Back row, left to right: Sister M. Teresa Keleher, Sister M. Gabriel Gardiner, Mother M. Michael Cummings, Mother Josephine Smith; front row: Sister M. Genevieve Moultin, Sister M. Regina Monroe, Sister M. Veronica Dean
Late in the spring of 1890, two Roman Catholic nuns, Sister M. Michael Cummings and Sister M. Alphonsus Fitzpatrick, arrived in San Diego to build a hospital. They were accompanied by the bishop of the diocese, the Right Reverend Francis Mora, and together the three met with Father Ubach, who had established the first Catholic church in New San Diego. The priest had been trying for some time to bring the Sisters of Mercy to town.
Saint Joseph's Hospital, 6th and University, 1898. “Picturesquely situated on an eminence near where the road begins to descend into the historic Mission Valley...."
“Father Ubach, exultant to have secured Sisters of Mercy at long last, conducted the search for suitable property” the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” records. “A sheltered place on University Heights was recommended by the clergymen, but neither they nor the Sisters had the means available to purchase the property. The good bishop gave Mother Michael the following autograph endorsement to certify her status:
Father Ubach. “When Mother Michael took legal steps to have the hospital incorporated in the name of the Sisters, Father Ubach’s attitude began to change.
- San Diego
- June 5, 1890
- We confirm the appointment of Sister M. Michael as Mother Superior of the community of Sisters of Mercy in this city, and give permission to said community to build a hospital with their own means in or near said city.
- Francis Mora
- Bishop of Monterey and Los Angeles
Mother M. Michael Cummings Rose was born July 8, 1853, the youngest of seven children. That she was able to go to school through her thirteenth year was considered more than adequate.
“To understand the challenge of the task which faced Mother Michael,” the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” continues, “it is useful to know that San Diego in the early 90s was in the throes of a serious depression following the great Southern California land boom of the 80s. The city’s population had plummeted from 40,000 in 1886 to 17,900 in 1890.
6th and H (Market) Streets, where St. Joseph's Dispensary opened a five-bed facility in 1890. “The community was bigoted."
"The upper floors of business houses on the main streets were nailed up. Merchants had little or no business and the hotels were without guests. Few people were on the streets, and hopes were the only stimulating influence.
Dr. Clarence Rees
“This condition probably made it easier to obtain the rental of the upper stories of the Grand Central Block, a solid three story brick structure situated in the heart of the business district at the comer of Sixth and H Streets. Here on July 9, 1890, St. Joseph’s Dispensary...was opened.”
Terraced garden west of St. Joseph's Hospital. "Rows and rows of fruit and shade trees of vines and flowers greet the eye."
“[A] small notice in the weekly San Diego Union newspaper,” writes Michael Grant in San Diego Tapestry, “took note of a new infirmary on the second floor above a men’s clothing store at what is now Sixth and Market streets.
The Big House at Mt. Carmel Ranch. “Throughout 1905-1945, the most consistent focus was to provide milk and vegetables for patients at Mercy Hospital."
“ We have come to remain,’ Sister Mary Michael Cummings said, ‘and shall expect to build, in time.’ ”
“The original St. Joseph’s was a five-bed facility....,” the MercyShield Centennial Edition states. “The dispensary was not well-marked but it was strategically located to serve the surrounding community. Equidistant between the business district and wharf, on a street so well-traveled it later became ‘Market’ Street, the dispensary soon served dozens of patients a week. The Sisters of Mercy welcomed all in need, regardless of color, creed or financial circumstance. In time, this selfless ‘Spirit of Mercy’ earned for the hospital a broad base of support throughout the community....
St. Joseph's Hospital, 1921. Tent houses appear where the old men’s dorm was, and across Eighth Avenue one can see the “St. Joseph’s Hospital Nurses Home” and the old men’s dormitory building.
“No one welcomed the community’s first hospital as earnestly as the town’s small cadre of physicians.”
In 1890, there were virtually no hospitals in San Diego. William Smythe, in History of San Diego, states, “The first county hospital was the old cobblestone jail...at Old Town. It was used for a short time.... Buildings at Columbia and F Streets [were) used by Drs. Stockton and Remondino as a sanitarium for several years.”
Nurses School, c. 1904. “On July 21, 1905, a boiler within the steam-driven USS Bennington exploded in San Diego Harbor, killing 60 sailors and injuring 47. Many of those injured were treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital."
Between 1872 and 1882, according to a fall 1971 Journal of San Diego History article, the County Hospital “was in houses of various private persons possessing contracts” with the County Board of Supervisors to “board and care for the indigent sick.”
