DC ministries: first mission in St. Louis

St Louis Hospital

St. Louis Hospital, ca. 1832 (later known as DePaul Hospital)


(Image of St. Louis Hospital and passage from diary of Sr. Francis Xavier Love, 1828, used with permission of the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

On October 15, 1828, four Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s — Sisters Francis Xavier Love, Martina Butcher, Rebecca Dellone, and Francis Regis Barrett — set out for St. Louis to start a new hospital, the first Catholic hospital west of the Mississippi River. Sister Francis Xavier, the superior of the group, kept a diary of their journey which is preserved in the collections of the Provincial Archives. Below is a passage from the diary about the beginning of the journey and the feelings the Sisters had about a new mission far from their home in Emmitsburg.

… Traveling expenses made and arrival provided. What next? Is the house of Sisters ready? And what kind of sick; men, women, children, insane? And what servants? What doctors? And lodged, or not, in the Hospital? And the house, beddings, doctor and drugs first secured? …

But stop! Do you think that there is one of these wise items which has not been thought of before, by wiser than you? Trust, and go on. What is fifteen hundred miles to God, and has any establishment begun to prosper otherwise than by apparent destitution of means? Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. Amen!

A call – due call – good Sisters, ready, purest intentions, strict rules along, obedience and love. All is well, go on! He will send His angels in the way who will go before thee in the way and the Lord Himself will be to thee all in all, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt.

October 15 [1828]. Half past five in the morning left St. Joseph’s for St. Louis. When seated in the carriage, while Mother, Sister Betsy and others were arranging our baggage, I took a last affectionate look at my dear spiritual nursery, and each beloved Sister and friend passed in rapid succession before my mental vision. I felt that I should never see them again. At that moment the driver cracked his whip. It was the signal for departure. We enveloped ourselves in our cloaks, and as the carriage rolled down the lane I saluted for the last time the Guardian Angels of St. Joseph’s. We remained in profound silence till near Frederick, God alone witnessing what passed in our hearts. We dined [in Frederick] with Sister Margaret who was very kind to us, and procured for each of us a pair of over socks, and gave us two old shawls, which she said she could easily spare we found them very comfortable under our cloaks. After dinner we saw Rev’d. Father McElroy who gave us his blessing and a bottle of holy water. Then we went to church, recommended ourselves to Almighty God and His holy angels, and from there to Mr. Jamison’s to meet the stage. Truly, it was the most formidable looking vehicle I had ever seen! Passengers, eight in number, had already taken their places. We had the back seat, where we kept ourselves quiet while gentlemen and ladies looked at us, then at each other, wondered and looked again. There was one amongst the company whom I took to be a protestant minister. After we crossed the first two mountains, poor Sister Martina looked out of the carriage, and said: “How far are we from home?” The sun began to disappear behind the high mountains; the air became unpleasantly cold; passengers closed the curtains which, to our great relief rendered the carriage dark, so we could once more hold up our heads without encountering the inquisitive gaze of strangers …

From Emmitsburg and Frederick the Sisters traveled by stagecoach past Cumberland, MD, to today’s Wheeling, WV (at the time Wheeling, VA). At Wheeling they got on a steamboat and proceeded down the Ohio River. In five days on the Ohio their steamboat ran aground six times, including one occasion where they were stuck for 24 hours. During this time they got off the steamboat and boarded a flatboat, but again were held up because of other accidents further upriver. At the end of October they landed near Louisville, KY, where they once again boarded a stagecoach. On November 1 they arrived in Vincennes, IN, where they were able to go to Mass for the first time since leaving Emmitsburg. On November 5 they arrived in St. Louis. When they arrived the bishop who had requested them, Joseph Rosati, was out of town and their hospital was not ready; they spent their first few days in St. Louis at the convent of Mother Philippine Duchesne and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The hospital opened for patients at the end of November.

The hospital they founded, later known as DePaul Hospital, still exists; it is now part of the SSM Health System. The Daughters of Charity’s ministry in St. Louis continues to this day, and today St. Louis serves as the headquarters for the Province of St. Louise.

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