Our Health Care History

September 15, 2010

Health Care in Fort Scott: Past, Present and Future

Sisters of Mercy Mary Angela Ryan, left, and
Sister Mary Ambrose in the early 1900s.

Call it divine intervention or happenstance.  Regardless, when two Sisters stepped off a train in Fort Scott almost 125 years ago, health care changed.

Sister Mary Teresa Dolan and Sister Mary Bonaventure Fox first arrived in Fort Scott, Kansas, in November 1885, en route to Los Angeles to begin a foundation at the request of Father Bonaventure Fox, brother of one of the Sisters. Both women had been ill and to aid their health, they were seeking a warmer climate than their home in Big Rapids, Michigan.

On their way west, they stopped for Sunday services and were offered hospitality for the weekend in Fort Scott. During that visit, the parish priest, Rev. Francis J. Watron, related to them the needs of the people in the area. He was even able to convince them that the climate in Fort Scott was sunnier and drier than in southern California. The Sisters decided not to go to California, but to return to Michigan to request permission to move to Fort Scott where there was a grave need for a school for pioneer children.

Father Watron received word that the Sisters would return. Though a school was much needed, as he talked with the people in Fort Scott, it was determined that the greatest need was for a hospital. They hadn’t had a hospital in the area for more than 30 years, and the closest one was 90 miles away in Kansas City. A hospital was prepared for the Sisters to manage upon their return.

Mother Mary Teresa Dolan and Sister Mary Dolores Drew, a novice at the time, returned to Kansas on April 26, 1886. Upon their arrival, they found a small hospital of 10 beds ready and waiting for operation. They both had previous nursing experience in Big Rapids, so they were at home with organizing and opening the new hospital. Operations began with the two Sisters and two lay women, one as a night nurse, the other as business manager. The Sisters also daily visited the sick in their homes.

Sister Mary Bonaventure joined them again two years later, but returned to Big Rapids after a year in Kansas due to health issues. She eventually fulfilled her dream of going to California and is credited with establishing the Sisters of Mercy in Southern California.

Annually, on September 24, Mercy celebrates “Mercy Day” to commemorate the opening of the first House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland, in 1827.  Traditionally, co-workers reflect upon the history and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy and rededicate their commitment to the ministry mission.

“Although Catherine McAuley founded our health care ministry almost 200 years ago, we continue to embody the same passion for the people we serve today,” explained Linda Noll, Mercy Health System of Kansas executive director of human resources.

“With Sister Mary Concetta Cardinale’s retirement and relocation to St. Louis in late spring, Mercy co-workers have accepted a greater responsibility with this year’s rededication - the commitment to carry the Mercy ministry forward,” shared Noll.

In recent years, the Sisters of Mercy recognized that the Mercy Health System Ministry must transition to leadership by the organization’s lay co-workers. 

“Knowing this day would come, the Sisters have long been preparing Mercy co-workers for carrying on this ministry,” stated Reta Baker, president and CEO of Mercy Health Center.  “Through formal processes, co-workers are able to deepen their understanding of and commitment to the healing ministry of Jesus in the spirit and charism of Catherine and the Sisters of Mercy.”

“Catherine actually began her ministry as a lay woman and did not become a religious Sister until late in life, a fact which inspires confidence among co-workers who now move forward into this new era,” continued Baker.  “The Sisters of Mercy have placed their trust in the ability of Mercy co-workers to live this ministry with the same compassion and exceptional service they bring to those we serve.”

Noll added, “Over the years, Sisters have been the model for compassionate care and unwavering commitment to quality and integrity. Their example is what defines the Mercy values and inspires us today to continue their vision of health care far into the future.”

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