Father Ubach's funeral, St. Joseph's Church. "How great then was the sisters' joy.. .when they learned that Father Ubach was coming to the Hospital as a patient. They received him with open arms, apologies were made and pardon asked by both parties.
“In 1880,” writes Elizabeth MacPhail in The Story of New San Diego and of Its Founder Alonzo E. Horton, “the county acquired a farm in Mission Valley, near the foot of Sixth Street, and established a County Farm where the needy could live and work. It became known as the Poor Farm and a road leading down the hill was Poor Farm Road. The first County Hospital was built on this site, later moving to the top of the hill in Hillcrest, in 1903.”
"Dr. Peter Remondino played an active role in the treatment of ten of the Bennington burn victims at St. Joseph’s Hospital, all of whom survived.”
The Reverend Bonaventure Hammer, in his pamphlet “Saint Joseph’s Sanitarium,” published in 1903, discusses the nuns’ dispensary: “The newly founded community soon found work in abundance. Those nursed back to health by the Sisters’ watchful solicitude sounded the praises of their kind and competent nurses far and near. The writer of these lines had been in San Diego but a few days, when he was introduced to a gentleman who, on hearing St. Joseph’s Sanitarium mentioned, said, ‘I have the distinction of being the first patient admitted to that institution. And I am proud to say that the Sisters’ gentle and unremitting care nursed me back to health when I was given up by the doctors.
Mercy Hospital, 1938
True, it took what seemed to me a long time — two months. During this period I had ample opportunity to admire those Sisters. I entered their hospital when every other place was closed to me, not without some misgivings. But I was soon disabused of my prejudices. I saw them minister to the unfortunate consumed with fever, soothe the hopeless consumptive, and wipe the perspiration from the cold and clammy brow of the dying. Never will I hear the Sisters of Mercy of St. Joseph’s Sanitarium, San Diego, mentioned, without giving testimony to their pure, unselfish purpose and truly compassionate nature.’ ”
Sister Reagan, one of the founding Sisters of Mercy.
Later the same year, the MercyShield Centennial Edition records,“Dr. R. B. Hurbert performed in St. Joseph’s the first Caesarean section ever recorded on the Pacific Coast.”
On July 31, 1890, the San Diego Union reported that “the second floor front of St. Joseph’s Hospital, at Sixth and H, is being converted into a chapel, the sisters expecting to have an altar up next week. They are being assisted by two young women from the country, who have a disposition for the work. The patients at this new institution include a little girl and two women. One of the latter arrived last week from San Francisco for a change of climate, being in a very much reduced condition.
“The offer to board working women at a moderate rate has resulted in one saleswoman being domiciled there.”
On October 10,1890, the Union announced: “Ten patients are now being cared for at the Sisters of Mercy Hospital, Sixth and H. Yesterday a very delicate operation was performed there by four surgeons. The sufferer was a girl of 12, who had accidentally swallowed a piece of wire two weeks before. It stuck in the trachea and refused to come up within reach or to go down, so that she could speak only in a whisper. An incision was made into her windpipe, the wire removed, and the part sewed up. She will soon be around again.”
Although the dispensary grew quickly, there were difficulties, which the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” describes: “The community, however, was bigoted and the times were not propitious for paid hospital care. As the ‘Annals’ state, ‘the vexations which beset the first Convent of Mercy in San Diego well nigh broke the heart and spirit of the little community.’ Sister M. Alphonsus Fitzpatrick, who had the anxiety of a dependent invalid siste,r soon decided that the San Diego foundation was doomed to failure, so she withdrew to join Mother Bonaventure in Los Angeles. This was Mother Michael’s darkest hour. On the one hand she had Mother de Passi’s warm invitation to return to the peace and refuge of her first convent home in St. Louis; on the other hand she was taxed with her word to the bishop, the financial debts incurred in launching the dispensary, and her obligations to two aspirants who had already joined the work....
“With tremendous courage she, singlehanded, set about training her two subjects, operating the dispensary, and collecting funds for permanent hospital accommodations.”
“Mother M. Michael was thirty-seven when she undertook the San Diego foundation,” states the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego.” “Her life up to this time had prepared her well for the travail of the first hard years of the planting. Her parents, deeply religious immigrants from Galway, Ireland, had established themselves on a farm near Madisonville, Illinois. Here Rose Anna Cummings was born July 8, 1853, the youngest of seven children. These were pioneer days in midwestern United States, and that Rose Anna was able to go to school through her thirteenth year was considered more than adequate.... A deep sympathy for the poor, and the sick drew her heart to the religious life; when she was seventeen her parents permitted her to enter the Sisters of Mercy at St. Joseph’s Convent....
