The Origin of St. Anthony Hospital, Denver, Colorado
Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited
In 1863, Sister Maria Theresia Bonzel founded the Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph of Perpetual Adoration in Olpe, Westphalia, Germany.
Sisters from the American province would establish three hospitals in Colorado, all of which are still in operation — St. Francis Hospital, Colorado Springs (1887); St. Anthony Hospital, Denver (1893); and St. Anthony Hospital North, Westminster (1971).
Union Pacific Hospital, Denver
In 1883, the Union Pacific Railroad built the three-story Union Pacific Hospital on a park-like campus at East 40th and York Street in Denver — about 7 miles north of City Park and about five blocks south of today's I-70. The hospital had 66 beds, operating rooms, and offices for physicians, interns, and nurses.
Union Pacific asked Bishop Joseph Machebeuf to help find Sisters to administer and staff the hospital, and in 1884, eleven Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration from Lafayette, Indiana, arrived in Denver.
On May 20, 1884, six German-immigrant Sisters from the recently established American branch of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration arrived from Lafayette, Indiana, to staff the Union Pacific hospital at 40th and York Street in Denver.
The first six were Sister Mary Beatrix Behse, Sister Mary Xaveria Schramme, Sister Mary Monica Ruhl, Sister Mary Francisca Grewe, Sister Mary Columba Holthoefer, and Sister Mary Pauline Ottis.
Then in June and July 1884, five more Sisters arrived to staff the Union Pacific Hospital: Sister Mary Ladislaus Borawik, Sister Mary Aegidia Klein, Sister Mary Clara Leonard, Sister Mary Norberta Renkenmeier, and Sister Mary Gertrudis Bugle.
Between June of 1884 and June of 1892, the Franciscan Sisters recorded that 4,725 patients were admitted to Union Pacific Hospital. Sister Mary Beatrix Behse was the first superintendent (1884-1886) of Union Pacific Hospital, followed by Sister Mary Clara Leonard and Sister Huberta Duennebacke.
From the beginning — although the Franciscan Sisters dedicated themselves to their work at the Union Pacific hospital — the Sisters believed that they needed their own hospital in order to fulfill their religious commitment as followers of St. Francis of Assisi to caring for people who were poor or had no one else to help them when they were sick or injured.
Preparing for a New Hospital of Their Own
In 1890, Franciscan Sister Mary Huberta Duennebacke — administrator of St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs since 1887 — told Bishop Nicholas Matz that she had moved to Denver to begin preparations for a new facility to be named St. Anthony Hospital. The bishop was skeptical but Sister Huberta didn't hesitate to move forward, and ground was broken in 1891.
Sister Mary Christiana coordinated fundraising by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration as they were preparing to build St. Anthony Hospital. The Union Pacific physicians who worked with the Sisters at the company hospital in Denver helped by letting the Sisters know where the railroad crews were working so that they could be there on payday to ask for support.
Teams of two Sisters also went door-to-door in the Denver area, and rode on horseback and in buggies into the mining camps in Central City, Blackhawk, Idaho Spring, and Cripple Creek They reported that barber shops and saloons were particularly good places to ask for support for St. Anthony Hospital.
The Sisters did not enjoy begging — often euphemistically called "collecting" — but they did it because their personal commitment to caring for people who needed their help was much stronger than their embarrassment.
St. Anthony Hospital
Since 1884, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration had been staffing the Union Pacific Railroad's corporate hospital in Denver. The Sisters remained there until May 20, 1893, when the remaining Union Pacific patients were brought to the Sisters' new St. Anthony Hospital, which officially opened on June 13, 1893.
In 1937, one of the Franciscan Sisters wrote that "As time went on, the Sisters felt the need of a hospital of their own, where they might more freely dispense their works of charity and mercy.
"Consequently, land was purchased in West Denver, on what is now West Sixteenth Avenue between Quitman and Raleigh Streets, and the first building of the present St. Anthony Hospital was erected. The architect was a Mr. [Frederick William] Paroth [of Denver] . . . . The new building had a frontage of 205 feet and an east wing. . . . When compared with today's hospital facilities, living conditions at that time seem most primitive."
"St. Anthony's Hospital is situated in the suburbs of Denver on Manhattan Lake, not far from the foot hills. The view in every direction from the Hospital is unexcelled in America. The Hospital receives free patients if poor and wanting. For those who can pay: Wards, $5 to $7 per week. Private rooms, $8 to $30 per week according to the room wanted. For further particulars, address Sister Superior, St. Anthony's Hospital." — advertisement in the Denver Medical Times, January and March 1895 issues.
On June 13, 1893, seventeen Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration opened their new $190,000 St. Anthony Hospital on Manhattan Lake in the town of Highland, overlooking the city of Denver from the west. The town of Highland was between 26th to 38th Avenues west of Gallup (Zuni) Street. Manhattan Lake later became part of Sloans Lake.
St. Anthony Hospital was a four-story brick building trimmed with granite, and had wards with 120 beds and private rooms with 60 beds. St. Anthony Hospital had a steam-powered elevator, and when there wasn't enough coal to provide steam, the Sisters carried patients up and down the stairs.
One of the Sisters who helped in the kitchen also carried coal to the boiler house. Three Sisters milked the cows and did the canning, cooking, and scrubbing, and sometimes accompanied Sister Christina and Sister Sylveria when they went out to ask for funds for St. Anthony Hospital.
The Franciscan Sisters' Chronicles reported that "When Sister Huberta, the Superioress, came from the Union Pacific to the new St. Anthony Hospital, she brought with her Sisters Christina, Norberta Reinkemeier, Victoria, Seraphina, Pudentiana, Athanasia, Marina, Hieronyme, Viridiana, Patricia, Angelina, Saloma, Crispina, Longina, Alberta and Aurelia."
Sister Mary Huberta Duennebacke, who had been administrator of the Union Pacific hospital since 1890, became the first administrator (1893-1902) of St. Anthony Hospital. Her successor was Sister Mary Jacobine Bierman (1902-1905).
During June 1893 the hospital's income was $42.00, but the Sisters prayed and worked hard and begged for financial assistance, and gradually more patients were admitted and the financial situation stabilized.
Giuseppe Cuneo, MD, the first staff physician at St. Anthony, later wrote about the early days: " . . . it looked as though St. Anthony Hospital had been built out of civilization . . . . On bad wintry days the doctors preferred to come out by street car, because it was dangerous with the horse and buggy to pass under the low, dark, wooden Larimer Street viaduct on account of deep ruts, snowdrifts, ice, and movements of the railroad trains . . . ."
Dr. Cuneo, 37, was a native of Alpepiana St. Stefano d' Aveto, Genoa, Italy, who had received his MD from the Royal University of Naples in 1887. He came to Denver in 1889, and resigned from the staff at St. Anthony's when his duties as Italian consul in Denver became too demanding.
On June 17, 2011, St. Anthony Hospital moved to the new St. Anthony Medical Campus in Lakewood, Colorado, about six miles southwest of the original St. Anthony Hospital.
Sister Stephanie McReynolds, OSF, of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Colorado Springs, mailed and email detailed information about the Sisters at Union Pacific Hospital, Colorado Midland Railway Clinic, St. Francis Hospital, St. Anthony Central Hospital, and St. Anthony North Hospital. Sister Stephanie spent many hours searching the archives for information that is being published here for the first time.
The Sisters of St. Francis are no longer engaged in nursing or other healthcare ministries. Coloradans owe the Sisters an enormous debt of gratitude for their extraordinary contributions to Colorado's healthcare heritage.
Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!
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