1899 - 1997
A LOOK BACK AT 98 YEARS OF CARING
"That's how long it took after the founding
of ST. Francis Hospital for it's training of nurses to begin. Mother Ann Valencia arrived in Hartford with her small group
of Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery on August 25, 1897. One of them, Sister Jeanne Teresa, would later write this about the
next day in Hartford. "After dinner, we prepared to meet our trained nurse, a young lady from Lee, a Katherine Connors, who
had graduated from House of Mercy in Pittsfield Mass."
Five years after the Hospital was founded,
in February 1902, Sister Jeanne Teresa became the first Saint Francis graduate nurse. She served also as the nursing school's
first director, guiding it for nearly forty years from its modest beginning to a position of prominence. From the start, the
school for St. Francis nurses was known for innovation and excellence. In 1905, seven nursing Sisters took and passed the
newly-instituted State Board of Registration Examinations. By 1913, the School of Nursing, the first in Connecticut with graduates
taking the State Nurses Examination, was accepted by the New York Board of Regents and affiliated with the American Nurses
Association. Enrollment grew with the School's reputation; on December 31, 1917, twenty six nurses graduated from Saint Francis.
The four women who succeeded Sister Teresa
at the School continued her high standards of competence and compassion in nursing. Sister Mary Mechtilde directed the School,
beginning in 1937. In 1940 the U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps was created and 103 Saint Francis student nurses joined. (The Cadet
nurses merited a monthly stipend of $30 and a uniform with a matching pocketbook.) Saint Francis nurses served all over the
world during World War II. Under Sister Mechtilde's direction, Saint Francis Hospital School of Nursing became one of the
first schools in the country to be accredited through the National League for Nursing Education National Accreditation program.
During her twenty-two years at the School, Sister Mechtilde saw it grow by leaps and bounds, graduating classes of over 100
nurses. Of significance, in 1935, Sister Mechtilde was the first nun ever appointed to the State Board of Nurse Examiners.
She served as president of the Board from 1941 until 1953.
Sister Mary Gertrude assumed the position
of director for the School of Nursing in 1959. She guided the School through significant educational and physical changes
during the 1960's. That decade brought major additions to the Hospital, raising the bed complement to over 600 and increasing
the demand for nursing services. School enrollment was high, and competition for admission was stiff. More than 300 prospective
nurses applied for admission to Saint Francis in 1960; 114 were accepted. Curriculum changes put an increasing emphasis on
academic preparation in nursing. The same year, the School once again was surveyed by the National League for Nursing Education
and continued with full accreditation. The School of Nursing gained a new home, the old Hotel Bond on Asylum Street in Hartford
and Sister Gertrude saw the plans through before she left Saint Francis for Iceland in 1966.
Sister Gertrude was succeeded by Sister
Dennis Marie. She engineered the 1967 move to the Asylum Street building, which had been newly renovated, newly reconfigured
and newly named: DeSales Hall. DeSales, with its rich history and gracious ballroom, became home to 300 students at a time
in the early 1970's. The School underwent a rigorous curriculum review and revision in preparation for accreditation, and
for the 1986 shift from a three year to a two year diploma program, and once again for NLN accreditation in 1988. Sister Dennis
Marie remained at the School for almost thirty years and saw over 2000 students become Saint Francis nurses.
The first lay director in the history
of the School of Nursing, Rosemary Hathaway, succeeded Sister Dennis Marie in 1994. Dr. Hathaway guided the School through
three more years of transition during a time of rapid change both in the demand for nursing services and in the health care
system overall. Saint Francis Hospital convened a Blue Ribbon Committee to weigh the direction for the School. This led in
December 1995 to the decision to close the diploma program of Saint Francis Hospital School of Nursing. Then came a day as
historic as that August 1897 afternoon when Katherine Connors, the trained nurse, arrived at the new hospital in Hartford.
On June 15, 1997, the last in a long line of competent and compassionate Saint Francis nurses, 5,818, in fact, walked down
the aisle at Saint Joseph Cathedral and graduated from the School of Nursing, ending it's 98 years of excellence.