“On November 14, 1871, Rose Anna received the religious habit and the name Sister M. Michael.... Her profession took place exactly two years later.”
The Order of Sisters of Mercy, the “Annals of St Joseph’s Hospital” record, “dates its origin from the day of the religious profession of its sainted Foundress... Mother Catherine McCauley, which took place at Dublin, Ireland, December 12,1831. In company with a friend...she had opened, September 24,1827, a house in Baggot St., Dublin, for such works of mercy in general as the condition of her native city and country demanded. The Institution succeeded beyond expectation. Schools for poor children were opened, distressed women of good character were provided for, orphans were cared for and educated and other good works successfully undertaken.”
In 1843, an American priest, the Rev. Dr. Michael O’Connor, “came to Ireland for the purpose of obtaining a colony of Sisters of Mercy.... The party arrived in New York December 10.... The Sisters reached [Pittsburgh] on the 21st. Next day they took possession of their first convent home on the American continent.”
Other convents were established in New York City, St. Louis, Denver, and San Francisco. In 1882, Sister M. Michael Cummings arrived in Durango, along with four other nuns, to start a Mercy foundation.
“Beyond the Sierras on the Pacific Coast,” continues the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego,” “the Mother M. Bonaventure Fox, Sister of Mercy from the Grand Rapids mother-house, was struggling for the survival of Sacred Heart School, Salinas, California, which the Sisters of Loretta had given up. Bishop Nicholas C. Mats, the Ordinary of Denver, relayed Mother Bonaventure’s urgent call for help to his Mercy sisters in Durango. The need met a generous response from Sister M. Michael Cummings and Sister M. Alphonsus Fitzpatrick who once again followed the Church in its westward thrust.
“After a stopover with the hospitable Mother Baptist Russell, pioneer foundress in San Francisco, the two nuns joined Mother Bonaventure in Salinas. Before the year was over, however, it was painfully evident that this valley town was not yet ready to support a parochial school....
“It was at this point that Mother Baptist Russell, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in California... suggested that Sisters M. Michael and Alphonsus undertake the long delayed Mercy foundation in San Diego. Accordingly on May 29, 1890, the two nuns called on Rt. Rev. Francis Mora, bishop of Monterey and Los Angeles, in whose diocese San Diego was then located. He was delighted to send them to San Diego with his blessings and the prayer ‘that God would prosper and multiply the little mustard seed.’ ”
St. Joseph’s Dispensary soon outgrew its facility at 6th and H. The “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” records that “Within the year [Mother M. Michael] secured the site pointed out by Bishop Mora and Father Ubach, a ten acre property on the mesa in the northern part of the city....
“The first three story unit of SL Joseph’s Hospital, University Avenue and Sixth Street, was finished and blessed before the end of 1891. The records do not itemize the financing of Mother Michael’s building program, but magnificent faith and heroic self denial are evident: ‘Mother Michael often remarked that every-time she had commenced a new building or unit, she had not a cent in hand for its construction. Somehow or other, in every emergency, money came in.’
“In 1891 Mother Michael also began that work of mercy dear to all the California foundations, the care of the aged. The few rooms set aside for their use in the hospital were increased to twelve in a special building erected on the grounds.”
On January 1, 1893, the San Diego Union stated: “It is not the sick alone that enjoy the many benefits and comforts to be found at St. Joseph’s at the hands of the mother superior and sisters. Several aged persons have wisely chosen to make this pleasant and comfortable place their home. The payment of a moderate sum entitles them to all the benefits and kindly care for the remainder of their days. Working girls, too, often find a quiet home here, where they can enjoy a much needed rest....
“A second commodious building furnishes quarters for a large and pleasant dining room and a well ventilated kitchen. Still another building contains a smoking and reading room.”
Reverend Hammer describes St. Joseph’s Hospital, at the northeast corner of Sixth and University, as being “picturesquely situated on an eminence near where the road begins to descend into the historic Mission Valley....
“The institution is conveniently located on the electric car line, and easily reached from any part of the city. The main building is situated on University Avenue, at the head of Sixth Street. It fronts to the south, and is of pleasing architectural proportions, three stories high, with basement and attic.... It is so constructed as to receive the sunlight in all the rooms during most of the day.... Parlors, offices, private rooms and wards are kept spotlessly clean and neat, while no provision for the comfort of the patients is neglected.”
