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St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard Celebrates 1-Year Anniversary

Nurse Honor Guard

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 since the group was founded last year.

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What began at St. Luke’s Carbon Campus as a humble ceremony to honor nurses at their funerals and memorial services 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 since the group was founded last year.

“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 keeping with the tradition of being buried with military honors, the emotional Nightingale Ceremony is often the last rite performed before the final blessing and is available as a free service of respect 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, before placing a 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 visitations and/or funeral services and 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 funeral 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.

Nurse Honor Guard

Pictured from left to right are St. Luke’s Nurse Honor Guard members Christine Ritter, Kathyrn Hertzog, Susan Hecker and Denise Snyder. (Contributed photo)

“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,” Snyder explained. “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 a service. Giovanni and David Gibson, Vice President of Patient Care Services at the Lehighton and Miners campuses, encouraged Snyder to present about the Nurse 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 is for the physician who embodies the philosophy of the Nurse-Physician relationship, who works 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 serves 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 to volunteer, visit

Note: This community health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.


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