The Origin of Mercy Hospital, Denver

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

Planning and Fundraising

In November 1900, the Sisters of Mercy broke ground for their new Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium in Denver, which would specialize in the treatment of the "nervously diseased." The Sisters welcomed patients with tuberculosis at their sanitarium in Manitou, but the City of Denver would not permit them to care for patients with contagious diseases in the residential neighborhood where their new facility was being built.

Mother Baptist Meyers, the leader of the Sisters of Mercy in Colorado, spent much of the next nine months after ground-breaking — which turned out to be the rest of her life — raising funds for the new sanatorium, which was built on six lots on the corner of East 16th at Milwaukee in Denver that the Sisters, helped by an anonymous donor, bought for $6,000.

Jacob Scherrer — a 62-year-old native of France who had moved to Colorado in 1859, become a successful cattle rancher, and served as president of the Colorado Cattle Association and of the Denver Chamber of Commerce — was the leader of ten men who each donated $1,000 to the Sisters of Mercy for their construction fund.

On August 29, 1901, Mother John Baptist Meyers — founder of hospitals in Durango, Ouray, Cripple Creek, Manitou, and Denver — was killed instantly at age 55 in a train wreck on her way from Denver to Durango. She had been on her way to be with a Sister in Durango who was on her deathbed. Her companion, Sister Nora Wingert, survived the train wreck.

The notorious criminal Harley McCoy, mortally injured in the wreck, died at Mercy Hospital in Durango the next day. The headline in the Durango Herald: "The Best Woman and the Worst Man in Colorado Have Gone to Rest." After services in Durango and Denver, Mother Baptist was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium

On November 21, 1901, Denver's new Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium at 16th and Milwaukee admitted Andrew Stark, its first patient. Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium was primarily for the treatment of the "nervously diseased," and baths and hydrotherapy were primary forms of therapy. However, by May 1902 Mercy was operating as a maternity hospital as well.

Mother Francis Xavier Meyers (the late Mother Baptist's niece) was superintendent of Mercy Sanatorium as well as the new leader of the Sisters of Mercy in Colorado. Mother Xavier negotiated with William Owen, the philanthropic general manager of the Denver Dry Goods Company, for furnishings for the rooms.

The five-story, 40-bed Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium — located in what was considered to be an elite neighborhood just south of City Park — was designed in Spanish mission style with light brick and red Colorado stone.

The Sisters were particularly pleased that the sanatorium had the most modern institutional kitchen and laundry in Denver and hot water heat throughout. A local paper reported that "the woodwork in the interior is Texas Pine varnished. As everyone knows, the Sisters are noted for keeping things clean and this wood-work would show dirt readily if dirt could exist where the Sisters reign . . . ."

In February 1902, the medical staff of Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium was formally organized. Edgar P. Hershey, MD, was first staff president (1902-1905), and E.A. Scherrer, MD, was secretary. At the time, Denver's physicians were informally classified as the 14th Street Group and the 17th Street Group — and 37 of them had patients at Mercy during its first year.

Kemp Cooper, son of Claude E. Cooper, MD, one of the staff physicians, was the first baby born (in May) at what became Mercy Hospital. Kemp Cooper, MD, himself eventually became a staff physician at Mercy Hospital.

In 1902, less than six months after the Sisters of Mercy opened Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium, the Sisters bought six additional lots at 16th and Fillmore, about two blocks south of Denver's City Park. The sanatorium quickly began evolving from a facility for delivering babies and for patients with mental health problems into a general hospital.

In September 1902, Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium established a nurses' training program that was in operation until 1974.

Mercy Hospital

In 1903 the Sisters of Mercy asked the Denver City Council for authorization to develop Mercy Medical and Maternity Sanatorium as a general hospital. St. Anthony's, St. Joseph's, and St. Luke's hospitals all opposed the change on the grounds that Denver didn't need another hospital, but the City Council approved the request and Mercy Hospital was born.

Mother Mary Xavier Meyers was administrator from 1901 to 1910 and again from 1913 to 1916. 662 patients were admitted to Mercy Hospital in 1903, and there were 46 births and 119 surgical procedures that year.

In 1904, Dr. Karl Albin Bundsen became a staff physician at Mercy Hospital, a position he held until his retirement in the 1940s. In 1905, Dr. Bundsen opened the Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium in Englewood, an institution that eventually became Swedish Medical Center.

Have you ever wondered what hospital Sisters did? We have a list of the Sisters of Mercy who were on the staff at Denver's Mercy Hospital in 1929, along with an indication of their duties

The Closing of Mercy Hospital, Denver

In 1987, governance of Denver's Mercy Medical Center transferred from the Sisters of Mercy of Omaha to Provenant Health Partners, which meant that Mercy Hospital had, in some ways, come under the direction of St. Anthony Hospital.

In 1995, following the abrupt and unexpected decision to close Provenant Mercy Hospital — a decision made by Provenant Health Partners without consultation with the Sisters of Mercy or the physicians, nurses, and staff at Mercy Hospital — a group of physicians from Rose Medical Center bought Mercy Hospital, but because they were unable to return it to being a viable institution, their project ended later in 1995.

The last Mercy Hospital department to close was medical records, where Sister of Mercy Cyrilla Wolfe and the rest of the medical records staff hurried to get physicians to bring all their patient records up to date. All those records from Mercy Hospital were trucked over to St. Anthony Central Hospital.

Bibliography

Sister Mary Cecelia Barry, RSM: "Mercy Medical Center History, 1901-1978," unpublished manuscript, 18 pages. Sisters of Mercy Archives, Omaha, Nebraska.

Sister Mary Isidore Lennen, RSM: Milestones of Mercy: Story of the Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis, 1856-1956. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1956.

Sister Kathleen O'Brien, RSM: Journeys: A Pre-Amalgamation History of the Sisters of Mercy Omaha Province. Omaha, Nebraska: The Sisters of Mercy, 1987. A scholarly account by a fascinating writer who makes the stories of the Sisters in Colorado beginning in the 1880s come alive. Everyone who has read Journeys is looking forward to her next volume, which is in the final stage of editing.

Sister M. Claude Pitsenberger, OSF: "Organizational Development of Mercy Hospital, Denver, Colorado," unpublished manuscript. Xavier University College of Business Administration, Cincinnati, Ohio, 28 pages, 1967.

Acknowledgements

Colorado's own Monte G. Kniffen — senior archivist for the Sisters of Mercy, West Midwest Community in Omaha — has always been ready with guidance, documents, and information. Sister Pat McDermott, RSM, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, has given advice and encouragement on a couple of occasions.

Sister Mary Regis Leahy, RSM, is my guide to everything about the Sisters of Mercy in Colorado. My conversations with Sister Cyrilla Wolfe, R.S.M. are as entertaining as they are informative. Richard Glasser, MD, who was a staff physician at Mercy Hospital, gave valuable, first-hand perspectives on the welcoming work environment the Sisters of Mercy created for physicians.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

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