“A happy event marked 1893,” states “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego,” “the profession of the first Sister of Mercy in San Diego, Sister M. Josephine Smith, whose vows were received by Father Ubach.... Within another two years four more loyal successful candidates were ready for profession: Sisters M. Antonio, Francis Regan, Gabriel Gardiner, and Teresa Keliher.”
On March 18, 1893, the San Diego Union reported: “St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanitarium of the Sisters of Mercy of the City of San Diego yesterday filed articles of incorporation with the county recorder. The board of trustees consists of sisters Mary M. Cummings, M. P. Reen, M. J. Smith, M. F. Reagan and M. A. Quinn.”
Interestingly, a subsequent San Diego Union article on April 21, 1893, stated: “In the county recorder’s office yesterday articles of incorporation of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanitarium of the Sisters of Mercy were filed. The incorporation is for fifty years and the place of business San Diego. The five trustees elected for the first year, on March 16 last, when the organization was effected, are Sister Mary Michael Cummings, Sister M. Patricia Reen, Sister M. Josephine Smith, Sister M. Frances Regan and Sister M. Antonia Quinn.”
“In the New Year’s issue of a year ago,” the January 1, 1895, Union reported, “mention was made of the remarkable progress made by St. Joseph’s Hospital and Sanitarium and also of the many contemplated improvements. A successful year was also predicted for 1894. Every reader will be pleased at the announcement that the past year has been even more successful for this commendable institution than was anticipated and the improvements more extensive than were thought necessary at that time. The success of the Hospital and Sanitarium has so far surpassed the most sanguine expectations of the sisters that they have been unable to supply the increasing demand for admittance, hence the extensive additional buildings now almost completed. The several new buildings have been finished in keeping with the rest of the buildings. The whole institution is furnished throughout with gas and the troublesome question of how to get water enough has been settled so far as the Hospital is concerned by the construction of a large cistern of the most improved style....
“A regular staff of visiting physicians and surgeons, comprising the most eminent and successful of San Diego’s medical practitioners, has been secured, which will attend regularly.
“A practical and most important addition has been made in the appointment of a resident physician and surgeon who will be in constant attendance at the hospital, whose services are free of charge to all patients. The position is filled by Dr. Stephen Cleary, Ph.G., late of St. Mary’s hospital, San Francisco.
“The fact that both the American and British naval medical boards of this port have approved of and selected this as the hospital for the care of their sick and disabled officers and seamen is a testimonial better than words of its merits. The operating rooms, pharmacy, and laboratory have been provided with the latest appliances and conveniences.”
Trouble appeared for the Sisters in 1895, when a woman filed charges of fraud against the hospital. According to the San Diego Union on July 19, 1895: “Suit was instituted yesterday in the superior court by Margaret J. Barry, administratrix of the estate of John M. Little, deceased, against St. Joseph’s hospital, Dr. P. C. Remondino, M. Michael Cummings and M. Josephine Smith, alleging that the defendants took advantage of Little’s incapacity and disability during his last illness and induced him to sign an instrument purporting to convey to the defendants all of his property; that no sufficient consideration was named or given; that defendants afterwards sold part of the property to one Mary J. Moulton, for no consideration.’’
On August 30, 1895, the Union reported: “The defendants in the case of Margaret J. Barry, administratrix of the estate of John M. Little, deceased, vs. St. Joseph’s hospital,... et al yesterday filed their answer to the complaint, denying all the allegations of fraud in connection with the transfer by the deceased of his property to the hospital. The answer alleges that Little was in his right mind when he deeded certain property to the hospital, and that it was in return for a reasonable consideration, to wit, treatment by the Sisters and a home. The separate answer of Mary J. Moulton, one of the defendants, was also filed, containing in substance the same denials and allegations.”
The case was followed daily in the San Diego Union from October 17 to October 26, 1895, when the paper reported: “Judge Pierce rendered a decision yesterday in the case of Margaret J. Barry, administratrix of the estate of her father, John M. Little, deceased, vs. St. Joseph’s hospital et al....
“Judge Pierce was guided in making his decision by the verdict rendered a few days ago by the advisory jury, holding that the Sisters had exercised no undue influence and that while Little was of unsound mind when the transaction occurred the consideration for a home at the hospital was his consideration. The contract was for a home during his natural life, and this had been carried out.”
