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Stephanie Zaldivar with Sister deMontfort Kinchellagh, O.P.

Caldwell, N.J., May 6, 2021 – In Pope Francis’s book-interview “Let Us Dream-The Path to a Better Future” on life in emerging from the pandemic, he encourages interaction between the young and the elderly: “It’s an intuition but I’ve long believed that if we pay attention to both of these groups, bring them in from outside and bring them together, great things will happen.” 

Those great things have certainly been evident this semester at St. Catherine of Siena Convent on Caldwell’s campus where University nursing students Stephanie Zaldivar and Elizabeth Ann McChesney have been working as home helpers–learning more about nursing and getting to know the retired Sisters.    

The convent serves the senior Sisters of St. Dominic and earlier this year Zaldivar and McChesney were hired to work with  the professional nurses and nursing assistants.  They handle  duties such as reminding patients about taking their medicine, helping them change into their night clothing, helping them shower, doing laundry, walking with a Sister who needs exercise, handing out meal trays and straightening up some Sisters’ rooms. It is rewarding work especially because they feel appreciated.  “Something as simple as filling up their water bottle … it just puts the biggest smile on their faces,” said McChesney, a junior from Kearny, New Jersey.  

McChesney and Zaldivar “are a breath of fresh air,” said Ellen Kane, R.N., the head nurse at St. Catherine’s. She has seen the students’ confidence blossom over the last several months. “They are really brave to come in this time.” 

Getting to know the Sisters and a little of their life stories has been a gift for the students too. One of the Sisters the students interact with is Sister Michel Rodgers, O.P., who worked at the university in the Student Life Department and was a coach. “I just love the stories she tells about basketball,” said McChesney. The students list the names of other Sisters they have gotten to know who live at St. Catherine’s including Sister Anne John, former president of Caldwell College for Women, from whom they learned some of the history of the university. “It’s cool … it makes me love my school a little bit more now. I always love to hear ‘How is President Whelan doing now?’” said McChesney.

“They always ask me, ‘How’s the nursing program going? How’s the basketball season going?’” said Zaldivar, a junior from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. The students have discovered that Sisters are “normal people—they have good days and bad days like everyone else,” said McChesney.   

The students also appreciate getting to know staff members like Sister Catherine Waters, professor emerita of psychology, the wellness coordinator at St. Catherine’s. “She’s always happy and willing to talk, and she runs back and forth on the hallway,” said McChesney. 

The job came at just the right time for Zaldivar, who needed hands-on nursing work to get past the stress of not knowing what the future held for her nursing training during the pandemic. She has learned that nursing “is so much more than a textbook and knowing your meds and assessments … I  realize as a person how much emotional care and bonding goes into nursing.”

Kane has been so pleased with the students’ work that she hopes after they graduate other nursing students will want to come on board. She was grateful that Sister Joanne Beirne, O.P., a former nurse who works in the University’s Academic Success Center, came up with the idea. 

Both students are in their nursing clinicals—Zaldivar at Morristown Medical Center in the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute  and McChesney at Mountainside Hospital on a medical surgical floor. McChesney would like to eventually become a transplant or flight nurse; she knows now from her work at St. Catherine’s that she wants to continue to work with seniors.  For Zaldivar, St. Catherine’s has put the idea of working with the elderly on the list of her possibilities along with pediatrics and ob-gyn.

The students have a greater appreciation for the foundation the Sisters laid for their benefit. “I now know every morning at 9 when those church bells go off it’s because the Sisters are here … if it wasn’t for them there would be no Caldwell,” said McChesney. They are grateful that their journeys as nurses have begun in such a special way. As Zaldivar puts it, “They tell me all the time ‘You’re going to be an amazing nurse. The future is bright.’ I’m heading down the right path.”   ###