Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate Nursing

First Advisor

Kay Foland


charism, Careful Nursing Model, historical research design, Religious Sisters of Mercy, virtues, walking nuns


Nursing history is like a kaleidoscope, with prisms of time representing the past, present, and future experiences of nursing. The existence of nursing history is unknown until it is written; similar to the shadowed image of a kaleidoscope mirror is the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Siouxland. Uncovered collections, documents, letters, pictorial archives, and oral histories provide a way to examine the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Siouxland in light of the Careful Nursing Model. On December 12, 1831, Catherine McAuley became the Foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy Order in Dublin, Ireland. These Sisters of Mercy felt called by God to a life of service to nurse the sick poor as walking nuns which was central to their charism. This same charism fueled the Sisters of Mercy legacy of servant leadership wherever they traveled to bestow the spirit of Mercy. In 1843, the Sisters of Mercy came to the United States and in 1890 were summoned to travel westward on a mission to Sioux City, Iowa, a small but quickly growing frontier town in Siouxland. When circumstances of war, disaster, financial devastation, and disease struck Siouxland, the Sisters of Mercy were directed, out of sense of place and love of God and neighbor, to walk among those who were suffering. The charism of the Sisters of Mercy, service to God through merciful acts, led the walking nuns to follow the Rule and Constitution of their Order through the silver, xvii golden, and diamond jubilee prisms of time. The Sisters did Mercy work by caring and educating the poor, sick, and dying and practicing careful nursing in Siouxland. Character formation, inculcation of high ideals, virtues, and correct principles of life were considered more important than the acquisition of professional knowledge and technical skill during the education of the Mercy nurse. The Sisters of Mercy painstaking upbringing of novitiate and nursing students allowed the Sisters to serve God and alleviate human suffering by sending Religious Sisters of Mercy and Mercy nurses out into the world to bestow the spirit of Mercy through the duties of their profession. The evidence of historical nursing research will radiate the full spectrum of colors to the past as prisms of time, illuminating the walking nuns’ Siouxland journey and experiences in nursing, exposing greater understanding of professional identity and expansion of nursing science, while giving insight into the past, present, and future of nursing.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Sisters of Mercy--History.
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (Sioux City, Iowa)--History
Saint Joseph Hospital (Sioux City, Iowa.).--School of Nursing--History
Nuns as nurses--Iowa--Sioux City--History


Includes bibliographical references ( pages 232-248)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


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Included in

Nursing Commons