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Seattle University


Catching up with Mary

Written by Kate Kelly
October 8, 2012

There is something absolutely wonderful about Professor Emerita Mary Bartholet. When we met to discuss her time at Seattle University, I did not know what to expect. I was very intimidated interviewing a 34-year teaching veteran and Washington State Nursing Association hall of fame member. However I had no reason to be. Mary is simply an amazing woman. She is an inspiration for all aspiring nurses and a glowing representation of the SU mission. By the time we were done with our meeting, I wanted to go out and save the world!

Mary lights up when she talks not only about her time here, but how she came to be here. She has a zest for life and one of the sharpest memories I've ever encountered. Mary would argue that Fr. Lemieux's ability to remember everyone's name would rival hers but I would beg to differ. To understand why she has had such an impact at Seattle University, you need to know something about her. 

Mary decided to become a nurse while in high school. She completed her graduate nursing program in St. Louis in 1958 and began applying to schools for work. Mary had a phone interview with Dean Sr. Mary Ruth. She was impressed with Sr. Mary Ruth and took the job as a professor with the school of nursing.

In time she met her husband Frank and four years later, they were married. Eight months before they were married, Mary's father died. He had always wanted to visit Liechtenstein, where his father had grown up. Mary was determined to fulfill her father's lifelong dream on his behalf and suggested to Frank they visit Liechtenstein on their honeymoon. Frank had vacation time coming, and a couple of friends who worked for travel agencies, suggested they might add to their travels, and see more of the world, which they did. They even had a chance to meet Pope John XXIII.

When they returned to Seattle, Frank and Mary bought a house and settled in. She found a job with a local ophthalmologist and became pregnant with the first of their children. While Mary enjoyed her new job, the dean was able to convince her to return to SU. She quickly fell back into 60-hour work weeks teaching 45 credits a year. The nursing program had the heaviest schedule on campus.

Over her tenure with SU, Mary spent most of her time working in orthopedics and child birth. The day we met, she had just come back from visiting with a former patient of hers.  While she was at Providence working with SU students, a 17-year-old boy named Bob was brought in. He had a tragic accident on a trampoline and had become paralyzed. He spent a good amount of time at Providence with students from the nursing program. After leaving, Bob kept in touch with Mary, sending her holiday cards. Almost five years ago, he reached out and asked for her email address. Still living in Washington he wanted to meet with Mary. In one of his initial e-mails he wrote, "You and your students made the difference for me. Thank you. I still remember all of you."

Another fond memory Mary has of her time at SU--this one from her earliest days at the school of nursing--was when the dean asked Mary to attend a meeting of the Red Cross in her place.

"It was a special anniversary for the Red Cross in Seattle, so they asked for celebration suggestions," Mary remembers. "I mentioned that I had heard about the Seafair Parade and wondered about the possibility of building a float. The idea caught on, a committee set up, and I became the person in charge of building the float. I recruited the help of other faculty and students and they became involved in building the float in the evenings after our 'school day' was finished. A couple of faculty picked up students at Providence Hospital after an early dinner to work on the float at Sandpoint. During the parade I was privileged to ride with the driver under the float." 

Even though she retired in 1994, Mary has stayed very engaged with the campus community. She is also active on the SU Retiree Lunch Planning Committee and helps organize nursing faculty get-togethers a few times a year-"A gathering of the troops," as she fondly refers to the lunches. One of her time-honored traditions is to attend mass at the Chapel of St. Ignatius.

She reminded me how much the campus has changed. When she first arrived in 1958, the campus was almost unrecognizable. There wasn't any clear signage. Now the campus has grown and Mary still admires how beautiful it is.

Hearing her stories and seeing how happy she was telling them, made it evident that this is a professor who didn't just go through the motions; she cared for the students of SU and still does. I am convinced that anyone who was taught by Mary took a part of her with them. Seattle University is extremely fortunate to have a wonderful professor emerita such as Mary Bartholet.

Kate Kelly is assistant director of Conference and Event Services.