Celebrating One Year of St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard | Heartfelt ceremony gives families comfort.

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Photo caption, from left: Christine Ritter, Kathyrn Hertzog, Susan Hecker, Denise Snyder

What began as a humble ceremony to honor nurses at their funeral memorial service at St. Luke’s Carbon Campus has grown exponentially in a year’s time to reach every St. Luke’s University Health Network campus.

St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard, which pays tribute to nurses who have left this life with the Nightingale Ceremony, has honored more than 120 former nurses as the group celebrated its first anniversary on Feb. 1.

“This is one of the best, if not the best, community service I’ve ever been involved with,” said Denise Snyder, BSN, RN and Lead Chair of the St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard, who is a full time ICU nurse at the Carbon Campus.

Very much in the tradition of being buried with military honors, the emotional Nightingale Ceremony is often the last rite performed before the final blessing, and is free to all former nurses, whether they worked in the Network or not.

  • The Nightingale Tribute – Known as the “Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale saved many wounded soldiers during the Crimean War with her pioneering nursing work. In many ways, she laid the foundation for professional nursing. During the services, a member of the Honor Guard reads the Nightingale Pledge and a nursing sonnet, then places the rose while saying the nurse’s name and, “We honor you this day and give you a white rose to symbolize our honor and appreciation for being our nursing colleague.”
  • Honorary Pallbearers – The Honor Guard may be requested to attend the visitation and/or funeral services to serve as honorary pallbearers.
  • Casket Honor Guard – The Honor Guard may be posted at the head of the casket, standing silently to give their last respects.
  • Final Call to Duty – The Final Call to Duty may be performed during the services or at the gravesite. During the Final Call to Duty, the Nightingale Lamp is lit in the nurse’s honor, and the nurse’s name is called out as a request to report to duty. After the third and final call, and with no response, the nurse is announced as retired, and the lamp’s flame is extinguished.

Snyder said she has participated in 40 to 50 of the ceremonies to honor her fellow nurses, and the sincerity of the ceremony fills the surviving family and friends with a sense of pride.

“I think families find a special sense of closure, that we didn’t forget that they devoted their lives to caring for others,” she said.

“It brings their loved one’s career in nursing full circle. A career in nursing starts by the honor we receive at the time of our capping or pinning at our nursing school graduation. It stays with us throughout our nursing career until the end, when the honor guard performs the final call to duty, which is unanswered. They are then relieved of their nursing duty to rest in peace.”

Last April, Snyder launched the pilot with the support of Marjorie Federanich, St. Luke’s Carbon Auxiliary President, and John Nespoli, President of the St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Lehighton and Carbon campuses.

Last June, St. Luke’s Home Health and Hospice President Lisa Giovanni attended and was moved by the service. Giovanni and David Gibson, Vice President of Patient Care Services at the Lehighton and Miners campuses, encouraged Snyder to present about the Nurses Honor Guard during the September meeting of the Network Nursing Executive Council. Carol Kuplen, the now-retired Chief Nursing Officer for St. Luke’s University Health Network and President of the Bethlehem Campus, was instrumental in getting the initiative rolled out to all the campuses.

“We have also started to do a Physician’s Tribute” Snyder said. “This tribute if for the physician who embody the philosophy of Nurse – Physician relationship who work together to bring the patient to good health.”

Today, more than 130 nurses and former nurses take part in the Nurse Honor Guard, wearing the traditional nurse’s hats and capes for the ceremony.

St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard services Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe and Schuylkill counties in Pennsylvania, and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey.

For more information, to request services or volunteer go to Learn More.

About St. Luke’s

Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 20,000 employees providing services at 15 campuses and 300+ outpatient sites.  With annual net revenue of $3.4 billion, the Network’s service area includes 11 counties in two states: Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. St. Luke’s hospitals operate the largest network of trauma centers in Pennsylvania, with the Bethlehem Campus being home to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital.

Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke’s is the preeminent teaching hospital in central-eastern Pennsylvania.  In partnership with Temple University, the Network established the Lehigh Valley’s first and only four-year medical school campus.  It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 45 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with more than 400 residents and fellows. In 2022, St. Luke’s, a member of the Children’s Hospital Association, opened the Lehigh Valley’s first and only free-standing facility dedicated entirely to kids.

SLUHN is the only Lehigh Valley-based health care system to earn Medicare’s five-star ratings (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction.  It is both a Leapfrog Group and Healthgrades Top Hospital and a Newsweek World’s Best Hospital.  The Network’s flagship University Hospital has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation from Fortune/PINC AI 11 times total and eight years in a row, including in 2023 when it was identified as THE #4 TEACHING HOSPITAL IN THE COUNTRY.  In 2021, St. Luke’s was identified as one of the 15 Top Health Systems nationally.  Utilizing the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) system for both inpatient and outpatient services, the Network is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of the SLUHN’s information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information.  The Network is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers.


Information provided to TVL by:
Sam Kennedy