Todero retires leaving a legacy in nursing and health sciences education
Catherine Todero, PhD, BSN’72, RN, FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing and vice provost of Health Sciences Campuses in Omaha and Phoenix, is laying aside her professional titles and heading into a retirement where the only title that will matter is “Bibi” — conferred by her oldest grandchild and the only name by which her four grandchildren know her.
On Sept. 1, Todero will close a 50-year career in nursing and nursing education, a career that began at Creighton after December 1972 when she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. From there she held leadership roles at other universities before returning in 2015 to oversee surely the most transformative period in the history of Creighton nursing.
Omaha is very much home for Todero. It is where she grew up, where she attended Archbishop Ryan High School, where she played on a curling team, and where she married Joe Todero, BA’65, an accomplished Omaha bagpiper whose affinity for the pipes has enlivened Creighton ceremonial occasions in Nebraska and Phoenix.
Expanding the College of Nursing’s Reach
The University’s commitment to serving central Nebraska received new life during Todero’s tenure, when a partnership with Hastings College was relocated to Grand Island’s CHI Health St. Francis Hospital. The new “3+1” program allowed Hastings College students and York University, Concordia University and Wayne State College students to add an accelerated Creighton BSN, thereby attaining dual undergraduate degrees.
Launching the Grand Island campus proved prologue to a historic main event — the formalization in 2021 of Creighton’s presence in the Southwest through construction of the $100 million Creighton University Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix. Through a partnership with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Creighton had earlier established a regional campus in Phoenix for third- and fourth-year medical students, and in 2012 the first cohort had begun clinical training there. In 2018, the College of Nursing launched programs in Phoenix as well.
Under Todero’s guidance as vice provost, the new campus, now home to Creighton medical, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and physician assistant students, has become a very visible part of the University’s identity in the Southwest and a central feature of a midtown district the city has renamed the Phoenix Medical Quarter.
Spearheading Research Investment
There have been other milestones during Todero’s tenure, including spearheading the donor-supported Center for Faculty, Innovation, Research and Education (FIRE), which strives to improve student and faculty excellence through research, and, most recently, securing $11.9 million in funding from the state of Arizona that will both enhance the Phoenix campus and provide scholarships for 80 nursing students.
“Dr. Todero has made outstanding contributions to the College of Nursing and the University by setting a high bar for herself and others in the pursuit of excellence,” says Amanda Kirkpatrick, PhD, BSN’05, RN, associate professor of nursing and Brooks Scholar.
“Her determination, building on the directive of St. Ignatius to ‘go set the world on fire,’ resulted in the creation of the Center for Faculty, Innovation, Research and Education, a major initiative that has provided funding for faculty innovation, which indicates her commitment and moral principle in serving others.”
The Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, Creighton president, reflected on Todero’s career at Creighton.
“Dr. Todero’s contributions to Creighton University cannot be overstated,” he says. “In Grand Island and in Phoenix she was instrumental in growing our campus beyond the physical confines of Omaha and truly making Creighton a nationally recognized name in health sciences education.
“We have been so blessed that Dr. Todero, a Creighton nursing graduate herself, was able to change the lives of so many nursing and health sciences professionals through her outstanding leadership. Hers is a true, full-circle Creighton success story.”
From Nursing Graduate to Academic Leadership
How one of the finest careers from Creighton’s 95-year tradition of nursing education emerged is rooted in the confidence displayed in young Catherine Matousek by her mother, Rita.
“I grew up with my mother saying to me, ‘You are so smart you could be a nurse,’” Todero recalls. “She said that to me a lot. I think it was because she had a sister who was a nurse, and she admired her greatly.”
Todero says she might have become a physician if not for prevailing attitudes at the time about women’s career choices.
“I grew up in that era when women were either nurses or teachers,” she says. “I’m talking, I suppose, about the 1960s. Women in medical school back then were still really quite rare, and I remember thinking at the time, ‘Well, I also want to have a family at some point, and nursing probably is a better pathway.’”
As she approached her 30th birthday in 1981, married with two children and working as a surgical intensive care nurse at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Todero experienced her epiphany that nursing academia was where she wanted to spend the rest of her career.
“I realized that I really loved teaching nursing, and I thought, ‘Wow, nursing and teaching. This is the best of both worlds,’” she says.
The PhD necessary to realize that dream followed, and Todero spent 17 years thereafter as associate dean of nursing at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, five years directing the San Diego State University School of Nursing, and four years as associate dean for nursing and site director of Azusa Pacific University’s branch campus in San Diego.
And then, in 2015, she came home.
Coming Home to Creighton
It was not obvious that she would do so. She loved San Diego, she says, and could happily have remained there, but the call of Creighton was strong.“I came back to Omaha because of Creighton. I saw a special opportunity to lead the place that launched me.”
Todero recalls, “When we were graduating from Creighton back in 1972, a nurse friend and I were both kind of full of ourselves, and I said to her that someday I would come back as dean.
“That became kind of a running joke between us, but when I came here to be dean, she said, ‘You did it.’ Well, I did say it, but God made it happen.”
God, of course, has made a lot of things happen at Creighton during the past 145 years.
The presence of a faith component is an important contributor to a Creighton nursing education, Todero says.
“You can talk about the spiritual element here,” she says. “It opens up a whole other element of nursing and really allows you to connect with the entire person, with their whole being.
“I have been affiliated with a lot of really good nursing programs, but when chief nursing officers tell me that Creighton grads are the best nurses they have in their facility, I ask myself why that is.
“I think it is those Jesuit values that get layered on to caring, compassionate nurses, allowing them to connect with people on a whole other plane.”
As she leaves academia, Todero says the great challenge facing Creighton, and institutions of higher education generally, is affordability.
“Creighton provides a great education, but we need to make sure a Creighton education remains affordable,” she says. “For the future, we must be very cognizant of making sure that we don’t price ourselves out of the market. Scholarship support for our students is critical to support the fabulous education that we provide.”
For Todero, the years ahead will involve travel, family genealogy and, of course, her grandchildren, who call her “Bibi,” which happens to be the Swahili word for grandmother.
“I used to ask my grandson if he knew he could speak Swahili before he could speak English?” she says. “My retirement plans include spending much more time with my grandchildren, enjoying their milestones and being the best Bibi I can be.
“My grands have been asking me for years to retire and spend more time with them. I want to do that while I am still relevant in their lives. Now is that time.”