History of the School of Nursing 1914 - 1966

St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson

Post War Years

Immediately following the days of World War II, there was a marked decrease in the enrollment of student nurses throughout the country. St. Mary’s experienced this also. However, the faculty and students wholeheartedly undertook a long range plan of recruitment to encourage capable and interested women to pursue the nursing profession. Men were not excluded. They prepared feature stories for the press telling in picture and story many details of the student’s average day. She was pictured at morning prayer in the chapel, eating breakfast, playing tennis, dressing for a party and performing more typical nursing activities-patient care and study.

Both the Governor and Mayor from time to time issued proclamations of NURSES' WEEK to remind the public of their responsibility of sharing in meeting the health needs of Arizona by assisting in the promotion of the training of nurses. High school teachers formed "Future Nurse Clubs" and invited registered and student nurses to address the club members.

Strenuous recruitment was effective. By the year of the Diamond Jubilee the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Arizona, 1955, there were fifty-two students in the freshman class. The next year there were fifty, and by September of 1956 the school enrollment reached one hundred and forty-five. The decision to permit students to live at home and attend classes as day students, and the opening of Marian Hall for resident students made accommodations available for this increased enrollment.

The students profited by advancements in nursing. In 1950 the school first used achievement tests made available from the National League for Nursing. Miss Oralia Romo recalls that her class which entered the school in 1947 was the first group to use these tests. They were also the first in several years to enjoy the comfort and convenience of uniforms with short sleeves and soft collars and cuffs which the upper classmen in their stiff collars and cuffs envied. The traditional pinafore was worn until 1960 when the school adopted a dressy drip-dry, light blue princess style dress.

The polio epidemic of the 1950's was severe in Tucson as in many other parts of the country. Sister Anne Lucy Zieroff, Administrator of St. Mary’s Hospital, responded to this new health need by remodeling the recently vacated business and operating suites as a polio treatment center. Students and staff nurses received special training in the care of the acute and chronic stages of the illness.

Joan Helen Donisi, a senior in the School of Nursing, was happily planning for the approaching graduation exercises. At the senior prom she was selected as the most popular girl in her class. Then, without a warning, on July 5, 1952, she became ill with the dread bulbar type of polio. Two days later she died. A special commemoration was dedicated to her memory at the graduation exercises when her classmates received their diplomas. The scene was reminiscent of a similar sad event when the parents of Ruth Daum accepted in her stead the school diploma. Ruth had died after a short acute illness, lobar pneumonia, at the age of nineteen on February 18, 1938.

During the years of the crippling polio epidemic student nurses were motivated to participate in healthful outdoor activities as much as possible. A softball team was organized in 1952. Titled "The Belles" they joined the City Softball League. In the Southern Arizona Toumament of 1956 they earned second place.

The students challenged the medical doctors to a series of two benefit softball games. The first contest was called off in the fourth inning because of rain. A repeat game at Hi Corbett field instead of the University of Arizona stadium was a no-ticket, but pass-the-hat game. Proceeds went to the Hospital Building Fund. The second game, also at Hi Corbett field, raised a total of $1,800.00 for the Nurses' Home Building Fund to be used for the erection of Marian Hall to the southeast of the hospital. During the games the press captured many pictures of the antics of the doctors and the nurses.

Victories were equally divided between the contestants with Dr. William Manning, Captain of the Doctors' team and Phyllis Guenthner (Ethridge) of the class of 1954, Captain of the Belles. The students' practice field is now buried under the soil removed from the site of the Helena Rascob Corcoran Addition being built northwest of the eight story service building.

