By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Anne Peacock, a registered nurse and a certified nurse-midwife, still wonders about the identity of the benefactor who made it possible for her to attend nursing school. She has a hunch it might have been Msgr. Thomas Lawlor, the long-ago pastor of her parish, Holy Family in Davenport, but she won’t know for sure, this side of heaven.
Anne did the next best thing to thank Msgr. Lawlor. She wrote a short tribute and sent it to The Catholic Messenger. Tucked inside the envelope were yellowed newspaper clippings and two photographs of Msgr. Lawlor, who died at age 90 on Dec. 12, 1981.
“He was kind, he was generous,” she said during an in-person interview with The Catholic Messenger. Msgr. Lawlor looked out for Anne’s family during her childhood at Holy Family Parish. The family lived in New York before moving to Davenport (the hometown of Anne’s mother), after Anne’s father died in a car accident. Anne wasn’t quite 3 and her brother was 1.
By the time Anne was a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport in 1964, she dreamed of becoming a registered nurse, but her family couldn’t afford the education costs. “One fall day, I was called to the principal’s office and learned I had been awarded a $750 scholarship from the Scott County Health Improvement Association.”
Anne expresses amazement at that blessing, 54 years later. “At that time, the total cost of all three years at St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Peoria, Ill., was $1,200. This included room, board, books, uniforms and a winter coat. I could earn the balance working at St. Francis on weekends as a nurses’ aid.”
As a senior nursing student she had a rotation in the obstetrics unit. One day while making rounds, she entered a room and unexpectedly assisted a mother who went into labor before her doctor arrived. “That experience caused me to think that I needed to learn a little bit more about OB,” Anne chuckled.
Before she took that opportunity though, she worked five years in post-op at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Then she heard about a nurse-midwife program and enrolled at the University of Mississippi in Jacksonville. In return for the free training, she had to promise to work one year in one of the state’s hospitals. “I stayed for 10 years,” Anne said.
“It was a third-world experience without learning another language, she added, referring to the impoverished conditions of the mothers she worked with. “I loved providing the direct care to moms and catching their sweet babies.” She saved logs of the first 300 babies she delivered, along with photographs.
Most of the time, delivering babies was a joy-filled experience. Sometimes, it was sad. “I had a baby die in my arms early in the morning, right after birth,” Anne said. The first person to arrive in the hospital room after the baby’s arrival was a nurse practitioner, Sister Lucy, PBVM. She told Anne, ‘“You have to remember, not all of us have to go through life on earth to get to heaven.’ It was just what I needed to hear.”
Later, Anne worked at the UC San Diego Medical Center where most of the clients were Hispanic or Southeast Asians. She remembered caring for a 16-year-old who screamed through every contraction during labor. Another time a mother-to-be arrived at the hospital in active labor. Anne grabbed a cart and wheeled the expectant mom into an elevator, which got stuck between floors. Anne held the elevator doors open and shouted for help. Finally, someone came to their aid, maneuvering the mattress — with the mom on it — out of the elevator and to the delivery room.
Anne also took care of her dying grandmother in San Diego before moving to Iowa City to work as a nurse-midwife at University of Iowa Hospitals. Later, her mother, moved from Davenport to live with Anne. One day, out of the blue, “my mother commented that she always thought Msgr. Lawlor was responsible for my scholarship. That was something I had never considered, but which made perfect sense, especially since my attempts to find and repay my scholarship donor had been unsuccessful.” She learned that the organization that awarded her the scholarship doesn’t exist.
“Whether or not Monsignor was the actual donor, I will never know. But that gift was certainly consistent with the behavior of the man I knew and respected from the time I met him,” Anne said. “Msgr. Thomas Lawlor was truly a gifted priest and pastor to all entrusted to his care. Thank you, Dear Friend, for enabling me to start out on a career that I have dearly loved my entire life.”