St. Joe celebrates 150 years

May 5, 2019

Saturday’s cool, cloudy weather didn’t dim the excitement of those gathered in St. Joseph Hospital’s courtyard to celebrate the hospital’s 150th anniversary.

St. Joe staff and supporters met up with old friends and colleagues to reminisce about the hospital’s origins amid blue and white helium balloons.

About 50 people were milling around at 11 a.m., waiting for Not My Kids, the 1980s rock cover band led by Dr. Tom Kintanar, to finish setting up and kick off the block party that included six food trucks, bubbles, Play-Doh, Silly String and sidewalk chalk.

Sister Carole Langhauser, who has compiled much of the hospital’s history, recited from memory some of the highlights, including how the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ founded St. Joe in 1869 in a former hotel when Broadway “was the edge of the city 150 years ago.”

To add perspective, Sister Carole noted that it was right after the Civil War. “So even having a hospital was a novelty,” she said, adding that St. Joe has been on the same block the entire time.

“I think the front door has been on all sides” of the building at one time or another, she said.

The nuns ran a nursing school on site until the 1980s. Students would go to class during the day and work in the hospital at night, Sister Carole said.

In the early days, she added, a nurse would sometimes return from making a house call to find a patient sleeping in her bed.

Sister Carole, who was at St. Joe from 2003 to 2013, was among the last of the order to leave Fort Wayne.

The Poor Handmaids moved the mother house from Fort Wayne in the 1920s to the north central Indiana city of Donaldson, where they are now based. They sold St. Joseph Hospital in 1998 to Quorum Health Group, three years after the same company bought Lutheran Hospital. Now both are owned by Community Health Systems.

Community Health officials last week unveiled a rendering of the new Lutheran Downtown Hospital’s exterior. Construction is expected to begin this year. When it opens, it will not carry the St. Joseph name.

Sister Carole isn’t wasting time fretting about the end of an era, however.

“I think it’s much more important that the ministry continues,” she said.

The Poor Handmaids’ mission calls for them to “stand with the poor and powerless in the search for justice and use our talents and resources in response to the emerging needs of church and society,” among other priorities.

Sister Germaine Hustedde said that work has included supporting many local nonprofits through grants awarded by the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, which was created with proceeds from the hospital’s sale. Sister Germaine sits on the foundation’s board.

Geoff Thomas, Lutheran Health Network’s spokesman, said the celebration will continue through the year.

Officials designated a goal for each month, including donating more than 150 pounds of food to Community Harvest Food Bank this month, more than 150 pints of blood to the American Red Cross in June and more than 150 new children’s books to Kate’s Kart in July.

But Thomas wasn’t focused on that Saturday.

“I keep looking to see if there’s someone I should hug,” he said. “Today’s more about hugs than handshakes.”