For the Sisters, 1895 was not a good year in another respect, as the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” describes. “Many allusions to the cross and the heavy trials of the pioneer San Diego nuns indicate that they were beyond the usual hardships of foundation work. Besides extreme poverty and the hostility of a bigoted citizenry, Mother Michael and her nuns suffered the opposition of the most influential Catholic in the town. Father Ubach himself. There is ample evidence that for the first few years he favored the work of the nuns; Mother M. Gabriel Brown of the San Francisco Sisters of Mercy relayed his sentiments in a letter to Mother Michael, May 8, 1891:
Father Ubach, while at St. Mary's expressed himself well-pleased with you and yours. He seems to take a deep and fatherly interest in all your doings. ”
However, “when Mother Michael, following the counsel of Bishop Mora, took legal steps to have the hospital incorporated in the name of the Sisters, Father Ubach’s attitude began to change. In the manner of many pastors of large areas in those days, he considered himself the arbiter of community affairs, and attempted to circumvent the incorporation. When the Sisters persisted in carrying out the recommended steps, he became alienated. For the next thirteen years until his death in 1907 his active opposition to ‘those women on the hill’ caused the nuns many bitter heartaches and difficult public relations. Attempts to clear up the misunderstanding and end the estrangement met with frustration. Although Father Ubach came to the hospital to die and ended his days in good sentiments towards the Sisters, it was many years before the shadows of his hostility were entirely dispersed.”
The “Annals” also describe the situation. “The Sisters, who were devotedly attached to the good Father, endeavored to ascertain the cause of the change in his feelings and conduct towards them; but all in vain. Some of the clergy remarked that the origin of the trouble was that the property was held in the name of the Sisters. He was opposed to this, although Rt. Rev. Bishop Mora directed that it should be so held.”
One result of the rift was that Father Henry Baert came to St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1895 to act as resident chaplain, relieving the nuns from having to interact with Father Ubach. Father Baert lived in what is now called the “Chaplains Residence” at the St Joseph s Hospital complex.
Rev. Hammer continues the hospital’s chronology. “In 1898 a new wing was added on the west side of the main building, which nearly doubled the capacity of the Sanitarium. On chilly days, which, few and far between as they are, still may occur sometimes, the whole building is comfortably heated by steam. The operating room and physicians’ apartments on the fourth floor are reached by an elevator. The operating room is pronounced by all physicians who have seen it, to be absolutely perfect as regards lighting and other requisites. The well-stocked dispensary is in charge of competent Sisters well versed in the pharmacist’s art, who fill the physicians’ prescriptions with the greatest care and scrupulous accuracy.
“The extensive grounds are beautifully laid out in shrubbery, trees and flowers. The broad lawn is intersected by cement walks, and the result is a most inviting park....
“The cosy little chapel which, so far, had served them as a place of refuge and prayer in times of trial and disappointment, had long since become too small for their increasing numbers....
“[A] new chapel was erected on the west side of the Sanitarium, with which it is connected by a covered passageway. It is a very handsome structure. The sanctuary, with its three graceful altars in white and gold, is unusually beautiful. The walls are decorated throughout in oil, in a style well befitting the simple, yet graceful architecture. Eight stained art-glass windows of appropriate design provide light. An artistic set of stations of the cross, in bas-relief, greatly enhances the beauty of this lovely and devotional shrine.
“The solemn dedication of the chapel took place on November 14, 1898.”
A November 15,1898, San Diego Union article described the chapel as “a handsome structure, built in modern style and with all modern appointments. The sanctuary is very graceful and has three beautiful altars, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. The altars are in white and gilt and were artistically decorated yesterday morning with chrysanthemums, roses, lilies, ferns and smilax. The chapel has a seating capacity of about 500 and was completely filled yesterday at the services.”
Two years later a convent was built, which Rev. Hammer describes: “Next to the Sanitarium, but in a more retired part of the grounds, is located the Sisters’ Convent. It is a large, roomy and neat building, two stories high, with basement and attic, and specially arranged for the purpose which it serves. It fronts to the east on the beautiful lawn, and to the west, north and south on artistically arranged and well-kept flower gardens.... On the west the ground slopes down into a deep canon, which is terraced from top to bottom. Here rows and rows of fruit and shade trees of vines and flowers greet the eye and present a most fascinating view. On the summit, arbors and seats distributed here and there invite to rest and quiet contemplation....
“At its rear is situated the Old Men’s Home, a large and well furnished two-story building [built probably around 1903], the dwelling of about fifty old men and invalids. Adjoining, in a separate building, is their library, reading and smoking room. Scattered about other parts of the grounds are several cottages.”
