For the STAR JOURNAL
Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital welcomed the Most Reverend James Powers of the Diocese of Superior to celebrate the hospital’s 125th anniversary on Thursday, June 21.
The anniversary celebration included mass with Bishop Powers in the hospital’s Galleria as well as a prayer and memorial service at Nativity of our Lord Catholic Cemetery honoring the founding sisters who have gone before us. “This is a wonderful event to celebrate the legacy of those who laid the foundation for our current system of care,” said Sandy Anderson, President, Ascension St. Mary’s.
Ascension St. Mary’s traces its roots to the late 19th Century as lumberman sought the lucrative Northwoods as an essential part of a growing nation. It was very dangerous work as many lumbermen suffered severe injuries while the nearby camps and towns experienced severe typhoid outbreaks.
In 1891, the people of Rhinelander converted a boarding house on the corner of King and Pelham Streets into the Rhinelander Hospital. The pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Rev. Nicholas Joch had heard of the work of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in Marshfield and traveled there to ask for the Sisters’ help in the spring of 1893. Mother Frances Streitel, foundress and Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, gave her permission for the sisters to take over the hospital and promised to send more sisters to the United States from the Motherhouse in Rome.
On June 5, 1893, a group of sisters led by Fr. Joch began their work in Rhinelander. They took up residence in some unfurnished rooms in a frame house on the corner of King and Pelham Streets. Here the sisters lived an austere life but were happy to serve the people of Rhinelander and the surrounding area. They cared for the sick and injured in the community but did not charge for their services.
“At the time, the closest hospital to Rhinelander was in Chippewa Falls and the pioneer doctors who visited the lumber camps and towns were not equipped to treat the population and did not have access to support from a trained nursing staff,” said Sister Lois Bush, SSM, Regional Superior for the St. Clare of Assisi Region in the USA and Dominican Republic.
To help the hospital financially, Father Joch started the ticket system in Rhinelander, which already had been introduced there by some of the doctors. The tickets cost five dollars and were good for one year. These were sold to the lumber men with the promise of free care if the men became sick or injured.
“Many community members were enlisted in helping to sell these tickets and were great promoters of the sisters’ healing ministry,” said Bush.
In July 1893, Fr. Joch purchased five lots on the banks of the Pelican River and purchased plans for a new hospital from the Messmer Company in Milwaukee. He continued to sell insurance tickets to fund the building of the new hospital and the sisters helped by carrying bricks and lumber, painting the doors, windowsills and other woodwork. New sisters came throughout the construction so that there were eleven serving the Rhinelander community.
By July 4, 1895, the new hospital was completed and filled with furniture: it was a two-story brick structure with twelve rooms. Monsignor Jacquemin, spiritual director of the community, gave the hospital and its chapel a blessing.
By 1922 it was apparent the community needed a larger hospital. The citizens of Rhinelander, Oneida County, and the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother all financially contributed to the construction of a large addition. The Most Reverent Joseph Pinten, Bishop of Superior, blessed and dedicated the addition on April 5, 1923.
Six other phases followed over the next 90-plus years with each bringing the newest standards of care to Rhinelander and the surrounding area until the decision was made to construct a new hospital on the city’s east side where the present Ascension St. Mary’s operates in a facility which opened in 2002.
“Today, we live our unified mission to be rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, to offer spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities, to be advocates for a compassionate and just society through our actions and our words,” said Anderson.
In 2013 Ascension St. Mary’s and the other legacy facilities of Ministry Health Care in central and northern Wisconsin joined Ascension. Ascension is the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system
“The community has changed, but our commitment to the provision of quality, progressive health care combined with an individualized, holistic approach remains as strong as ever as part of Ascension,” said Anderson. “We look forward of the next 125 years of providing vital health care services to our community.”