The wealthy residents and tourists in their fine suits and extravagant gowns stood in stark contrast to the two Sisters clad in simple black habits who had just stepped off the carriage. Unlike the patrons of this popular resort town, Sister Mary Aloysius Burke and Sister Mary Clare Quinlan had only $1 between them to pay their expenses.
Seven years earlier, the first Sisters of Mercy had arrived in Hot Springs to supervise the construction of a now bustling school for grade and high school children. The grounds of St. Mary’s also included the area’s only school for black children. Although many in the area strongly opposed this school, the Sisters refused to close it.
But these two Sisters were in Hot Springs for a different purpose. They were to transform a small frame house purchased by local physician Dr. J.M. Keller and Rev. Patrick McGowan, a devoted friend of the Sisters of Mercy, into a 30-bed hospital and begin formalized health care in the area.
Several months passed in a flurry of activity to outfit the new hospital with the most modern conveniences including a sterilization room, bathrooms and private patient rooms. On September 24, 1888, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, St. Joseph’s infirmary opened, taking anyone who needed care. High patient volume quickly required an annex to be built, and in 1905 they opened a training school for nurses.
Today, St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center is an award-winning 309 bed hospital and is designated as a Level 2 Trauma Center.