The hospital buildings that existed in the early years can be seen on a Sanborn Fire Insurance map, which was first compiled in 1888 and updated to 1904. On this map is depicted the original hospital building (built in 1891), the west wing (built in 1898), the east wing (built in 1904 and discussed later in this article), the chapel (built in 1898), the convent (built in 1900), and the old men’s dormitory and reading room (built probably around 1903). Several additional small dwelling units and other service or utility buildings were scattered around the hospital complex. Dwellings and other structures are scarce in the immediate vicinity of the hospital.
A need for more land upon which to grow vegetables and other foods for the hospital was felt due to a population increase of nuns, nurses, patients, and older men being cared for at the hospital. The St. Joseph’s Sanitarium Garden, located across University Avenue from the main hospital building, was no longer sufficient for their needs. “In 1899,” according to the MercyShield Centennial Edition, “the Sisters of Mercy acquired a 1,000-acre ranch near Del Mar. Every day for the next 30 years, milk, cheese, butter, eggs and fresh vegetables were transported from the ranch to the hospital in Hillcrest.”
A Historic Architectural Survey Report for the ranch was completed by the California Department of Transportation (Cal-trans). The report states: “In 1899, the McGonigle family bequeathed more than 1000 acres in the Carmel Valley to the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy named their ranch the Mt. Carmel Ranch, after a ridge in what is now Israel, and it was from that designation that the valley gained its modern name.”
The Caltrans Architectural Inventory/Evaluation Form for Mt. Carmel Ranch lists 15 structures and a “landscape feature.” The “Big House” was built in 1905. “In plan, the building reflects its combined original uses as the headquarters for a large working farm as well as a retreat for the Sisters of Mercy in San Diego. The basement originally contained the kitchen and two dining areas — one for the Sisters, one for the hired hands. The first story included the common areas for the community, including a small chapel. The second story and attic contained a large number of small bedrooms....
“In the area of vernacular architecture, the Big House is a distinctive example of gabled front vernacular residential design. Clearly influenced by Greek Revival traditions in its massing and detail (gable returns, boxed cornice, window surrounds), the building is a handsome if somewhat late example of a building type found throughout the United States, particularly in rural areas. It is an unusual example, however, in its large proportions and plan, being designed to serve both as a ranch house and dormitory.”
The May 1977 Mercy Shield describes the Big House as being “...constructed of heavy redwood brought to San Diego from northern forests on sailing ships. Following construction of the Big House, a large dairy barn, silo and water tank were also built from the same material. Were it not for the fact that redwood, considered a real luxury in that day, was used in these structures, they most likely would not still be standing in the fine condition that they are today.”
Other structures at the site included a wash house, reservoir, small silo, three sheds, hay barn, large silo, milk barn, cottage, and 11 Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), described in the Caltrans report as lining “the northern side of the driveway leading from Carmel Valley Road to the Big House.... It is likely that this formal landscaping feature is nearly as old as the Big House.”
The report continues: “Relying upon information supplied by the Sisters of Mercy, Frank Knechtel, a lifetime resident of the valley, and the current owners. .. it is possible to reconstruct the chronology of events at the Mt. Carmel Ranch during the period, 1899-1945, when it was owned by the Sisters of Mercy.
“The Sisters apparently did little with the land during the first five or six years they owned the property....
“Around 1905, the Sisters commissioned the building of the Big House. According to Knechtel, the house was built by two young carpenters from San Diego on a general plan developed by Mother M. Michael. This explanation is the more plausible in that it is documented that Mother M. Michael was active in the design of buildings at the original Mercy Hospital, then called St Joseph’s, especially in designing the Motherhouse....
“Throughout most of its period of significance, the Mt. Carmel Ranch was operated to fulfill three objectives: to provide dairy products and produce for use at Mercy Hospital; to provide a retreat for the Sisters of Mercy who worked at Mercy Hospital; and to provide a home for the homeless. At various times, one or another of these goals gained precedence over the others.
“Over most of this period, a small number of Sisters lived permanently at the ranch to supervise the agricultural operation and care for the homeless. Frank Knechtel recalls that the permanent residents numbered between 4 and 6 sisters, with Sister M. Patricia supervising the operation for the longest period of time....
“Prior to 1916, the Big House was apparently used as a residence for the aged, too poor to stay for extended period[s] at St. Joseph’s (Mercy) Hospital. During World War I and for a short period afterward, the Big House was used as an orphanage. According to Sister M. Athanasius Sheridan, as many as 22 orphans lived there.
