Little but far from small: Health care pioneer Sister Anne Joachim Moore


“She may be little, but she ain’t small,” my 4’11” mother would sometimes observe — as she shuddered at her own use of the grammatical faux pas.  She might well have been describing her colleague and friend Sister Anne Joachim Moore, a remarkable woman who died December 20 at the age of 94.

Christened Catherine Mary Moore in 1916, the diminutive dynamo will be remembered for a life of many facets.  A 1937 graduate of St. Mary’s School of Nursing, Sister Anne Joachim was commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps, stationed to a Quonset Hospital in Barnstaple, England, where she experienced the horror of war.  Returning to civilian life meant further learning.  She earned a B.S. in nursing and sociology from the College of St. Catherine in 1947.  While working as an industrial nurse at 3M she earned a BSL degree from the St. Paul College of Law in 1949.

The clock was clicking for Catherine who had explored a religious vocation; the communities of women religious had age limits.  In 1950 she chose to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — studying for the bar was not her highest priority.  Her name in religion was Sister Anne Joachim, a name familiar to the tens of thousands of health care professionals who had the experience of learning at St. Mary’s Junior College.

In the late 1950’s Sister Anne Joachim was studying for her Master of Education degree at the University of Minnesota. It was then that the intrepid health care professional began to explore her vision of a two-year college devoted to preparing workers for a rapidly growing profession.  In 1964 she turned her knowledge, experience and energy into the monumental task of founding a new institution, St. Mary’s Junior College, an inner-city college sited next to St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis. 

At St. Mary’s Junior College, Sister Anne Joachim opened the door of health care education to “non-traditional” students including students of color, learners with disabilities, and financially strapped young people.  Former SMJC faculty member Tone Blechert, now dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at St. Catherine University, observes that Anne Joachim “rejected standardized thinking about who had access to education.”

The SMJC curriculum included ideas and learning opportunities not often included in the traditional nursing program.  Students learned about physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, medical laboratory and special education.  A full complement of liberal arts courses was part of the graduation requirement.  Last year, while working on an exhibit of the works of long-time faculty member and artist Joanne Emmer CSJ,  I learned about the ways in which blind and visually impaired students studied art and art appreciation at SMJ.

Sister Anne Joachim served as President of St. Mary’s Junior College until 1986 when SMJC merged with what is now St. Catherine University.  The Henrietta Schmoll School of Health is built in part on the strong foundation Sister Anne Joachim had constructed at the Junior College.  The school has established the Sister Anne Joachim Moore Lectureship and the St. Catherine’s CSJ Nursing Fellowship to honor their powerful predecessor.

Predictably, Sister Anne Joachim did not rest on her laurels — though the awards and honors were legion.  After travel in her beloved Ireland — and a chance to take a deep breath — she served from 1987-1995 on the administrative staff of Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.  There she served as a project coordinator, dean of the evening/weekend college division and led the expansion of the downtown campus which now serves vast numbers of nontraditional students with programs similar to those offered at SMJC.

Returning to Minnesota meant returning to the classroom for Sister Anne Joachim — this time as a student.  In 2001 she earned an M.A. in Theology from the College of St. Catherine.  In a note of appreciation to the theology department faculty she wrote:  “I am increasingly fond of the newly formed brain cells.  My intent now is to feed the stimulation and hope for continued cell production.”  Friends affirm that “her passion for learning continued unabated to her very last days.”

This is an inspiring  story of a life well lived and a vision that has had a profound impact on health care and health care providers who may well have not known or have long forgotten the way in which Sister Anne Joachim changed the profile of the health care profession in this community and beyond.