Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center

From Uncertain Beginnings a Mission is Born

Our founding Sisters were refugees, in a sense. While they fled Germany in the immigrant tide of 1876 to escape persecution and build a new life, they came as well to ease the suffering of those in need of solace and comfort. First they were called to Avilla, Indiana where the community welcomed them with open arms. They set to work caring for the aged and infirm and teaching in local schools.

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Just four years after arriving on American shores, the Sisters were called to the Joliet area to alleviate the suffering of the masses that had been swept up in a typhoid epidemic. It was a time of great hardship and the Sisters arrived with no money or housing, depending faithfully on Divine Providence to guide them. Immediately, the local people warmly took them in, welcoming them with food and lodging. But the work of God was calling and the suffering townsfolk needed their ministrations. They labored day and night caring for the sick in their homes, nursing many back to health, comforting those who could not be saved, and arranging for last rites when necessary.

When finally the typhoid scourge subsided the Sisters had little time to recover before the area was hit by a smallpox epidemic. Again they went to work, calling for reinforcements from their Motherhouse in Indiana. The outbreak was so widespread and devastating that the Sisters insisted upon quarantine. Two miles from town in a four-room farmhouse the nuns nursed their patients back to health.

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Finally the epidemic ended and the people of Joliet extended their gratitude by proffering $600 toward a new hospital and a commitment to support it and the Sisters' good work in the community.

It is said that "timing is everything." The Sisters, however, likely would say good timing is simply divine intervention. That certainly appeared to be the case when it came time to look for a larger building to house their hospital. As it happened, the teaching Sisters of Saint Francis of Mary Immaculate were moving from their two-story convent on Broadway and Division Streets to their new Motherhouse and Academy at Plainfield Road and Taylor Street. The Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart joyfully purchased the building, remodeled it to make it suitable for a hospital and moved in on August 15, 1882. The new hospital had 20 beds for patients and received their first one that very night. He was a young man named McCarthy, who was severely injured after falling from a freight car.

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The Sisters continued their work, caring for the sick both in the hospital and in patients' homes throughout the area. They maintained a herd of milk cows and a team of horses. Joliet residents continued to show appreciation for their selfless service by raising funds for additions to the hospital and new equipment as well as donating food from local farms and other in-kind offerings.

Then, as today, support for the mission of this institution has been a partnership with the community. It is a relationship we at the Medical Center cherish and one that draws us all together as servants of God.

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