While the Civil War raged around him, Dr. Jonathan Edward Tefft lay dying of typhoid fever in a makeshift hospital in St. Louis. He prayed to God for a cure, trusting in the healing abilities of the Sisters of Mercy, who tended to those around him. God saw fit to grant his request, and eventually, Dr. Tefft recovered from his near-fatal illness, but he never forgot his promise.
After the war, he established a profitable private practice in Springfield, Missouri, the rapidly growing agricultural, trade and transportation center of southwest Missouri. Years later, a group of prominent ladies established a Hospital Aid Society to improve medical services in town. Though they were well-intentioned, these high society ladies knew more about pearls and parties than bruises and bedpans. They turned to Dr. Tefft for help.
The doctor saw this as his opportunity to fulfill his deathbed promise. He wrote to the Bishop of Kansas City, requesting the Sisters of Mercy be allowed to administer the hospital.
In October 1891, Sister M. Alacoque Kelley, Sister Mary Xavier Kinsella and Sister Mary Stanislaus Tennelly prayed for their safety as their stagecoach rumbled down the old Indian trail connecting their former home in St. Louis with their destination. A small gray brick house with eight rooms awaited them – it would be both hospital and home.
The 4-bed hospital received its first patient on November 6, 1891. Dr. Tefft and a friend, Dr. Walter Atwood, paid them a visit a few days later. According to the Springfield Daily Democrat, they “found the institution to be in perfect order” and the Sisters well-trained “to minister to the wants of the sick and suffering.”
Today Mercy Hospital has grown to more than 800 beds and provides the region’s only Level I Trauma Center for adult and pediatric patients, a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the region’s burn unit and a Children’s Hospital.