If you’ve been in Phoenix for a while, you’ve seen St Joseph’s Hospital grow and grow and grow some more. The original, 1953 hospital, facing Thomas Road between 3rd and 5th avenues still exists but could easily go unnoticed as it sits nestled between vast new and modern buildings that have been added over the years.
The hospital was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious order that came to Phoenix from Ireland in 1892 to build a parish school. They successfully built the school but soon were overcome with people suffering from Tuberculosis and felt called to serve the community in a different way. They rented a small house on 4th & Polk Streets and established a sanitarium in 1895. It had only 12 beds and soon they had to screen in the porch to accommodate more patients — this was the birth of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
However noble their cause, the sisters had their share of problems, one of which was discrimination and a growing anti-Catholic sentiment. As silly as it sounds today, the Sisters were threatened with eviction because word on the street had it that they were stockpiling weapons and explosives to blow up protestant churches and homes! The Sisters persevered and this discrimination just fueled their desire to overcome and fulfill their mission to isolate and nurse people suffering from this dreaded and contagious epidemic.
By fall of 1895, just 2 months later, the Sisters had raised enough money to build a their own hospital with 24 private rooms. [I was unable to find any reference to the location of this new hospital so it very well could have been on the same land or very nearby the rental on 4th & Polk Streets]. This building was added to over time and at one point completely rebuilt after a fire in 1917 destroyed it. Nonetheless, this facility was sufficient for the next 30 years and served up to 100 patients at a time. Patients were segregated based on race but the Sisters did not treat the races differently — they believed in giving equal and loving care to all.
Maybe it was John Wayne movies that made people want to explore the Wild West — but from 1930 to 1945, Phoenix grew from 48,118 to over 100,000 residents! The original St. Joseph’s Hospital was now in dire need of more space once again. The Sisters, still ever so enterprising, purchased a 10-acre plot of land at 3rd avenue and Thomas Road. They were smart Sisters because although they were criticized for buying land so far north of town, they had a sense of business and purchased the land for a mere $25,000. Smart women rock! So does John Wayne! (Just wanted to see if you were reading) Also, this means that, in 1945, Willo homes were considered to be in the suburbs!
Over the last several decades St. Joseph’s has risen as a leading hospital in the U.S. providing lung and thoracic transplants, accreditation center for Medicare and Medicaid and probably best known for the Barrow Neurological Institute. It also oversees 1000+ clinical trials and is a “teaching” hospital. The Sisters of Mercy legacy lives on in this 607 bed, not for-profit hospital that is still committed to social services that aid the poor and underserved.