Saint Joseph's history: Establishing first nursing program in Georgia

March 5, 2015

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Mary Beth Spence
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The Sisters of Mercy have a long tradition of caring for the sick and the poor. To further the excellence of their healing ministry, in 1900 Saint Joseph’s Infirmary School of Nursing was established. It was the first nursing program in the state of Georgia and the first in the state to receive accreditation.

The first nursing class graduated in 1903 and, from then until its closing in 1973, more than 1,300 nurses received diplomas. Throughout the years the style of students’ uniforms changed, but the motto of Saint Joseph’s nurses remained the same and was used on all class pins: "Infirmus eram, et visitasti me" (I was sick and you came to visit me).

From 1907 to 1973 a "Mercy Cap" similar to that worn by students of other Mercy Schools of Nursing was used. The cap symbolizes white for purity and a peak or high ideals; the crown, a reward for a life well spent.

Some of the outstanding Superintendents/Directors of the Nursing School were Sister M. Claude; Miss Lucy Mace, Sister Patrice Young, Sister M. Anita Stouteburg, Sister M. Cornile Dulohery, Sister Damian Faller, Sister M. Incarnata McDonald, Sister M. Bonaventure Oetgen, Sister M. Redempta McNamara and Sister M. Kristen Lancaster.

In 1957, Sister M. Cornile Dulohery announced that the faculty of the School of Nursing had been seriously considering taking male students in the August class. It did so, and three years later in 1960 Charles Fulmer became Saint Joseph’s first male student and the first in the state to graduate from a school of nursing.

Sister M. Kristen Lancaster served as the School’s final director from 1963 until its closing. She is remembered for influencing many student nurses and was highly regarded for her compassion, self-sacrifice, generosity with her time and a kind word.

In the 1970’s the decision was made to phase out Saint Joseph’s School of Nursing because the American Nurses Association began to challenge nurses to seek academic degrees and Georgia State University, with the assistance of Sister Kristen, was developing its own program. Once the University was able to meet the needs of the community, Saint Joseph’s graduated its last class in 1973.

Today, the legacy of Saint Joseph’s School of Nursing remains at the hospital through Sister Peggy Fannon, a 1968 graduate, and through the ongoing influence of many former School of Nursing graduates. A 40-year employee of Emory Saint Joseph’s, Sister Peggy works as a certified diabetes educator, teaching patients about their disease and how to cope with it.

This story is the third in a series celebrating the Sisters of Mercy and their influence on health care in Atlanta. Prior stories: