Nurse's Son Pays it Forward

When Louise M Killackey started at St. Michael’s Hospital School of Nursing, her mother asked the nuns if they had any used uniforms because her family couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Back then, the hospital did not charge tuition for its nursing program, which was the only reason Louise could go. Brought up in a happy home, she and her four younger siblings didn’t lack for love but there was little in terms of disposable income.

One day during her second year, Louise gave the wrong baby to a nursing mother and was almost expelled. The nuns decided to let her stay but the error made her “the talk” among all her fellow nursing students. Louise persevered and graduated as part of the Class of 1942.

The Great Depression was over but the world was in the midst of a war. So after graduating and a year working at St. Mike’s, Louise became an industrial nurse in one of the munitions factories that had sprung up east of Toronto. These factories replaced the ones that had been destroyed in England and employed thousands of people, predominantly women from across Canada. It was during her time in the factory that Louise was afflicted with a mysterious illness that caused paralysis from the waist down. For almost a year she was confined to her bed which was set up in the family’s living room. It was where she, and all the family’s visitors, would celebrate the end of the war.  

A devout Catholic, Louise’s mother prayed and promised never go to the movies again if her daughter became well. She made good on that promise when Louise could finally walk again. Doctors never did diagnose the problem but penicillin had been recently invented and she was cured. Luckily, Louise’s sister, who was also a nurse by this time, filled in for her while she was ill. Louise would go on to work for the Parker Pen Company before marrying and having five children of her own. Her eldest child also became a nurse as did one of her grandchildren.

Louise talked with great pride about St. Michael’s Hospital. When she died in December 2018, her son Brendan honoured his mother with a nursing scholarship in her name. “My mother knew what it meant to manage on limited funds,” says Brendan. “But what she did have was strong faith and perseverance as evidenced by her ‘baby error,’ and the reaction she got from her peers. Today we would call it bullying but she stuck with it and went on to obtain her diploma and made many life-long friends from her classmates.”

Throughout her life, including the last month or so when Louise was in palliative care, she never complained or felt sorry for herself.  She greeted everyone who provided her care and companionship with a smile. “I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do this,” says Brendan. “She’d be the last person to want her name on something but she deserves to have a public legacy.”

The SMH Louise M Killackey (nee Bart) Nursing Scholarship will support St. Michael’s nurses through The Nursing Excellence Award, The Advanced Competency Education Sessions Program and the Job Shadow Program. Brendan believes his mother would be proud to provide support, and encourage life-long learning to upcoming generations of graduate nurses who are experiencing some level of financial constraints and/or demonstrate empathy, perseverance, teamwork and a positive approach to lifejust like Louise did.


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