Skip to main content




July 23, 2010
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:

Slippery Rock University gifts exhibit
to Heinz History Center

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – The Slippery Rock University Foundation has gifted its “Sisters in Healthcare History Project” to the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The project features a collection of artifacts showcasing the significant contributions of 16 orders of Roman Catholic sisters who helped develop health care in western Pennsylvania from 1847-1969.

The collection includes mannequins outfitted in nursing uniforms and religious clothing, documents, medical equipment, historical panels and photographs. The collection will provide insight and awareness of the sisters’ extraordinary spirit of service to the community as well as valuable historical information for researchers.

The history center plans to display part of the collection simultaneously with the “Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art” exhibition, which opens Oct. 2.

“We gifted it to the history center because, as a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, it is the proper place to honor the sisters’ dedication for generations to come,” said John Bavaro, SRU associate professor of professional studies. Bavaro amassed the collection with help from sisters in four dioceses: Altoona-Johnston, Erie, Greensburg and Pittsburgh. The SRU Foundation owned the collection before the transfer was finalized. 

“The story of the sisters in health care has largely been untold,” said Anne Madarasz, museum division director at the history center. “These women had a tremendous impact, not just on their orders and the church, but on their communities and as business women, care providers, social service providers and educators. For many of our newest Americans, they were our safety net.”

Madarasz said the history center annually attracts more than 180,000 visitors and hopes to include some materials from the exhibit as part of the museum’s long-term displays. 

The artifacts pay tribute to the hundreds of unheralded sisters who cared for the sick, usually for little or no pay, Bavaro said.

“Our current health care system in western Pennsylvania and across the nation owes a great deal to the foundation created by these sisters,” Bavaro said. “The sisters founded Pittsburgh’s first hospital [Mercy Hospital] in 1847 and were involved in advancements in the use of anesthesiology, the polio vaccine, the first in-patient drug rehabilitation center, generic drugs and even a prototype for managed care.

Bavaro said he is full of admiration for the sisters, past and present. “I am inspired by their story. It is beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said. “They really have responded to the needs of society. Even now, though they have changed in terms of how they look, their dedication has not changed.” 

Sister Louise Grundish of the Sisters of Charity in Seton Hill, who saw the exhibit during its fall premiere at SRU, described the medical artifacts as significant. They include a blood pressure device from the 1920s, a wooden crutch used by a soldier during the Civil War and a sick call set used for last rites. 

“It is a legitimate and well done exhibit,” Grundish. “All of the things that are in it the sisters provided, and they also reviewed them to make sure they were telling the story accurately. It is a beautiful exhibit; the sisters themselves are pleased with it.”

Grundish said historians would be able to make connections with important events, such as the Johnston flood in 1889, the 1918 influenza pandemic and the development of a polio vaccine.

 “There is a greater story to be told, and this exhibit tells it in a fashion that is professional, warm and real,” she said. “The history center is the place where people interested in the history of the area go to first, so it a good beginning to have the exhibit there.” 

Vatican Splendors is a 10,000-square-foot exhibition presenting objects illustrating 2,000 years of art, history and culture. The history center is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania and includes six floors of long-term and changing exhibitions, including the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and the Library and Archives.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

News Release