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Penick honored at St. Mary's reunion

Aug. 18, 2012 @ 10:48 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Mary Casella Penick wanted to be an airline hostess when she graduated from Chapmanville High School years ago.

"Back then, you had to be a nurse to be an airline hostess," her daughter Elizabeth Withers said Saturday.

That led Penick to St. Mary's School of Nursing and a nursing degree in 1940. After graduation, she chose nursing as a career, first working with polio patients in Richmond, Va., and later joining the Nurses Corps from 1944-48. While in the Nurses Corps she treated injured soldiers on transport ships in World War II.

She returned to the Huntington area after that, working as a nurse.

"I am so proud of her," said Withers, a teacher at Spring Hill Elementary in Huntington. "She was a self-made woman before there was such a thing."

Penick, now 93, was the guest of honor Saturday at the St. Mary's School of Nursing annual reunion in Huntington.

"She was active in the alumni her whole life," Withers said. "She never misses a reunion. She's very thankful for the Pallottine Sisters. St. Mary's has been a huge part of her life. She's watched it grow over the years."

Since the nursing school opened at St. Mary's in 1926, 3,818 nurses have received a degree, said Sheila Kyle, vice president of the school of nursing and health professions at St. Mary's Medical Center.

"We are very proud of that, Kyle said. "We have a very active alumni association."

There currently are 219 nursing students in the program, Kyle said. The nursing program offers associate degrees in nursing through Marshall University, she said.

Sister Joanne Obrochta, who has spent 50 years at St. Mary's, said the school's nursing graduates "are all over the country." Obrochta spent 25 years in the pediatric ward and 25 years in pastoral ministry.

A native of Gary, W.Va., she is among the nursing school graduates. She came to St. Mary's to be a nurse before she decided to enter religious life.

Sister Diane Bushee, a native of Princeton, W.Va., also came to the nursing school as a lay student before entering the convent in 1953. She currently serves as vice president for mission integration at the medical center.

"Our (nursing graduates) have been all over the world," she said. "A lot of them have doctorates. It's a very well-respected program."

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