“Throughout the period 1905-1945, the most consistent focus of the operation was to provide milk and vegetables for patients at Mercy Hospital. The productivity of the ranch changed over time as agricultural practices improved In the early years, a large portion of the ranch acreage was necessarily planted to grain and alfalfa, to feed the cattle as well as the mules. Frank Knechtel, who worked at the ranch as a teenager in the early 1930s, recalls that the Sisters kept 12 mules along with 40-50 head of cattle. The vegetable garden was maintained by a Chinese gardener who lived on the ranch, in a building that no longer exists. In addition to cattle and mules, the Sisters kept hogs at the ranch, maintaining, in Knechtel’s recollection, between 10 and 15 breeding sows. The hog operation-laid the basis for another cooperative relationship between Mercy Hospital and the Mt. Carmel Ranch. The trucks that daily hauled milk and vegetables to Mercy Hospital carried back garbage from the hospital which could be fed to the hogs....
“About 1935, the Sisters began to modernize the farm while divesting themselves of responsibility for its operation....
“By 1936, the Sisters had apparently vacated the property altogether and turned its management over to a skilled dairyman, Albert M. Foersch.... Foersch was watching over a herd of 75 Guernsey and Holstein cattle and delivering over 100 gallons of milk a day to the hospital, along with various vegetables in season.
“By 1943, the Sisters had leased the property to Foersch with an option to buy. Finally, in 1945, the Sisters sold the property outright to George Gress.... Gress operated the ranch for two years before he sold it to...the current owners and occupants of the property.”
Father Baert, the chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital, died in 1902. The “Annals” report his death, stating: “On Monday, August 25, 1902, there passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital, San Diego, Rev. Henry J. Baert, Chaplain of the Institution. The funeral took place from the Chapel of the Hospital on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. The clergy chanted the Office of the Dead, which was followed by a High Mass of Requiem, celebrated by Rev. M. Ternes of St. Joseph’s Church, San Diego, under the direction of Rev. Thomas Fahey, also of St Joseph’s Church, with Mrs. Vincent presiding at the organ; the Sisters’ choir sang the Gregorian Requiem in a most impressive and effective manner.”
The “Annals” quote a eulogy given by Father Bonaventure at the conclusion of Father Baert’s requiem mass, and it is from such eulogies that we learn about those who have departed. He stated: “Father Baert was a native of Belgium. From early youth he felt a vocation to the priesthood, and after a thorough preparation of many years, he had the supreme happiness of offering up for the first time, with consecrated hands, the unbloody sacrifice of the New Law. His zeal for souls then led him to join a Society of Missionary Priests whose object is the conversion of heathens in pagan lands.
“His Superiors sent him to the Mission in India, and in that distant country and its death-dealing climate, he spent seventeen years, laboring with great zeal and notable success for the conversion of the natives and the spiritual welfare of the Europeans that gathered in the cities. So devoted was he to his arduous duties, that he at length fell a victim to his labors, and may well be called a martyr to his zeal, for it was in India that his constitution was undermined by the insidious illness which finally ended his life.
“He was then advised by his Bishop to seek recuperation in his native country.... After a sojourn of some years in Belgium, he felt able to resume missionary work, and was assigned to duty in Oregon. After a period of laborious parish work there, his declining health compelled him to seek lighter duties, and he was appointed chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital, in charge of the Sisters of Mercy, San Diego. During the seven years in which he held this appointment, he proved himself at all times a most kind father and wise director, notable for his love of retirement....”
Father Baert is buried at the far western end of Calvary Cemetery, which is adjacent to Grant Elementary School in Mission Hills. His tombstone, placed at the southeastern corner of the cemetery, reads: “Rev. H. J. Baert, Native of Belgium, Died August 25,1902, Aged 60 Y’rs, R.I.P.” His death certificate indicates that Dr. P.C. Remondino attended him from January 1 to August 25,1902. His death was caused by tropical “hepatitus and gastroentritis contracted in India.”
Other buildings went up at the St. Joseph Hospital campus. “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego” states: “A long cherished dream of Mother Michael was a training school for nurses to provide the best scientific professional nursing education for St. Joseph’s dedicated workers.”
“In 1904,” according to the MercyShield Centennial Edition, “St. Joseph’s opened San Diego’s first training school for nurses, a three-year college that produced 1,550 graduates before closing in 1970.”
Rev. Hammer writes that “The Convent connected with St. Joseph’s Sanitarium is the Novitiate and Training School of the community....
“The object of the novitiate and training school is to prepare the novice for her vocation, if she have such. First of all, it teaches her how to perform the duties of the religious life, which demands of her not an ordinary service of God, but rather a higher and more perfect one, as is evident from the nature and character of the religious life....
“During the novitiate the novice is not under vows, but enjoys the full liberty of returning to the world at any time. Not until after pronouncing the perpetual vows is the novice bound forever, on her part, to the religious state....
