SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center will celebrate the life of Sr. Noreen McGowan, an incredibly skilled nurse who shaped the hospital throughout her half-century of service.
Sr. Noreen McGowan died early Tuesday, Aug. 28, at her home at The Sarah Community in Bridgeton. She was 97 and was a sister for more than 78 years.
SSM Cardinal Glennon will host a mass in memory of Sr. Noreen at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, in the hospital’s chapel.
When SSM Cardinal Glennon opened in July 1956, Sr. Noreen welcomed its first patients as director of nursing. Fifty-four years later, at age 96, Sr. Noreen celebrated her final day of service at SSM Cardinal Glennon. At the special farewell held for her, she received the hospital’s cherished Crystal Wagon Award for embodying the true spirit of Cardinal Glennon.
“You would hear her stories in class and think, that’s what I want to do. I want to be that kind of nurse,” said Jean Kiburz, clinical nurse specialist for Orthopedics. “She always demonstrated tremendous empathy for her patients and their families.”
Born Anna Elizabeth McGowan on Oct. 21, 1914, in St. Louis, she was fourth of five children (two boys, three girls) born to John J. and Annie (Dowd) McGowan, both born in Ireland. She attended St. Matthew’s Elementary School and St. Alphonsus Rock High School.
She entered the Sisters of St. Mary on December 5, 1933. In her initial interview with Mother Concordia Puppendahl, Sr. Noreen made it quite clear she did not want to be a nurse. After working in the hospital, however, she changed her mind: “I enjoyed the people.” She professed final vows June 29, 1939.
She studied nursing at Saint Louis University and became an RN in 1939; she completed her bachelor’s in Nursing (1944) and her master’s in Nursing Education (1954), also through Saint Louis University. In 1963 she earned a post-master’s certification in maternal child nursing at the University of Colorado, and in 1971 she became a pediatric nurse practitioner through Saint Louis University.
From the beginning her true love lay in caring for children. Except for three years (1946–1949) as pediatric supervisor at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wis., Sr. Noreen served in St. Louis. From 1939 to 1946 she was a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis; upon returning to St. Louis she served as pediatric supervisor first at St. Mary’s Infirmary (1949–1953), then at St. Mary’s Hospital until 1956, when Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center opened and pediatrics moved there.
Sr. Noreen served as Cardinal Glennon’s Director of Nursing Service from 1956 until 1962. From September 1962 through April 1986 she taught Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Nursing and supervised nursing students in their clinical work. After becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner, she began assessing babies at Carondelet Family Care Center in her spare time.
She always understood the importance of caring for spiritual and emotional needs as well as physical—those of the family as well as the patient. She often found herself torn between the demands of watching her students’ work and the need to listen to parents’ concerns about their sick child. Often she would return to the hospital in the evening to be a supportive presence for worried parents.
For many years she served in Cardinal Glennon’s surgery waiting room, greeting anxious families, listening to their concerns, reassuring and praying with them. Once the child’s surgery was finished, she would lead parents to the recovery room—a calming, reassuring, listening and caring presence.
While she never had much spare time, Sr. Noreen enjoyed reading, embroidery and quilting. She was an enthusiastic fan of baseball and especially the St. Louis Cardinals. She moved to The Sarah Community in October 2010.
Her long presence at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center is honored still. The hospital named a conference room in her honor, and for more than 25 years SSM Cardinal Glennon has hosted the Sister Noreen McGowan Pediatric Nursing Conference.
Sr. Noreen was preceded in death by her parents, sisters, and brothers. She will be missed by her nephew, other relatives, and friends.
Visitation will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, at the Anna House Chapel of The Sarah Community, 12349 DePaul Drive, Bridgeton, Mo., on the SSM DePaul Health Center campus. A funeral mass will follow at 3:00 p.m. Burial will be at 9 a.m. Friday, August 31, 2012 at Resurrection Cemetery in St. Louis.