Guided by a desire to care for the sick and poor, Father Christopher Bernsmeyer, OFM, founded the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Telgte, Germany in 1844. There, in the chapel of the Sorrowful Mother, the first five courageous members of the Hospital Sisters dedicated themselves to service to the poor in rural areas.
The Hospital Sisters continued their commitment to care for the sick and poor. In 1875, Bishop Peter Joseph Baltes invited Reverend Mother Cherubine to send the Sisters to his diocese in Alton, Illinois. Twenty Sisters, led by Sister Angelica, departed from their native Germany to begin their work in Illinois as the American Province of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. After arriving in Illinois, the Sisters provided nursing care in Alton, Springfield, Belleville, Effingham, East St. Louis and Litchfield – oftentimes in their own homes. Since the Sisters were not allowed to accept money for their services, many times the patient’s family compensated the Sisters with food. Within 12 years, six hospitals had been built and the cornerstone of a seventh had been laid.
St. Joseph’s Hospital was established in January 1878. At the request of Reverend Joseph Meckel, Pastor of St. Paul’s Church, Mother Angelica Ratte sent two nursing sisters to Highland. Upon their arrival, they made their home with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Without means to furnish even a small building for themselves, an appeal was directed to local residents of Highland who generously responded with all necessary articles – furniture, cooking utensils and even food.
As Highland continued growing, so did the need for additional nursing Sisters and a medical facility. During the summer of 1878, numerous public meetings were held to freely discuss the need for a hospital. Many feared that the hospital would not pay for itself and would become a burden for the community at large. Several noteworthy citizens believed the contrary and persisted in pointing out to the rest of local residents the advantages derived from such an institution in the vicinity.
After a public “subscription drive” was completed – whereby local residents donated money, materials or equipment – the formal dedication of the new St. Joseph’s Hospital took place on Thursday, August 21, 1879, when the structure was opened to admit its first patient, Mrs. Ring. The little two-story building provided the convent for the Sisters and room for 12 patients. Bequests, donations, subscriptions, raffles, benefit fairs, and even a musical concert, all figured in the raising of funds to pay for the new hospital.
Tragically, fire destroyed St. Joseph’s Hospital on January 24, 1892. New additions and renovations were completed in 1897, 1926 and 1937, but in June 1950, the cornerstone for the recent four-story facility addition was laid.
The next chapter in the history of St. Joseph’s Hospital is written on a site approximately one mile north of the previous facility located on Main Street. On January 7, 2011, St. Joseph’s Hospital announced that it purchased 60 acres located in the southeast corner of the intersection at North Poplar Street and Troxler Avenue directly east of Highland High School. The land owner, Kathryn Winet Grotefendt, also agreed to donate 12.4 additional acres. This combined 72.4 acre site is where the new St. Joseph’s Hospital campus now stands.
Just as with the first St. Joseph’s Hospital facility back in 1879 and throughout subsequent years, residents of Highland and surrounding communities showed their support for the health care healing ministry of Christ – originally started in Highland by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in 1878 – by participating in a capital campaign that raised more than $4 million.
Construction on the new St. Joseph’s Hospital broke ground April 1, 2012 on a green-field site about a mile north of the previous hospital and was substantially complete May 31, 2013. The new St. Joseph’s Hospital officially opened to the public August 22.