August 29, 2012

Nancy Solomon

Sister Noreen McGowan, 1914-2012

Long-time Faculty Member Personified Nursing Excellence

ST. LOUIS -- Sister Noreen McGowan, a faculty member of the School of Nursing for three decades and the first director of nursing at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medicinal Center, passed away on Aug. 28 at her home at The Sarah Community in Bridgeton. She was 97.

Sister Noreen McGowan

A professor of nursing, Sister Noreen had been chair of the department of nursing of children as well as an assistant professor, associate professor and professor of nursing at Saint Louis University. She joined the nursing faculty in 1953, and spent most of her time at SLU teaching pediatrics and supervising nursing students on their clinical rotations. When she retired as a professor emerita in 1983, Sister Noreen was the last Franciscan Sister of St. Mary to serve on the nursing school's faculty.

Sister Noreen was a familiar face at Cardinal Glennon from the time the hospital opened in 1956 until her retirement in 2010. She cared for sick children and their families, understanding the importance of providing for the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of both. A conference room at Cardinal Glennon is named in her honor and for more than 25 years, the hospital has hosted the Sister Noreen McGowan Pediatric Nursing Conference.

"She was a person who dedicated her life to being a nurse and to taking care of children and their families. Nurses learned from her example," said Sheila Leander, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing and one of Sister Noreen's students.

"She would be the one to sit with the mother and father when the child was in the operating room. She was gentle and a calming presence in the waiting room."

Sister Noreen set an excellent example and had expected the same of her students.

"You needed to know your stuff. You didn't want to disappoint Sister Noreen. She set high standards and was especially focused on the well-being of families," Leander said.

Nina Westhus, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and another of Sister Noreen's former students, visited Sister Noreen every two weeks for the last several years and was a close friend. She recalled the Irish twinkle in Sister Noreen's eye and her contagious enthusiasm for nursing.

"Sister Noreen was a genuine scholar. She assisted us to become lifelong learners. Many students believe she is the best teacher they have ever had, as she quietly ignited in them a passion for caring for others, especially children, both ill and well," Westhus said.

"Sister Noreen was the embodiment of love, accomplishment and passion for life. In her joy of learning and living, Sister Noreen opened for us a boundless sea; enough to stretch one's sails to the wind. Yet, she united our avocation with our vocation so that our two eyes may see as one shining light. We, here, are better persons for having known and worked with Sister Noreen. She was a good and decent person, a superb example and role model."

A Franciscan Sister of St. Mary for more than 78 years, Sister Noreen received her bachelor's degree in nursing from SLU in 1944 and her master's in nursing education in 1954. In 1963, she earned a post-master's certification in maternal child nursing at the University of Colorado and in 1971 became a pediatric nurse practitioner through SLU.

Except for three years when she was a pediatric supervisor at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wis., Sister Noreen spent her professional life in St. Louis. She was a nurse at St. Mary's Hospital in St. Louis and pediatric supervisor at St. Mary's Infirmary and St. Mary's Hospital before moving to Cardinal Glennon when it opened.

"I cannot separate Sister Noreen the educator from Sister Noreen the Sister of St. Mary, nor from Sister Noreen the practicing nurse, nor even Sister Noreen the baseball fan, nor the kind, gracious, even shy person who fairly radiates her Irish heritage," said the late Joan Hrubetz, Ph.D., then dean of the School of Nursing, at a tribute dinner for Sister Noreen in 1984.

"One of the characteristics that makes her such a special person is her ability to blend to near perfection all of the roles she assumes without ever changing the person she is."

Sister Noreen received the Excellence in Clinical Practice Award from the Delta Lambda Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the national nursing honor society as well as the School of Nursing's Alumni Merit Award.

Sister Noreen was preceded in death by her parents, two brothers and two sisters.

Visitation will be at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Anna House Chapel of The Sarah Community, 12349 DePaul Drive in Bridgeton on the SSM DePaul Health Center campus, followed by a funeral mass at 3 p.m. Burial will be at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 31 at Resurrection Cemetery.

SSM Cardinal Glennon will host a memorial mass at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7 in the hospital chapel.

Read about Sister Noreen's 2010 retirement from Cardinal Glennon.
Watch a video of Sister Noreen about her involvement with Cardinal Glennon.

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