Trends in Nursing Education

The demands of skills to cope with the advancement of technical and professional knowledge developed during the years of the war resulted in a wide spread progress in education at all levels. Elementary education became available to almost all children. A high school diploma was no longer for only the privileged or scholarly few, it was the minimum of attainment. Even a college education was within the grasp of many persons. These advancements in learning were noticeable within the nursing profession in a very special manner. Although the first collegiate program in nursing was established at the University of Minnesota in 1909, it did not terminate in a degree; but by 1950 there were 195 programs leading to a degree in the United States. However, only 9 per cent of the student nurses were enrolled in basic degree programs of which thirty-nine were under Catholic auspices according to The Historical Development of Nursing by Sister Charles Marie Frank C.C.V.I.

The Sisters of St. Joseph had recognized this trend and had prepared Sisters to meet the needs of our schools of nursing. Several Sisters at St. Mary’s had been given the opportunity of enrolling in summer school and extension courses offered by Mt. St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. Faculty members also came to the hospital during the summers to conduct classes for those Sisters who remained on the desert at that time. In 1947 Sister Rebecca Doan, (13) who had been supervisor of the Maternity Department at St. Mary’s for several years, enrolled at the Catholic University of America where she received a Master’s degree in Nursing. She then returned to Mount St. Mary’s College to develop the nursing program at that school of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.


Financing the school of nursing was an ever increasing problem. The tuition charged to the students became more of a burden than many prospective students were able to meet. The hospital could not afford to support the school as it had in the past. Increased faculty salaries and instructors' fees, payroll for registered nurses who filled many positions in the hospital and the increased number of clerical and non-professional personnel complicated the hospital’s financial picture. The strain on hospital finances was increased when in 1955 the students were assigned a forty hour work week, including class hours, and were allowed four weeks vacation instead of two weeks. These last two changes in the school’s program were necessary adjustments made in favor of the new generation of young ladies attracted to the nursing profession in the late 1950's. They were a product of a new environment and educational system and required new and different learning experiences, less regimentation and more opportunity for individual growth and development.

Sister Helen Frances Campioni, the war-time Science Instructor of the school, was Director of the School of Nursing. She arranged with the hospital for scholarships for students. Service clubs and professional business groups also assisted in solving some of the financial problems of the students. Contributions of former patients and donations in the form of memorials also helped. Some of these gifts were specified to be used for a student from a given geographical area; others to be used as loan funds. The faculty and students appreciated the generosity of their many friends and expressed their gratitude in the press.

To cope with the details of the increased nursing staff an office of Nursing Service was established in 1952. Sister Helen Frances continued to function as Director of the School and Nursing Service until 1957 when she was transferred to Lewiston, Idaho. At that time Mrs. Georgia B. Hudson became Director of Nursing Service within the hospital and Sister Rebecca Doan was appointed Director of the School of Nursing.

Curriculum Changes

Sister Rebecca studied possible changes in the curriculum in preparation for the fall term of 1958. The new program was approved by the Arizona State Board of Nurse Registration and Nurse Education. The school was placed on a semester basis. Several courses were introduced and taught by the Extension Division of the University of Arizona with full University credit. Of the one hundred study units each nurse earned towards graduation, thirty-four were in the liberal arts and science field and carried transferable University of Arizona credits.

Sister Mary Arthur Meyer, who had graduated in 1945 from St. Mary’s School of Nursing, returned to the school as Director in October 1958. She had been associate professor of nursing at Mount St. Mary’s College and had worked closely with Sister Rebecca. She arranged with various health agencies and health services for students to have classes in the care of pre-school children at the Tucson Community Schools. Students also had opportunities to observe the work of the Pima County Health Department and the Public School nurses.

Because of the decreased number of tubercular patients at St. Mary’s, in April 1961 Sister contracted for a one year affiliation with Barlow Sanatorium Association in Los Angeles. This permitted the students to have four weeks of clinical experience in the care of patients with long term or chronic respiratory diseases, especially tuberculosis. The following year the revamping of the ward service at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tucson made it possible for the students to have three weeks clinical experience at that hospital. The contract with this institution was renewed annually through 1966. The patients eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the students and their instructors. St. Mary’s School of Nursing also affiliated with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Brentwood, Los Angeles for psychiatric nursing.

