The inaugural National Catholic Sisters Week kicks off March 8 and offers a wonderful opportunity to honor the work of sisters who have made such a difference in the lives of so many people and communities.
We recognize our Catholic sisters who responded to the needs of people by traveling to the frontier in Idaho and Oregon. They laid the foundation of our current health care in Idaho and Oregon – with the establishment of hospitals in Baker City, Boise, Nampa, and Ontario.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were serving the poor, when five Franciscan sisters left Philadelphia by train in 1885 for Baker City, Oregon. Twelve years later, after remodeling the St. Francis Academy, a new hospital was dedicated on November 21, 1897.
A priest from the Baker Diocese, Father Peter Bowe, was commissioned by Bishop O’Reilly to find more sisters willing to work in Oregon. He reached Ireland just as six Dominican sisters arrived from Portugal, having been expelled by the revolution that began in 1910.
The six sisters and one postulant headed to Oregon to open a school. What they found when they arrived in Ontario was the need for a hospital. With no background in medical care, they traveled by twos and threes to Pendleton to learn about nursing, and the finer points of running a hospital. They tirelessly collected supplies and donations; 13 months later, they opened a hospital on the edge of town.
In 1841, the Sisters of Mercy left Dublin, Ireland for America, and founded schools, hospitals and orphanages. Known as “walking sisters” and responding to requests for assistance, some came to Nampa. Without training, facilities or money, they relied on God to provide health care to those in need. After 2 ½ years of living in tents and with a small house serving as the hospital with six patient rooms, the first hospital in Nampa was built.
The Sisters of the Holy Cross came to Boise in 1889 at the invitation of Bishop Glorieux for the purpose of starting a school. As the burgeoning frontier city grew, the sisters started Saint Alphonsus in 1894 to meet the medical needs of the community.
The ministry the sisters initiated in the region continues today at Saint Alphonsus. Our mission statement, “We serve together in the spirit of the Gospel as a compassionate and transforming healing presence in our communities,” is a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus they started by caring for the sick and the poor.
We are so grateful for their obedience, faithfulness, and compassion. It is that same ministry which drives us today. Despite the challenges faced back then and with different challenges today, we still move forward with the same sense of purpose and resolution as did the sisters. We at Saint Alphonsus recognize their wonderful contributions and carry on God’s call to them to this very day.