By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 7, 2019
ATLANTA—In her 20 years as a school nurse Brenda Conlon learned a few things she didn’t acquire at nursing school. A piece of chocolate slowly melting on a tongue can be a cure for an anxious child. A chat can do wonders.
For her efforts to care for the more than 500 students and staff at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Atlanta, the New Orleans native was one of the educators and staff recognized at the annual education banquet for the Atlanta Archdiocese.
The oldest of two sisters, Conlon grew up in New Orleans. Her mother was a homemaker and later a tour guide; her father worked in human resources. Being a nurse was her dream from a young age.
She relished the memory of day one at the Charity School of Nursing working alongside doctors taking care of patients. She graduated in 1979 and spent her time with different nursing duties, from hospitals to home health.
Conlon came to IHM where she fell in love with the family environment. The idea of serving as the school nurse seemed daunting since she had never sat at a desk all day. She now staffs the clinic every day, where walls are covered with bright posters of cupcakes, prints of Winslow Homer paintings and flowers. She tends to bumps and bruises, but has found sometimes a listening ear is all that’s needed.
“Sometimes they just want to sit down and chat,” she said.
Said Conlon, “These kids teach you so much. I love it. Talking to them, that’s great. They keep you young.”
Conlon, 64, and her husband, John, live in Winder where they attend St. Matthew Church. Their grown daughter, who also attended the school, works as a victims advocate.
Conlon drives 80 miles a day to serve as the nurse. She leaves the house by 6 a.m. to get her in the door before the first class. Not content to wait for people to come to her, she spends time outside of the clinic too. Conlon worked to train staff and seventh graders in emergency response, like CPR.
“It’s teaching. Nurses are teachers,” she said.
The New Orleans tradition of altars dedicated to St. Joseph is part of the school culture, thanks to her. She used to stop at a parish near her nursing school named for St. Joseph. At the school, the devotion started with a small altar in the teachers’ room but has grown. Each visitor receives a prayer card and a lucky fava bean, lucky because according to tradition, fava beans sustained Sicilians during a famine.
“It’s a great place. It’s still worth the drive,” said Conlon.