The philosophy of all the changes introduced by Sister Rebecca and Sister Mary Arthur was based on the understanding that the school of nursing as an educational institution must be so in fact as well as in name; that the student must be educated and developed as a professional individual; that it was the responsibility of the school to utilize those proven goals of the students and the ultimate goal of all educational programs in nursing; namely, improved patient care.

Sister Mary Arthur appreciated the benefits of involvement by alumni and students in professional and civic organizations. She continued the tradition of such participation established by Sister Evangelista and encouraged by subsequent directors of the school, especially Sister Marguerite Ellard, Sister Beatrice Johnson and Sister Helen Frances Campioni each of whom served on the State Board of Nurse Examiners in Arizona.

Sister Mary Arthur was an enthusiastic leader. Her activities in professional organizations were on national levels as well as on local and state levels. In 1961, she was elected to a four year term on the Board of Directors of the National League for Nursing, the only religious then serving on the Board and the first Sister of St. Joseph to hold such a position. She had not completed her term on the Board when she was assigned to a new missionary activity of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Lima, Peru. At Hospital Militar, the government hospital, she undertook the reorganization of nursing education. She was replaced at St. Mary’s by her assistant, Sister Elizabeth Louise Pesuti.

Golden Jubilee

The Golden Jubilee of the School of Nursing was celebrated Saturday, May 2, 1964. By proclamation of the Mayor of Tucson, the day was set aside to honor the half century of service rendered by the School of Nursing to Tucson and to Southern Arizona. Father Florian Lutz, O.F.M. Cap. the hospital Chaplain associated with the school for nearly fifteen years, spent months preparing mailing lists of alumni. This was a difficult task because many of the girls had changed their names through marriage. As a result of his efforts most of the graduates were contacted and every class except three was represented at the reunion.

The day began with Pontifical High Mass at St. Augustin’s Cathedral. Bishop Francis J. Green officiated and Rev. William B. McCartin, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, preached the sermon. Priests, religious, alumni and friends of St. Mary’s Hospital and the School of Nursing filled the cathedral. Students from Regina Cleri Seminary in Tucson sang during the Mass. Following Mass, luncheon was served to the Bishop and civic guests at the Ramada Inn.

Guests of honor at the luncheon served in the students' lounge at St. Mary’s included members of the first graduation class: Mrs. Stella Roof Barnes of Tucson, Mrs. Helen Dickerman Harrell of Yuma and Mrs. Margaret Ryan Mahoffery of Carlsbad, California. Other members of early classes were also present. Umbrella-topped tables arranged on the south lawn were flagged for one or more classes depending on the response to the invitations. Copies of the appropriate section of Father Florian’s mailing list were on each table.

Formal greetings were extended by Sister Mary Esther McCann, Administrator of the Hospital, Father Florian and Sister Elizabeth Louise Pesuti. Mrs. Jean Peavy and Miss Elaine Gobin on behalf of the Arizona State Board of Nurse Registration and Nurse Education extended their congratulations to the Administration, Student Body and Alumni of the School of Nursing. A summary of reports of the various graduates revealed commendable accomplishments in professional and social work on Indian reservations, in foreign missions, military service, hospitals and other activities in many parts of the United States.

It was interesting to hear the comments as guests studied the array of photos on display. "There's Helen or Ruth," "Remember that time . . ." kept echoing across the lawn as groups exchanged memories, and brought their old friends up-to-date on their personal activities. It was also interesting to hear the nurses mention that the most cherished memories of student days were those of the few minutes of morning prayer together in chapel. Former faculty members often wondered if this custom of group praying were a form of regimentation of questionable worth. It was, therefore, gratifying to hear so many alumni of various faiths praising the time of morning prayer in their school life. A few of our class did not let William (Bud) Hill forget their generosity in putting buttons or even bobby pins in the collection basket which he often passed at the Offertory of the Sunday Mass. If they had not put something in the basket he might not have withdrawn it.

