By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

GWYNEDD VALLEY – It’s been 50 years since Gwynedd-Mercy College, then a little junior college founded during the Great Depression, formally established its school of nursing, with Sister of Mercy Mary Fenton Joseph FitzPatrick as the founding chair. With 7,000 alumni and 524 current students, the nursing program has certainly grown.

Now it is poised for even greater things. On Oct. 18, the date Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated Mass at Gwynedd-Mercy to mark the half century anniversary, it was formally announced that Gwynedd had received its largest ever gift – $5 million from the Maguire Foundation, a philanthropy of Frances A. and James J. Maguire Sr. of Wyndmoor. Frances Maguire is a 1955 alumna of Gwynedd-Mercy, with further nursing studies at the college in the mid- ’70s.

“I have always been a believer in remembering where I came from and giving back in some way to those who helped me get where I am,” she said.

In gratitude, Gwynedd also announced the nursing school would be known as the Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing.

“This extraordinary gift will transform our already excellent nursing program,” said Gwynedd-Mercy president Dr. Kathleen Owens.

“Nursing in a Catholic college is a natural fit,” said Andrea Hollingsworth, the current director of the nursing school.

Initially the nursing school granted only associate degrees, with graduates becoming registered nurses. Since her arrival in 2001, Hollingsworth has seen nursing enrollment double, and now it is one of the major nursing schools in the region, with students gaining their necessary clinical experiences at more than half a dozen large hospitals with which Gwynedd-Mercy has partnered.

Although 340 students are registered in the two-year associate’s program, with the “Two Plus Two” program they may continue on to a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s.

While the bulk of the Maguire gift will go toward an endowment, initial funding enabled the school to completely renovate its laboratory with state-of-the art equipment.

Many former graduates and current students were on hand for the 50th anniversary celebration.

“If it wasn’t for Gwynedd I would not be where I am today,” said Michele Meehan, class of ’79 and a nurse recruiter for Holy Redeemer Health System.

She was drawn to the school because of the “Two Plus Two” program, and received her bachelor’s degree.

What stuck her at the anniversary celebration was the number of faculty from her day who were still there.

“It goes to show the dedication, the carrying on of the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy,” she said.

Of her own teachers, she said, “they demanded much and they gave much.”

Rachelle Scevola, in her second year of nursing studies, was attracted by the fact that it’s a Catholic college.

“I love it. I don’t think I could have gotten the education I’ve gotten here anywhere else,” she said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.