60th Anniversary

Catholic New World - Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

June 29 - July 12, 2014

Catholic nurses’ council celebrates 60 years

By Michelle Martin

Nurses, by definition, take care of other people. They care for patients who are ill and in pain, for family members and loved ones who are frightened and worried and for people who just want help to stay well.

Generally, most nurses say they love those parts of the job, but it can leave them drained.

“Nurses are so busy caring for other people,” said Sheila Coogan, president of the Archdiocese of Chicago Council of Catholic Nurses. “This gives us a chance to care for ourselves and each other. It’s to fill the coffee cup so you can go back and care for everybody else.”

The council will celebrate its 60th anniversary July 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a Mass and celebration at Sacred Heart Parish, Palos Hills.

“We have to keep ourselves refreshed,” said Donna Corneille of Park Ridge. “The way hospitals are right now, they are very hard. We are overworked and always understaffed. You are going into it because it is our gift. … As a nurse, I feel very fulfilled in my profession. But I’m from the old school, where there is a dedication of ourselves to serving the needs of others.”

“What we try to do is bring an awareness to others that this is not just a job,” Corneille said. “This is part of our faith. And we need a community of unity to bring the best part of ourselves to every patient we see.”

The Council of Catholic Nurses offers both spiritual support and opportunities for professional development and networking. Members of the Chicago council generally gather for four major council activities each year: a fall program, Advent retreat, Lenten program and Nurses Week in May. The Nurses Week celebration is done in collaboration with members from Lake County and the Diocese of Joliet’s Catholic nurses’ councils.

In addition, the Archdiocese of Chicago Council of Catholic Nurses has been able to offer scholarships to assist members who want to continue their education. The money was donated by the families of members who have died, and it was used to help members become nurse leaders and educators in the community.

The group also is working with area nursing schools to mentor nursing students, and older members are trying to get newer members involved. They can help younger nurses see the variety of paths a nursing career can take. Corneille, for example, has her own integrative health practice. Coogan, after 40 years working in the Resurrection health care system (now part of Presence Health) is the registered nurse coordinator for gastrointestinal and general surgery at the University of Chicago. She also volunteers her time at a free clinic on the North Side of Chicago.

On the other hand, nurses are facing a difficult economic situation, with experienced nurses sometimes let go because they are at the top of their pay scales, Coogan said.

Nurses’ situations now are somewhat different than they were in the mid-20th century when Catholic nursing councils began to be formed, said Margaret Olson, who is pulling together information on the council’s history for the anniversary celebration.

The first international group of Catholic nurses was formed in Lourdes, France, in the 1930s. In 1938, Pope Pius XI wrote that all Catholic nurses should belong to such an association, and in 1940, the National Council of Catholic Nurses was formally organized during a meeting at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, Olson said.

Fourteen years later, Cardinal Samuel Stritch called for the creation of a Council of Catholic Nurses in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“It’s a support for the Catholic nurse so that you have a safe harbor,” Olson said. “There are things going on now that nurses who trained in the last century never heard of.”

“It keeps you very current,” Corneille said. “It’s a support system. It’s a learning process. It’s a community. It makes you a more solid person.”

That’s because the older nurses can remind their younger colleagues that they need to pay attention to their spiritual life as well as their physical and mental health.

“The young people nowadays, they are really good at getting their exercise, and they are focused on getting that degree and moving forward professionally, but there’s still that inner spirit that needs to be filled as well.”

For information on the celebration, contact Peg Olson at (773) 274-7534 or at peg.olson@att.net.

Originally posted at: