The Origin of St. Francis Hospital, Colorado Springs

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).

In 1871, General William Jackson Palmer, 35, founded Colorado Springs, which he wanted to develop into a health resort that would attract upper class, cultured people from Europe and the east coast. He incorporated Colorado Springs in 1872.

General Palmer wanted Colorado Springs to be thought of as "the Newport of the Rockies." He wrote his wife that "my theory for this place is that it should be made the most attractive place in the west for homes, a place for schools, colleges, literature, science, first-class newspapers and everything the above imply."

The Colorado Midland Railway Clinic

On July 14, 1887 the Colorado Midland Railway began its first regular train service, from Colorado Springs to Buena Vista, on July 13.

Civil war veteran Dr. Boswell P. Anderson, the Colorado Midland Railway company physician, opened a company clinic in Colorado Springs for railroad workers who were extending the Midland's line from Colorado Springs to Leadville and beyond.

Because Dr. Anderson had observed the work of Sisters who nursed soldiers on civil war battlefields — and because Franciscan Sisters were already staffing the Union Pacific Hospital in Denver — he asked the motherhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to send Sisters to Colorado Springs to staff the Colorado Midland Railway Clinic.

On September 1, 1887, four Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration arrived to staff the Colorado Midland Railway Clinic, which was the first hospital in Colorado Springs. Sister Mary Huberta Duennebacke, Sister Mary Kunigunda Neuhoff, Sister Mary Notberga, and Sister Mary Silveria were "the founding mothers."

Several days before the Franciscan Sisters arrived, a Colorado Midland train had wrecked in western Colorado; several workers were killed and sixty were injured. Some of the injured were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital in Leadville, but the most serious were brought to the new Colorado Midland Railway Clinic in Colorado Springs.

The accident made it immediately clear that the two adobe homes that housed the Sisters and the clinic were much too small, so the Sisters began raising money for their own hospital, which they opened in 1888.
The Sisters wanted a larger hospital so they could care for railroad workers, but they also wanted 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.

Sister Huberta and Sister Notberga went door to door asking for funds. When they could afford it, the Sisters bought a horse and buggy for $230.00 and rode around El Paso County and the surrounding area asking for financial help.

St. Francis Hospital

In October 1887, the Sisters began building St. Francis Hospital, on property they had bought from Mr. O'Hara for $340.00, on a hill between Colorado and Pikes Peak Avenues, overlooking the city.

Franciscan Sister Mary Huberta Duennebacke — the founder of St. Anthony Hospital in Denver (1893) as well as of St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs — supervised construction and was administrator from 1887 until she moved to Denver in 1890. During construction, five more Sisters had arrived to join the staff, bringing the total to nine Sisters.

In the spring of 1888, nine Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration led by Sister Mary Huberta Duennebacke opened their new $20,000 St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs. The hospital had two stories and a basement, with four rooms on each floor.

Patients at the Colorado Midland Railway Clinic were moved to St. Francis Hospital, which charged $5.00 a week, which included room, board, and medical and nursing care. It wasn't long before the number of patients who came to the Sisters was more than the hospital could handle. But in line with the Sisters' mission as followers of St. Francis, no one who needed care was ever turned away, so they kept asking for money from the local community.

St. Francis Hospital was the first facility in the Pike's Peak region that was prepared to care for emergency and trauma patients. In addition to the critically ill and injured, physicians and the Sisters took care of people with cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, tuberculosis, and polio.

In 1889, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration opened a $10,000 addition to St. Francis Hospital, which added a third story and 35 more beds. In addition to the Colorado Midland Railway, the Denver & Rio Grande and Rock Island railroads had also begun sending their sick and injured workers to St. Francis Hospital. The charge for those who were able to pay became $7.00 a week all-inclusive for a bed in a ward, and $10.00 a week for a private room.

Hospital Evolution and Mergers in Colorado Springs

St. Francis Hospital and what became Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs evolved and then merged in 1990:

Colorado Midland Railroad Clinic (1887)

St. Francis Hospital (1888)

Albert Glockner Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1890)

Glockner Sanatorium transferred to Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati (1893)

Glockner-Penrose Hospital (1947)

Penrose Hospital (1959)

St. Francis Hospital + Penrose Hospital = Penrose-St. Francis Hospital (1990)

Centura Penrose-St. Francis Health Services (1996)


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, and St. Anthony 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 them 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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