Nurses are heroes to their patients, and often to their own family members as well. The children and grandchildren of St. Catherine University’s nursing graduates grow up observing these outstanding healthcare workers touching countless lives, healing and comforting patients and loved ones alike with compassion and expertise. It’s no wonder many grow up to follow in their footsteps to continue their family’s tradition of service toward others.
We spoke with six families of multi-generational St. Kate’s nursing graduates to learn about their experiences, favorite memories, why they are proud to be a St. Kate’s nursing graduate, and what it means to be a part of a family of St. Kate’s nurses. We are honored to share their stories and are proud of all of our outstanding St. Kate’s nurses.
Irita (Downs) King graduated from St. Kate’s in 1993 with her associate degree in nursing. “The special thing about St. Kate's is how prepared I felt as a new graduate. I received a very solid education and was academically prepared to succeed when I pursued my bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and master’s degree afterward. Furthermore, I credit St. Kate's for preparing me with strong leadership skills,” she says.
In 2019, Irita watched her daughter, Danyel (Downs) Braziel, walk across the same stage as she received her bachelor of science in nursing degree. Danyel — who won the “Rising Star” award at the 2020 Minnesota March of Dimes Nurse of the Year Awards event — now works at the same healthcare organization as her mom, which Irita calls “an indescribable blessing.” Danyel says, “I am proud to be a St. Kate’s nursing graduate, because I know that I was prepared to lead in spaces that are not always designed for me. My education was grounded in leadership, and I am confident in my education and skills that I gained through my time at St. Kate's.”
Sarah Rodriguez grew up knowing she wanted to serve others like her parents. Her father was an Air Force officer, and her mother, Jane Zappa, was a nurse. Sarah was inspired to do both, receiving her bachelor of arts in nursing at St. Kate’s — Jane’s alma mater — before joining the Air Force. “At St. Kate’s, I learned about caring and serving others, no matter who they are. That is what prompted me to become a nurse and also an Air Force officer. I proudly served my country and continue to serve others as a nurse,” Sarah reflects.
After her service in the Air Force and a career as an RN and nurse leader in healthcare organizations, Sarah is now an assistant professor of nursing and clinical experience liaison at St. Kate’s. “St Kate’s has a long, rich history. I am proud to be a part of it. I count myself as one of those nurses who have made a huge difference in the lives of others,” says Sarah.
When Nimo Ahmed was working toward her associate degree in nursing at St. Kate’s in the late 1990s, she would often bring her young daughter Hibo to campus. When Hibo got older, they would both go to the University’s library: Hibo would do her high school homework while Nimo studied to complete her bachelor’s in nursing.
“My favorite memory while at St Kate’s was the campus atmosphere. The faculty, staff, and fellow students were so friendly and caring,” recalls Nimo.
Due to the pandemic, Hibo Ahmed’s graduate student experience at St. Kate’s has been different, as she has had most of her classes and interactions virtually. “Although this was not the ideal experience, teachers and other faculty members were very welcoming and understanding,” Hibo says. Both women are proud of St. Kate’s involvement in the community and commitment to social justice, as well as the University’s academic legacy. “I love when my patients say, ‘Oh, I heard that’s a great school!’ when I tell them I’m a St. Catherine University student,” says Hibo.
With almost 70 years between their St. Kate’s experience, Megan Norby and her grandmother GeorgAnn Burns both look back on their education warmly. In addition to their classes and friendships, they each especially enjoyed their clinical experiences, as different as they were. GeorgAnn was part of a three-year nursing program in the mid-1950s, in which she and her classmates worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital at night and attended classes during the day. “We were all pretty sleep deprived, but that was part of the experience and I think it brought us all together. We worked really hard, but had so much fun and made many joyful friendships,” GeorgAnn remembers.
While Megan was studying for her master of science in nursing at St. Kate’s, she completed her nursing preceptorship in the oncology unit at Fairview Southdale Hospital. “It was an incredible experience,” Megan says. “This opportunity played a huge role in my decision to pursue oncology nursing post-graduation.” Both Megan and GeorgAnn are proud to be St. Kate’s graduates and be part of the University’s legacy as a family. As Megan says, “I am proud to be a part of a community that honors the practice of nursing as an opportunity for service. It is a privilege to transform this call to serve into practice.”
Mary Claire has always looked up to her mom, Liz Francois. “I am excited to be a St. Kate’s nursing graduate, because I get to follow in the footsteps of the superhero in my life that I call 'Mom.' Being a nurse, just like her, will hopefully set me up to be half as amazing as the woman she is today,” says Mary Claire. Both women created strong, lasting friendships at St. Kate’s. “My experience at St. Kate’s has been more than I could’ve ever imagined,” says Mary Claire. “I have met women that I hope will someday be in my wedding, just like the women my mom met 30 years ago. My mom is still in touch with many of the women she went to college with, and the best part about that is seeing how they continue to support each other no matter where they are in life.”
Liz is incredibly proud of Mary Claire for choosing nursing, “not only because it’s the same path I took, but because I see so many ways in which a nurse can do God’s work in service to others; she has been given that great gift.” During her time at St. Kate’s, Liz appreciated the passion and nursing theory from her instructors. “My education prepared me to be a professional nurse, to understand that a holistic approach to caring for the patient was broader than what was seen at first glance,” she says.
When Summer Schwintek got into St. Kate’s, she read the word "TripliKate" — a term that describes a student whose parent and grandparent graduated from St. Kate’s — on her acceptance letter. “To me, there is a certain blanket of comfort and connectedness that comes with a title so considerable. Being a TripliKate is the bridge not only between my aunt and myself, but also to my grandma and me,” says Summer.
Summer’s family connection with St. Kate’s starts with her grandmother, Terri Schwintek — who graduated with her associate degree in nursing in 1986— and continues with her aunt and guardian, Lindsay Schipper. “My favorite memory is going to campus with my mom in the early 1980s as she pursued her nursing degree,” Lindsay says. “This is where my story began, and I eventually found my way back to St. Kate’s.”
Lindsay received not only her bachelor of science in nursing and master of arts in nursing education from St. Kate’s, but she is also currently studying for her doctor of nursing practice at the University while Summer is finishing her bachelor's. “When I returned to St. Kate’s to complete my Master of Arts in Nursing Education, I knew my ultimate goal was to support nursing students,” Lindsay says. “I felt genuinely cared for by the faculty at St. Kate's and do to this day. They challenge you to limits you do not feel capable of, but are with you every step of the way, even on the most grueling days when you question it all.”
Terri passed away before Summer was born, but Summer’s strong bond to her aunt and their nursing legacy has built a connection to Terri. “Being a future Katie nursing graduate has led to me to reflect on the culmination of nurses in my life who have each poured into me, and the gifts I will be able to offer others because of them,” Summer reflects. “The nurse I will become one day is not merely a product of the nursing program I choose, but the women in my life who have paved the path for me.”