Sisters expand nursing ministry to Wausau’s Riverside (St. Mary’s) Hospital

December 1, 1905 – After serving Milwaukee for 10 years as home nurses, the sisters felt they needed to expand their ministry. They were eager to open a hospital or clinic next to St. Mary’s Convent, but their plan did not have the support of Rome due to debt the sisters had taken on in America. St. Mary’s eventually became a home for poor elderly women and the sisters put on hold their dream to have their own hospital in the Milwaukee area.

The lab at St. Mary's, circa 1920s

The lab at St. Mary’s, circa 1920s

Although the Motherhouse in Rome never did grant permission for the sisters to open their own hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau, Wis. became a reality – without consent. In fall of 1905, Sister Engelberta Weinmann, SDS opened a letter of request from Dr. Douglas Sauerherring for Catholic Sister nurses to take over his 25-bed hospital in Wausau. Although enthusiastic about the opportunity for the sisters to run their own hospital, Sr. Engelberta tore up the letter due to the shortage of sisters in America. Later that day, word about the hospital had spread throughout the convent. With encouragement from her fellow sisters, Sr. Engelberta pieced the letter back together and agreed to tour the hospital.

The hospital tour only served to increase the sisters’ excitement. While attending the first General Chapter of the Congregation in Rome, Sr. Engelberta would present the hospital proposal. On leaving for Rome, she left the sisters with these parting words, “If you don’t hear from me by Thanksgiving, take it as a sign that you are to go to Wausau and begin.” When the holiday came and went without word from Sr. Engelberta, three sisters moved to Wausau, signed the lease, and admitted their first patient.

Meanwhile in Rome, Sr. Engelberta’s proposal had been rejected and the Motherhouse deemed it unnecessary that a response be relayed to Milwaukee. Due to lack of communication, St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau continued to grow with Salvatorian Sisters caring for 19 patients by the end of January 1906. Unaware of the decision in Rome, the sisters wrote a letter asking for more nurses, and Mother Mary willingly sent two sisters to work at the new hospital.

St. Mary's Hospital, Wausau, 1945

St. Mary’s Hospital, Wausau, 1945

As the hospital became more established, the sisters struggled to meet the demand for care in a facility equipped for just 25 patients. Friends of the sisters and the town of Wausau encouraged the sisters to expand, so they wrote to Mother Mary and her council, asking for permission to build a new facility. The proposal was approved in 1907, despite a lack of funding. The sisters went door-to-door to solicit donations from neighbors. In total, they raised $10,000 for a $75,000, 60-bed hospital. Construction began on April 1, 1907 and was completed on September 27, 1908. Sisters of the Divine Savior sponsored St. Mary’s Hospital until 1970.

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