Mennonite Nurses Association

The history behind MNA and MHF

Mennonite Nurses Association

Mennonite Nurses Association (MNA) was one of two predecessor organizations that joined to form Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship.

Brief History of Mennonite Nurses Association

by Evelyn Driver, RN, PhD

Mennonite Nurses AssociationThe Mennonite Nurses Association (MNA) was founded in 1942 by a group of registered nurses (RNs) interested in providing structure to an earlier series of informal meetings that occurred within the context of annual sessions of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (MBMC).  The MBMC at that time operated a variety of health and welfare outreach programs within the United States and abroad.  Nurses working within these settings often attended the MBMC annual meetings, either as a benefit of employment in US locations or during furlough from duties abroad.  These nurse initiated informal meetings became a valuable source of mutual support and networking for the nurses, many of whom were relatively isolated in their areas of service.  Within this context, planning began for the formation of an organization of professional nurses who were of the Mennonite faith.

The two women credited with starting the MNA are Maude Swartzendruber (a graduate of Mennonite Hospital School of Nursing, LaJunta, Colorado) and Verna Zimmerman (a graduate of Lancaster General Hospital School of Nursing, Pennsylvania).  Swartzendruber and Zimmerman were both working as RNs at the hospital in LaJunta, Colorado (a mission site of MBMC) in the late 1930s and early 1940s.   These connections facilitated the planning for the formation of MNA.  Early foci for MNA were: provision of support (emotional, spiritual and tangible) for RNs in mission work at home and abroad; spiritual support and mentoring for Mennonite women who were enrolling in a variety of three year hospital schools of nursing across the US; and creation of an organization that could educate and support female Mennonite nurses who were at increasing risk of being drafted into the US armed services during World War II.

The MNA functioned primarily through local units, these located in areas with concentrations of Mennonites.  The founders’ home areas of La Junta, Colorado and Lancaster, Pennsylvania formed local units early in the 1942-1943 years, as did locations such as Harrisonburg, Virginia and Goshen, Indiana.   Additional local units were formed in quick succession, each local unit having its unique focus, structure, and locally relevant service projects.  Service projects typically included provision of supplies for use by missionary nurses who were chronically short on funding and supplies.  Members of MNA met annually at the time of the annual meetings of MBMC, and soon sponsored public meetings of interest to health care professionals.  Both nurses and physicians attended these meetings.  The MNA annual meetings at the time of the MBMC continued into the 1960s at which time there was a shift to scheduling MNA annual meetings at the time of the Mennonite Medical Association (MMA) annual meetings.

In the decades of the 1960s and 1970s MNA experienced changes that were parallel to and likely affected by many societal changes as well as major changes within health care field.  These changes included increased master’s and doctoral level education for RNs in preparation for advanced practice roles within healthcare and nursing education.  Since the 1980s nurses with advanced educational degrees became more active in the leadership of MNA and expanded the vision for MNA.  At the national level there was an emphasis on MNA involvement in decision making related to health care and ethics within the broad church structure, and increasing inclusion of nurses on boards and committees of church related organizations.  Concurrently, leaders within the MNA became active participants with the Mennonite Health Assembly (MHA), some leaders advocating that the annual meeting of MNA be changed so that it corresponded with the meeting time of MHA.    However, the official annual meetings for MNA continued to occur at the time of the MMA meetings.  This arrangement continued up until the formal dissolution of both MMA and MNA and the formation of the Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship.