The Origin of St. Mary's Hospital, Grand Junction, Colorado
Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited
1895 — From Leavenworth to Grand Junction
In 1895, because of his familiarity with the Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph's Hospital in Denver, the new Catholic pastor in Grand Junction, Father William Carr — supported by Grand Junction physicians Harrison Stroud, MD, and Heman R. Bull, MD — wrote to ask for Sisters of Charity who would open a hospital in Grand Junction. After Father Carr made a trip to the Sisters' headquarters in Leavenworth, Kansas, his request was granted.
On September 14, 1895, two 35-year-old Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth arrived in Grand Junction — Sister Mary Balbina Farrell, a nurse, and Sister Mary Louisa Madden, who had a background in bookkeeping and finance.
The Sisters' first stop on the way from Leavenworth had been in Denver, where the Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph's Hospital briefly tutored Sister Balbina and Sister Louisa on how to design and build a new hospital. They also packed up some basic supplies to get the Sisters started in Grand Junction.
During late 1895 and early 1896, the Sisters of Charity in Grand Junction lived with Mrs. Cosgrove and her family while they went door-to-door to businesses asking for support. They were not discouraged by the woman who said, "I'll give you a donation if you'll get out of town." Sister Louisa reported that employees of the Denver & Rio Grande and Colorado Midland railroads were particularly generous.
During the fall of 1895, Sister Balbina and Sister Louisa also traveled around western Colorado to ask for financial assistance, and they got it — even in mining towns including Ouray and Telluride that had hospitals of their own to support.
Late in 1895, Grand Junction Mayor Monroe Allison donated three lots on the east side of Grand Junction, and the Sisters bought three more adjoining them. They decided to wait until spring to begin construction.
Mayor Allison and Sister Balbina were a great team. Early in 1896, they found volunteers to dig the basement and on two occasions, they organized volunteers to haul rocks from the river to make a solid foundation for the new building. Then the contractor went to work.
1896 — St. Mary's Hospital Opens in Grand Junction, Colorado
On May 22, 1896, four Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth opened the ten-bed St. Mary's Hospital on the southeast corner of 11th Street and Colorado Avenue in Grand Junction. Their mission as Sisters of Charity was to improve "the health of the individuals and communities we serve, especially those who are poor or vulnerable."
At the beginning of May 1896, just a couple of weeks before St. Mary's Hospital opened, Sister Margaret Shea and Sister Mary Louis Reynolds had arrived in Grand Junction to join the staff. Sister Margaret planted a garden, built pens for chickens and cows behind the hospital, and took charge of the tiny kitchen.
The hospital's food supply was supplemented by produce, meat, flour, sugar, and other staples regularly donated by local citizens. People in Grand Junction donated cash, labor, and materials for the new St. Mary's Hospital.
On April 9, 1896, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had reported that "a contract has been agreed upon between the county commissioners and Sister Mary Balbina of the new Hospital of this city. The Hospital will care for paupers and the county poor and sick at a rate of $8.50 per week. This meets with general satisfaction."
Local women volunteered to help at the hospital as nurses, cooks, or housekeepers, or to make sheets, pillowcases, and blankets for patient rooms. Those were just a few of the many ways the people in Grand Junction collaborated with four Catholic Sisters to create the hospital they needed.
On May 12, the Daily Sentinel wrote that "Father Brown of the Church of the Annunciation at Leadville will give a lecture at the opera house the 21st day of this month for the benefit of the Sisters' hospital. His subject will be 'The Ideal Citizen.'"
On May 22, the Daily Sentinel announced that "The Sisters reported this morning that they were ready for the reception of any patients who might be brought to the hospital. The opening of this hospital is one of the important events of the year as it affords accommodation for the sick and afflicted, who have no kind hands to care for them in time of sickness. Here without distinction as to race creed or color, the afflicted at all times may find a refuge."
St. Mary's Hospital got so busy so quickly with patients who came to Grand Junction from all over western Colorado and eastern Utah that the four Sisters turned their own rooms on the second floor into patient rooms. The Sisters of Charity slept in the attic, which had definitely not been designed for human habitation.
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Sister Marie Brinkman, SCL: Emerging Frontiers: Renewal in the Life of Women: Religious Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, 1955-2005. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008.
Sister Mary Buckner, SCL: History of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. Kansas City, Missouri: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Company, 1898.
Sister Mary Carol Conroy, SCL: The Historical Development of the Health Care Ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. PhD Dissertation, Kansas State University, 1984.
Dave Fishell: A Spirit of Charity 1896-1996: St. Mary's Hospital, Celebrating a Century of Caring. Grand Junction, Colorado: St. Mary's Hospital, 1996.
Sister Julia Gilmore, SCL: We Came North: Centennial Story of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. St. Meinrad, Indiana: Abbey Press, 1961. The centennial story of the Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, carries the history up to 1958-1959.
Sister Maureen Hall, SCL, and Sister Barbara Sellers, SCL, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth have given information, support, and encouragement. Samantha Moe of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction sent a copy of Dave Fishell's A Spirit of Charity 1896-1996 and answered numerous questions.
Margaret Bandy, director of the Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital Library in Denver, has loaned books and offered guidance about the work of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in Colorado.
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