The celebration closed with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Catherine’s Chapel. Many guests returned the following morning to attend the Mass offered by Father Florian for deceased alumni.

Sisters in Nursing

Superiors of the Sisters of St. Joseph were generous in assigning over thirty Sisters as students in St. Mary’s School of Nursing, and in sending Sisters to universities for graduate study. God, in turn, inspired many student nurses, alumnae and staff nurses throughout the years to seek admission into the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Graduates who have joined other religious congregations are Sister Mary Roqueta Zappia of the class of 1936 who is a Sister of Mercy and Sister Mary Claudette Glass, B.V.M., of the class of 1948.

Some Sisters, having made their profession in the Congregation, transferred to the degree program in nursing at Mount St. Mary’s College to complete their training. Other Sisters who had interrupted their nurses' training to enter the Congregation returned to Tucson to complete their studies.

The Sisters of St. Joseph staff four other hospitals in the West: St. Joseph’s in Lewiston, Idaho; Our Lady of Lourdes in Pasco, Washington; Daniel Freeman in Inglewood, California; St. Joseph’s in Tucson. The last hospital school of nursing to remain active was that at St. Mary’s in Tucson.


It would be gratifying to be able to give a thumb nail picture of each graduate of St. Mary’s School of Nursing. Since this is neither possible nor practical, brief notes, are included on four alumnae whose accomplishments brought honor to the school and advanced the status of the nursing profession.

St. Mary’s School of Nursing gained national recognition in May 1936 as the result of an award captured by Helen Clark (Doyle),. At the annual convention of the American Nurses Association in Los Angeles "A Perfect Nurse" contest sponsored by United Airlines was open to three thousand delegates. Of the ten finalists, Miss Clark qualified for first place which included "physical perfection, attractiveness, poise and a high rating in mental tests." She was appointed Air Stewardess by United Airlines, a position at that time open only to nurses.

Lt. Catherine Weadock Newell, A.N.C. of the class of 1932, was Superintendent of Comstock Hospital, Tucson before entering the Army Nurse Corps. While serving in the European Theater for two years, she accompanied a group of American nurses who placed a wreath on the grave of Florence Nightingale near Romsey to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Miss Nightingale’s birthday. Lt. Newell was also in Japan for two years in charge of nursing in the Osaka orthopedic ward. Her last assignment was Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D. C., where she died September 9, 1954. She is buried in Arlington Cemetery. When the nurses' home was rededicated in the fall of 1966, it was named Catherine Weadock Newell Center in honor of Kay.

Miss Helen Bocock entered the School of Nursing in 1919. Except for five years with the Pima County Health Department, "Bo," as the University of Arizona students called her, devote about twenty-five years of her professional life to the care of students at the Infirmary of the University. Life to her was always interesting. She enjoyed people, due to her remarkable sense of humor, and she was an ardent sports fan. Her loyalty to St. Mary's was manifested in many practical ways and her influence for good far reaching.

Helen is not the only name in the school's files; and there is another Helen deserving of mention. Miss Helen Herrera, who graduated December 10, 1934, is an enthusiastic and active alumna. Throughout the years she has been generous and untiring in her efforts to support St. Mary's Hospital. Through participation in the Arizona State Nurses Association, she advanced the interests of student and registered professional nurses. Her efforts in securing recognition for the baccalaureate nursing program at the University and legal protection for the Licensed Practical Nurse have called for frequent contacts with state legislators and state educators. Her zeal, for educational advancement of nurses has been a motivating influence within the profession. Since 1964 she has been a leader in the Practical Nurse Training Program as Clinical Instructor and as Coordinator in the Adult Education division of Health-Education of Tucson Public School District No. 1.

Student Nurses' Prize Winning Rodeo Parade Float
Student Nurses' Prize Winning Rodeo Parade Float


Announcing the Closing of the School

On December 10, 1965, a solemn moment arrived. Sister Mary Esther McCann, Administrator of the hospital, announced through the local press that St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing would close in 1966. The reasons were two-fold - financial and accomplishment of a goal.

