Nov. 2, 2020

Inspiring future nurses through shared experience

The alumni of Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing continue to contribute 40 years after closing
Members of the Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing Alumni.

Members of the Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing Alumni.

Calgary’s Holy Cross Hospital (HXH) School of Nursing has a long history beginning in 1910 with the graduation of its first class of six women. From then, until 1979 when the School of Nursing closed and the last class finished, 2,407 women and two men were educated as professional nurses.

Today, like many other schools of nursing, the HXH have an active alumni who promote fellowship among graduates. UCalgary Nursing Professor Emerita Dr. Elaine McKiel (PhD) is a proud graduate of HXH and says those alumni have an enduring commitment to the profession.

“We keep on top of relevant trends, generate new ideas, raise funds to assist nursing students, strike committees that inform and serve the public about nursing as a profession and a service, and provide opportunities for mentorship of nursing students,” she says.

“For many years, our Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae has provided leadership through education bursaries for our graduates,” continues McKiel. “This support has enabled us to pursue ongoing education, equipping us with the advanced professional skills and knowledge required to be educators, managers and administrators.”

Current undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary can benefit as well from the contributions of the nurses who came before them.

“To help nursing students acquire the education they will need to meet the demands, we established a bursary at the University of Calgary,” McKiel explains. “We are always pleased when the award recipient is able to attend our annual banquet.”

McKiel says the HXH alumni know that even though it has been over 40 years since their last graduating class, they have valuable knowledge to impart to future nurses. “When we gather at our luncheon meetings in March, June and December, and at our annual banquet in September, we relive our experiences and try to link them with the stories that our children and grandchildren tell about nursing as they know it,” McKiel comments.

“We are reminded that a challenge that confronts every generation of nurses from ours to theirs is the call to learn, to integrate and respond to the seemingly endless complexity of nursing as its knowledge, scope of practice, multiple roles and specialties continue to expand.”

What is the legacy of Florence Nightingale to the next generation of nurses?
"Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was a strong advocate for the implementation of hygienic procedures in hospitals and public health settings. One practice about which she was adamant was handwashing, recommending that hands be washed several times a day. Before our time, during our time and since our time, handwashing labs have been a significant feature of nursing curricula, and now, her legacy speaks volumes in this time of COVID-19."

Describe some highlights from the HXH School of Nursing.
"To capture the careers of our alumni, the Ancestry Project was initiated. A “sleeve” is created for each graduate profiling their histories, career paths and accomplishments. To date, 1,544 sleeves have been completed. As the project continues to advance across the years, many captivating iterations of nursing are unfolding."

Nursing Holy Cross Statues

"A second legacy highlight was the unveiling of the statue “Nuns and Nightingales” on September 25, 2011, the culmination of an ambitious endeavour undertaken by a small number of alumni members. The statue, featuring a nun giving a graduating nurse her diploma, commemorates the rite of passage from student nurse to professional nurse.  It holds a place of pride in front of the Macnab wing of the former Holy Cross Hospital on 2nd St. and 22nd Avenue SW in Calgary."

UCalgary Nursing is about to celebrate convocation of its 2020 graduates and will hand out commemorative pins in the tradition of Florence Nightingale, who distributed medals of excellence at her London school.  What was the ceremony marking HXH School of Nursing graduates?
"The culmination of our three years as a student nurse was our graduation, celebrated over two days. It began on Saturday with a silver service tea presided over by members of the Alumni.  Sunday was the penultimate day beginning with mass in the Holy Cross Hospital Chapel followed by breakfast in the residence (I recall it as the best breakfast I’d had in my three years as a student!) and then a rehearsal in the afternoon. The evening found us resplendent in our white uniforms, now adorned with our unique Holy Cross gold pins, and carrying bouquets of red roses at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium for the ceremony where we received our diploma.  The final event that we all looked forward to was the publication of our graduating class picture in the Calgary Herald and its presence in the window of Lane’s Studio on 8th Avenue SW."

In January of 2019, the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the first ever “Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

UCalgary Nursing will be celebrating the year with a variety of activities including a monthly series of reflections on the past and future of nursing and health care from our nursing community. To learn more, visit