League of Nursing. Sister died in Lewiston in 1953 at the age of eighty, active in professional nursing organizations to the end of her life.

Student Hospital Relations 

The financial crisis of 1929 together with the gradual rising scholastic requirements enforced by professional nurse organizations greatly affected schools of nursing throughout the country. Some closed; some grew. St. Mary's took the latter course. Several improvements which favored the student nurses were introduced by Sister Mary Charles McIvor, Superintendent of the hospital from 1929 to 1935. A registered nurse, she readily recognized the plight of the students. She provided additional living accommodations by adding a two story brick wing to the residence hall. She increased the non-professional personnel in the hospital to reduce the physical labor of the nurses, especially in the areas of housekeeping and food service. In 1931 she engaged a part-time Pathologist-Radiologist, a laboratory technician, a registered dietitian, Irene Ross, who worked closely with the student nurses and a full time nursing instructor, Miss Ann West. A year later Miss West was succeeded by Miss Frances Sweeney.

Recreation facilities were also increased. On June 3, 1932 the student nurses through the generosity of Tucson friends first enjoyed a swimming pool of their own. Until that time they were indebted to Gilbert Sykes of West Anklan Road for the privilege of using his pool. In 1945 when the west wing of the convent was being built over the pool site, Mr. Sykes again opened his pool to the students until the present pool was completed in 1953.

Sister Mary Xavier Quinn, who opened the School of Nursing at St. Joseph's Hospital in Lewiston, Idaho, was director of St. Mary's School of Nursing until 1934 when Sister Mary Marguerite Ellard assumed this responsibility for a period of six years. Sister Marguerite, who had been stationed at St. Mary's for the previous ten years, was an excellent teacher and enthusiastic leader. Miss Shirley Timewell, R.N. came as her assistant and chief instructor; the doctors continued to give regular and supplementary lectures. The school was affiliated with the University of Arizona, State Teachers' College at Tempe, the State College in Flagstaff and with Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. The high scholastic standing of the school attracted a constant enrollment of local and out-of-state students.

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