About the author: Erika Baker is currently a nursing student at Indiana University- Purdue University Fort Wayne and will graduate in 2015. She has worked at the History Center for two years in the gift shop
by Erika Baker
Dr. William Osler, one of four physicians who founded Johns Hopkins Hospital, once said, “The trained nurse has become one of the greatest blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest.” This seems to be the same state of mind of Right Reverend John Henry Luers, the first Bishop of the newly formed Fort Wayne Diocese. Once in his role as Bishop, he began looking at the community from a standpoint of what could be done to better serve the community. He saw a lack of healthcare available to the sick and took action.
In 1867, he purchased the Rockhill House on the corner of Main St. and Broadway, which had been a sixty-nine room hotel until it had fallen into hardship, for the fee of $52,000. He then recruited the assistance of The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, a religious order of sisters led by Mother Mary Kasper and devoted to the care of the sick and orphaned in Dernbach, Germany. The sisters responded to the call and eight sisters made the journey to Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In 1869, St Joseph Hospital opened, run completely by the sisters as the first center of care for sick in the area. They welcomed all sick including German immigrants. In 1883, a convent to house the sisters and a chapel were added to the hospital grounds for the cost of $32,000. As the need for nursing care increased, the sisters began a private education program to train local sisters in the art of nursing. In 1918 the sisters decided to allow women of the community who had the passion and heart to care for others in a selfless way to enroll in the educational program. The following year the St. Joseph School of Nursing was accredited by the State Board of Nursing Education and Registration and provided a three year course that included class instruction as well as hands on work within the hospital setting, gradually increasing the hands on service within the hospital. By 1921 the first class of the St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing graduated as registered nurses.
The school focused their education around not only the disease or ailment of the patients that they would soon be treating but also the importance of meeting the needs of the person as a whole. This can be seen by simply looking at the motto adopted by the nursing school that can be seen on the pins given to graduating nurses. It reads “Propter Humanitatum” meaning “For the sake of humanity.” The teachings of the school are still incredibly relevant to the practice of nursing. As Maya Angelou put it, “They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In 1929, a building devoted to nursing was built to house the many nursing students who enrolled in the school of nursing. This building was constructed across the street from the hospital and was used to not only house the students but also as educational space with classrooms, learning labs, and a library. After six months of study, the students were able to begin working within the hospital caring for patients and as their knowledge grew they were able to take on more tasks within the hospital.
With the beginning of the Second World War, St. Joseph School of Nursing participated in the United States Cadet Nurse program which allowed nurses to receive tuition assistance with a commitment to serve in the war after graduation if the need arose. As the war went on the popularity of nursing increased and the school began offering more classes to train and educate more aspiring nurses.
The school of nursing graduated its last class in 1987 and the school closed. The school that started with a religious basis of service and care for those in need graduated over 1500 well educated and compassionate nurses that have gone on to serve in hospitals across the United States as well as become educators in the field of nursing.