School of Nursing History
The Jesuits of Saint Louis University and the Sisters of Saint Mary
During the decade of the 20's, several changes took place at Saint Louis University. The Graduate School was formed, research facilities and areas of specialization were expanded, and women were admitted to the campus for the first time. By this time the Sisters of Saint Mary of the Third Order of Saint Francis had established several health care facilities in the St. Louis, Missouri (United States) area following a more humble beginning.
The Sisters work in St. Louis, Missouri, dates from the later half of the nineteenth century. They arrived in St. Louis during one of the coldest winters on record and one of its most devastating smallpox epidemics. The small band of sisters under the direction of Mother Odilia Berger was known at that time as the Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. They ministered to smallpox victims in their homes as no hospitals for those with contagious diseases existed at that time. They resided in a two-story tenement on Third and Gratiot Streets. As a result of their work they became known throughout the city as "the smallpox Sisters."
In 1873, the sisters moved into a new convent built on the grounds of Saint Mary's Church where they became known as "the Sisters from Saint Mary's." In 1874, the name of the order was changed officially to The Sisters of Saint Mary of the Third Order of Saint Francis.
In 1877, they opened a hospital in a renovated house on Papin Street that became known as Saint Mary's Infirmary (left). Here they cared for the poor who were unable to pay for hospital services. From these beginnings the number of their hospitals grew in the St. Louis, Missouri, area along with their hospital schools of nursing where the sisters were trained to care for the sick.
The sisters' work and influence in health care moved ahead quickly. In 1907, they had established The Saint Mary's Infirmary School of Nursing for the training of their own sisters. An educational deficit existed in society at that time that prevented the sisters from pursuing a higher education, i.e., women's lack of a high school foundation. The deficit needed correcting before the sisters could continue their education. A plan was worked out with the Jesuits and Saint Louis University High School that allowed the sisters to receive necessary courses and the high school certificate of credit for entrance into the university.
It was one of several collaborative efforts between the Jesuits and the Sisters of Saint Mary that eventually solidified the establishment of Saint Louis University School of Nursing. Under the persistent leadership of the Rev. Mother Mary Concordia Pudendahl (left), Mother General of the Order in 1921, the sisters received general and specialized university education necessary for functioning as practitioners and teachers in the health care field.
In 1924, the Jesuits of Saint Louis University and the Sisters of St. Mary entered into a formal agreement designating the hospitals operated by the Sisters as teaching hospitals for the University's School of Medicine. The institutions in operation at that time were Saint Mary's Infirmary, Mount Saint Rose Sanitarium, and Saint Mary's Hospital (pictured below). The agreement was formalized in a ten-page document dated February 13, 1924, with an effective date of September 1, 1924.
The document signed by Father William J. Robison, S.J. (left), President of Saint Louis University, and the Reverend Mother M. Concordia, S.S.M., Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Mary of the Third Order of Saint Francis is filed in the School of Nursing archives. This collaboration proved to be mutually beneficial to the Jesuits of Saint Louis University and the Sisters of Saint Mary, and it greatly influenced the establishment of the School of Nursing four years later.
On June 2, 1931, the cornerstone of the Firmin Desloge Hospital (right) was laid. The hospital, in memory of Mr. Firmin Desloge who died in December 1929, was a gift from the Desloge family to the Jesuits of Saint Louis University and the Sisters of Saint Mary - a dual ownership with each having equal interest in its assets and liabilities. The hospital opened its doors in 1933.
Additional funds for the building of the hospital chapel were donated some years later by Mrs. Firmin Desloge. It was designed by the famous Gothic revivalist architect, Ralph Adams Cram, to echo the contours of the St. Chapelle in Paris. In 1983, it was declared a landmark by the Missouri Historical Society.
The hospital name was eventually changed to the University Hospital (below), and it continued to serve the medical center as a university entity until March 1998 when a national trend toward forming large health care centers resulted in its sale to the Tenet Healthcare System, which operates numerous hospitals throughout the country. The event was deeply felt by many alumni and employees. The name of Saint Louis University Hospital, however, has been maintained and the sale agreement stipulated that the mission, purpose, and ideals of the University are to be preserved.
Compiled by: Helen DiCroce, Associate Professor Emeritus, Saint Louis University School of Nursing