A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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Heritage: The Story of St. Mary's Hospital, 1880-1980
By Leo G. Bryne and Sister Alberta Cammack, C.S.J

Chapter I Frontier Hospital
World War II

Such were the conditions when the fury of World War II burst upon the United States at the beginning of the forties.

St. Mary's Hospital shared in the upheaval. Within a very short time after Pearl Harbor, 32 doctors had left for military duty, 35 alumnae of the Nursing School were in service by 1943, and a score of registered nurses who were not products of the Nursing School also enlisted for the duration. To offset this drastic loss of skilled people, retired and semi-retired doctors resumed full-time service while many retired nurses and nurses who had left the active field as mothers of families or for other reasons returned to full or part-time professional activity. In other areas, older men and women worked and volunteered wherever they could help.

The national will to survive and endure prevented panic and despair. Those who remained to serve the general public had to double and triple their responsibilities. In the area of maintenance and repair, improvisation became the order of the day as the needs of a nation at war took priority in the acquisition and utilization of material. Moreover, areas such as Tucson well suited to training vast numbers of men were suddenly engulfed with people: servicemen in training, construction workers building and expanding bases, dependents who came with them, and family members who came to visit. The changes were sudden, confusing and overwhelming, problematic for those who had the obligation to care for the medical needs of the new arrivals.

Formal action by the Federal Government and by the American Red Cross was quick in coming. Nationally, the Red Cross urged inactive nurses to return, and in 1942, St. Mary's became a center for refresher courses with the ready assistance of the staff doctors and the University of Arizona. Similarly, the Red Cross inaugurated a Volunteer Nurses' Aide Program at St. Mary's in 1943 with fifty women in the first class. This was the beginning of a program that continued after the war and eventually evolved into the LPN programs that have led many women and men into full-fledged nursing careers. In the same year, the Federal Government organized the Cadet Nursing Corps. A unit was established at St. Mary's School of Nursing, and during the first six months, 54 students were enrolled. All during the war new classes were enrolled each January and June. The number of enrollees overtaxed the facilities of the school, and the University of Arizona jumped in to help. Students were transported to the University's Chemistry courses in cars driven by the Auxiliary of the Pima County Medical Society. A side benefit for these students during the war years, however, was the large number of young men assigned to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and the student nurses and young airmen enjoyed the frequent dances and social activities that all needed so much.

The civilian population of Tucson doubled during these years. Wartime weddings established many family units and others moved to the city -- many of them making it their permanent home. Predictably, the number of births at St. Mary's also doubled, and the Obstetrics Department had to look for bed space all through the hospital.

Once the war-generated movement of Americans to the Southwest started, it never stopped. Tucson continued to grow after the war both because of continuing uncertainty in the international situation and because of the desire of thousands to escape the blight and dreariness of the older population centers. By 1946 it was painfully evident that the cycle of remodeling and expanding had to begin anew. Plans and projects had to await the availability of materials, the switch of construction companies from a war economy to a civilian economy, and a return to whatever normalcy might ensue. Sister Mary Eileen Coady, Administrator from 1941 - 1947, guided the hospital through the period of the war and made ready for the next phase of growth. Plans included alteration of routine, as well as physical enlargement of the plant.

Continue with Chapter II Modern Medical Complex The Central Wing


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