Cumberland Times-News

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September 24, 2011

Sacred Heart nurses reminisce at reunion

Alumni association holds what could be its final gathering

CUMBERLAND — Ora Mae Lewis can still remember most of the faces of fellow nurses in the Sacred Heart Hospital Alumni Association, though she graduated from the program more than 70 years ago.

“It was a long time ago,” said Lewis, 92, who was one of two members of the Class of 1940 who attended a homecoming luncheon Saturday afternoon.

Other attendees graduated from Sacred Heart’s nursing school through 1959, when it closed.

“We were all young,” Lewis said. “Some people have changed so much I can’t recognize them. People say I look the same as I did when they knew me way back. I’m just fortunate to have good skin.”

About 70 alumni association members attended Saturday’s luncheon and program, which was billed as the group’s last homecoming. Active for more than 50 years, the association is reorganizing, said Joyce Andrews, president.

“This was a very close bond,” said Andrews, one of 12 members of the Class of 1956. “We had such a close relationship.”

Started in the 1920s and run by nuns, the Sacred Heart nursing school was a three-year program, including summers. Students lived together in a dormitory on the hospital campus, and graduates were certified as registered nurses.

“We all remember different experiences, times and places of our years at the school,” Andrews said as she welcomed the group Saturday.

“We remember the dormitory on Decatur Street. We remember the house mothers — some strict, others not so much. We remember supervisors and head nurses. We remember the compulsory study hall every night from 7 to 9 p.m. But mostly we remember the sisters with their three-foot wide coronets.”

Class of 1940 member Mary Stutzman, like most Sacred Heart students, was 18 when she started nursing school. She worked as a nurse at Sacred Heart until retiring in 1985 — when she started working as a volunteer at the hospital.

“I loved it,” said Stutzman, 92. “Still do. I have great admiration for nurses, but I don’t think that they have quite as much nurse/patient relationship as we did because people don’t stay in the hospital very long.”

Lewis, who worked in hospitals and the with American Heart Association, owned a downtown Cumberland business for 20 years after retiring from nursing.

“I had a long career, honey,” she said. “I started out in the operating room in Washington, D.C., moved to the operating room in Baltimore during World War II, then I came back to Cumberland, supervising a med-surg.”

Saturday’s luncheon, which included a musical performance by the barbershop quartet, Tonic Boom, took place at new Western Maryland Regional Medical Center. Sister Ceceila Rose gave the invocation and benediction.

“It’s a great joy to be here and be among you,” Rose said. “Some of you I remember so well, from your faces in particular, more than your names, but that doesn’t matter. We recognize each other.”

The alumni association is hopeful it will be able to continue offering reunions when its reorganization is complete.

“The homecoming is very dear to all of us,” Lewis said. “It brings us all together and brings the girls from out of town that we haven’t seen for years and years. It keeps us cohesive as a group.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at

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