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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: A West Side hospital and nursing school are born

September 09. 2013 4:39PM

Joseph Kidder c. 1880 is shown wearing a ceremonial sash from either the International Order of Odd Fellows or from the Masonic orders. 

One hundred years ago the new Notre Dame de Lourdes Hospital School of Nursing in Manchester graduated its first class, which was made up of 10 bright young women who were eager to embark on their nursing careers.

They had entered the program in 1911, and after a two-year intensive course of study had become well-rounded and highly-trained professionals.

Over its 54 year history this respected and honored school produced more than 600 dedicated nurses.

This Sunday, September 15, about half of the remaining 100 alumni will gather in Manchester for their yearly reunion, which will include a Mass at St. Marie's Church and a get-together at the Puritan Backroom. There are sure to be many fond memories shared.

The School of Nursing was small, with only around a dozen or so students graduating each year on average. These were almost entirely women, and many, but certainly not all, were of French-Canadian heritage. Most came from towns and cities in New Hampshire, with a smattering of students from other New England states and beyond. Only the most outstanding candidates were chosen from the large pools of applicants. Once a student was admitted, she was required to meet the school's exacting demands, which included a rigorous academic curriculum, practical hospital experience, and a high standard of personal discipline.

The School was associated with what is now Catholic Medical Center on the West Side of Manchester. The hospital's origins date back to the 1880s. Monsignor Pierre-Paul Hévey, the beloved pastor of Saint Marie's parish, was concerned about the education of children and the care of the needy. In 1885 the parish constructed "l'édifice Des-Saints-Anges," the Holy Angels building, to serve as a convent, primary school and orphanage. Father Hévey asked the Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe from the Canadian Province of Quebec to come to Manchester to educate the parish's children and to care for the sick and poor.

These religious sisters are commonly called the Grey Nuns. The order was founded by Saint Marie-Marguerite d'Youville (1701-1777) in Montreal. Her personal experience of extreme poverty and hardship, combined with her deep religious faith, inspired her to help others. In 1737 she got together with three other women to operate a small charity home in Montreal. By 1744 her group had grown, and had been formalized into a religious order. Mother d'Youville was the first native of Canada to be named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church when she was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Father Hévey was very pleased that seven Grey Nuns answered his call, arriving in Manchester on December 9, 1885. Within days they had organized four primary school classes in the Holy Angels building serving 200 students, both boys and girls, and they later took in a group of orphans. In 1890 the Marist Brothers took over the teaching of the boys in a separate building. The Grey Nuns ran the Holy Angels School until 1895, when it was turned over to the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.

From the beginning, the Grey Nuns visited local homes to care for the sick. Father Hévey gave them a house on Cartier Street, where in November 1892 they set up a temporary hospital. It was evident that a full-scale hospital was needed to serve the members of the growing parish and other people on the West Side. Money was raised, and a handsome wooden building was constructed for the sisters on the corner of Beauport Street (now Notre Dame Avenue) and Wayne Street. The three-story building was 150 feet long and 48 feet wide. The new hospital was dedicated on October 18, 1894, with Bishop Denis-Mary Bradley of the Diocese of Manchester officiating. It was named Notre Dame (Our Lady) de Lourdes Hospital, inspired by the famous pilgrimage site in France associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The hospital was owned and operated by the Grey Nuns, who served as nurses in the facility. An orphanage for girls was constructed south of the building in 1896, and the nuns reserved a section of the hospital as a nursing home for the elderly. Notre Dame Hospital became a vital lifeline for the people of Manchester.

Next week: The story of the Notre Dame de Lourdes Hospital School of Nursing..

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her


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