Published November 27, 2014
ATLANTA—Sister Mary Kristen Lancaster, RSM, the former director of Saint Joseph’s Infirmary Nursing School in Atlanta, died in Savannah on Oct. 10. She was 88 and had retired officially from St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Savannah, in August.
Born on March 13, 1926 at St. Inigoes, Maryland, she was the youngest of three Lancaster sisters to become religious sisters. She was a Sister of Mercy for 66 years, entering the congregation in 1948 at Mount Washington, Maryland.
Dedicated to health care throughout her life, she received a diploma in nursing from Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and served as a cadet nurse in World War II. She went on to obtain both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and a master’s degree in hospital administration from St. Louis (Missouri) University. She also became a licensed nursing home administrator.
She profoundly influenced many student nurses as director of Saint Joseph’s Nursing School in Atlanta.
The nursing school, which opened in 1900, served an unmet need in the city of Atlanta as over seven decades it graduated approximately 1,320 accredited nurses.
Sister Mary Kristen served as its director for more than 10 years, until it was determined that Georgia State University had developed a strong enough nursing program to serve the needs of the community. The Saint Joseph’s Nursing School graduated its last class in 1973.
She was also at one time director of the nursing department at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta and served as assistant administrator of the hospital during the mid-1970s. She organized and developed the day care program for children of physicians, nurses and staff of the hospital. She was also a consultant and coordinator of Services to the Aging for social services of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Nurses who were trained by her in Atlanta remember her with great love.
“I have known Sister since I was a student nurse under her direction. … She never stopped teaching me the really important things—love, compassion, self-sacrifice, time, the value of work and a kind word,” Mary Alice Smiley wrote by email. “Everyone who entered her room gave it back to her. What a legacy.”
“The special sound of her fast pace coming down the hall will echo in the hospital halls forever, I think,” she wrote. “She was an instant friend to every visitor who entered. I had the special gift of seeing the dozens of cards that she had saved over the years from strangers whom she had helped through their personal or family member’s illnesses.”
Deanna Simmons, from the nursing class of 1969, whose members get together once a year, said the class had a reunion that included Sister Mary Kristen in 2013. “She was a holy and caring person,” she wrote.
After serving in Atlanta, Sister Mary Kristen spent 34 years in hospital work at St. Joseph’s in Savannah, where she served at various times as a vice president, coordinator of risk management, nursing home administrator and as an archivist.
A physician in Savannah, Paul Drwiega, M.D., wrote that she was one of “the good ones among us” who communicated a contagious “sense of cheerful duty.”
“The good is still there. It lives on in us. We become the good if only we choose so,” he wrote. “Sister keeps us company yet. She’s in every cup of tea I will ever have, every morning when I stumble wearily from bed for another day of work, and in every smile I offer to a lost or struggling soul.”
The funeral Mass for Sister Mary Kristen was celebrated Oct. 14 at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Savannah, followed by interment in the Catholic Cemetery in Savannah. Memorials may be sent to Mercy Convent, 11801 McAuley Drive, Savannah, GA 31419-1790.