Sister Esther explained that the cost to the hospital of supporting the school had been a drain for sometime on funds available for the over-all hospital operation. A faculty of ten teachers was necessary to fulfill the teaching requirements of the school for the 58 students enrolled at that time. Annual fees charged to the students did not meet even a small share of this cost. Some of the students were unable to pay all their fees in advance so that even this source of income was not always available. Scholarships and grants did not make up the deficit. The services rendered by the students within the hospital were strictly learning experiences and did not replace regular staffing requirements of professional and sub-professional employees whose salaries were increasing continually.

Sister Elizabeth Louise Pesuti, Director of the School of Nursing, further explained a changing trend in nursing education in recent years. At long last, nursing had assumed its rightful status with other professions by moving into the university setting. "The administration and faculty of St. Mary’s School of Nursing are in accord with this philosophy," Sister stated. She further explained that many colleges had announced that as of 1967 they would no longer honor a transfer of credits from a hospital school of nursing. Therefore, graduates of a three year program who wished to earn a bachelor’s degree would not gain college recognition for the many courses completed in the three year nursing program.

"The School of Nursing at the University of Arizona has obtained College status. This program will grow," Sister stated. "We at St. Mary’s feel that we have reached the peak of our success." Students earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University in four years. They are thoroughly prepared to serve the citizens of Tucson in positions which are rewarding professionally, socially, economically and personally."

St. Mary’s Hospital and the Sisters of St. Joseph were proud to have accomplished a two-fold goal. Over its fifty year history the school provided the community of Tucson, Southern Arizona and distant parts of the world with approximately 900 competent, qualified, dedicated men and women, equipped to serve the sick in a multitude of positions in various areas of health care. The School also contributed to the advancement of the nursing profession at the level of the degree program of the university. By closing the school, hospital funds would be directed towards serving the community in new areas. Also, faculty members were released to ease the acute shortage of instructors in other institutions.

"Even though the school is to close," Sister Esther explained, "St. Mary’s Hospital continues to be a teaching institution; its scope of instruction is broad." She foresaw University students in the nursing program and in other health care departments making patient contact and gaining practical experience at the hospital. Formal teaching programs already in operation for Medical Residents, Interns, and Medical and Radiologic Technologists would continue at St. Mary’s.

Less formal learning experiences are always present within the hospital. The clerk, the salad girl, the technician and even the Administrator day by day see and hear, question and learn. It is as Dr. Charles A. Thomas said long ago at a commencement exercise of the School of Nursing: "Today you receive your diplomas for having satisfactorily completed three years of training at St. Mary’s. As for me, I have completed twenty-five years here, but I will continue to be a student. There is still much for me to learn at St. Mary’s."

There is much for all of us to learn at St. Mary’s

After Years

Activities continue in the nurses' home since the graduation of the last class on May 12, 1966. The building was renamed the Catherine Weadock Newell Center in memory of one of the school’s honored alumna. During the following months everyone witnessed an application of Parkinson’s Law quoted by industrial engineers: "Workers will fill out the prescribed hours with the work management gives them to do." In Newell Center these workers are the Personnel Director and staff, Education Teams, Development and Public Relations officers, and others who fill the prescribed hours (and rooms) with the work that management, Sister Julia Mary Farley, Hospital Administrator, gives them to do. Progressively one room after another is utilized for needful purposes, most of them of an educational nature.

In addition to the hospital sponsored programs which Sister Esther mentioned at the time the school was closing, extensive inservice educational programs have been introduced for all levels of personnel. St. Mary’s Hospital continues to share teaching programs with the University of Arizona, Tucson Public Schools, and Government sponsored projects. The hospital is looking forward to participating in programs sponsored by Pima College when it opens soon on a site immediately west of St. Mary’s.

Doctor C. A. Thomas was correct. "There is still much for all of us to learn at St. Mary’s."

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