“As to her future active duties, she is trained in everything pertaining to her office. Ministering to the sick under the careful supervision of the regular nurses and the physicians, the novices soon learn their difficult task, because they have learned the more arduous one of self-denial.”
A writing called “Factual History of Mercy Hospital, San Diego,” located in the Mercy Hospital archives, says, “In June 1904 a new wing was completed at St. Joseph’s Hospital... and dedication ceremonies were performed by the Right Reverend Bishop Conaty. The Bishop and his attendants proceeded through the corridors, blessing them and dedicating them to the service of the sick.”
“[T]he addition of an east wing,” states the MercyShield Centennial Edition, “gave the newly christened ‘St. Joseph’s Hospital’ state-of-the-art operating rooms, classrooms and X-ray facilities.”
“On July 21,1905,” relates the MercyShield Centennial Edition, “a boiler within the steam-driven USS Bennington exploded in San Diego Harbor, killing 60 sailors and injuring 47. Many of those injured were treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the Sisters received widespread acclaim for the care they provided the ‘gallant jackies’ of the Bennington.”
In his thesis entitled “The U.S.S. Bennington: Policy or Personnel?” Broeck Newton Oder discusses the Bennington disaster and the role local hospitals played in the tragedy: “The meager hospital facilities of San Diego strained to accommodate the unprecedented flow of injured men. St. Joseph’s Sanitarium and the Agnew Sanitarium soon filled to capacity, and the old Army Barracks had to be opened as an auxiliary hospital. The San Diego Union reported: ‘The rooms were crowded to such an extent that there were three, four, and five in a room, and the doctors had to find some means of relief.’ The Sun further described the scene: ‘Soon the floors of every room in the sanitarium were filled with the injured men. Some were placed on cots, others on blankets, and others were placed on the bare carpet.’
“Men walked around naked with sheets of flesh clinging loosely to their bodies. Those individuals the doctors could not attend to aided these wounds with generous amounts of vaseline and axle grease smeared onto the flesh. To alleviate the sufferings, the citizens of San Diego flooded the hospitals with pillows, blankets, literary materials, bedding, fruits, tobacco, and ice cream. Over one hundred women volunteered their services at the infirmaries.
“The entire community of San Diego felt the enormity of the tragedy. All scheduled events underwent cancellation or modification....
“The morticians of San Diego found themselves unprepared to deal with an influx of some fifty corpses. By evening on July 22, the death toll had mounted to fifty-nine, with at least ten more injured men expected to succumb within two days. Large numbers of people flocked to the funeral homes to identify remains or pay respects to the dead, but one undertaker complained: ‘They are nothing but curiosity mongers. The worst of it is that so many are women and young girls.
They are not satisfied to see one body, but they want to see them all.’ Despite the overcrowded facilities, forty-seven bodies were prepared for burial on Sunday, July 23, in the Post Cemetery at the Army installation, Fort Rosecrans.
“Flags all over San Diego flew at half-mast as rude wooden coffins filled flat wagons. The silent procession moved along the dirt road toward Old Town, joined now and again by private carriages. Other San Diegans travelled the five miles across the bay to the shores of Point Loma and hiked up the steep cliffs.
“The carts creaked their way up the bay side of Point Loma, stopped at times due to the weight of the cargo. At three that afternoon, the desolate post cemetery, surrounded by a picket fence, opened its gates to receive the mourners. For one hour and fifteen minutes, survivors of the Bennington came forward in sixes to receive the coffins of their friends and to lay them in a long trench dug by a primitive steam shovel. A Protestant minister [Rev. J.A.M. Richey] and a Roman Catholic priest [Father Ubach] read prayers over the caskets....
“Army riflemen fired three sharp volleys over the graves, a bugler sounded muffled ‘Taps,’ and the crowd filed away.”
In 1907, Father Ubach died. As the “Annals” state “Many and heart-rending were the trials endured by the Sisters during the long years of estrangement and misunderstanding. How great then was their joy.. .when they learned that Father Ubach was coming to the Hospital as a patient. The Sisters received him with open arms, apologies were made and pardon asked by both parties, and none too soon, for the good Father, ere many days, passed into a state of delirium from which he never recovered....
“Father Ubach died at the Hospital on March 26, 1907, and strange to relate, Mother M. Josephine, who, it would seem had long been his nightmare, was the only one with him to send forth the last petitions to God for mercy for his soul, when he was in his agony, which came suddenly and passed quickly, not even affording time for his friends in the Institution to be called to his bedside.”
In his History of San Diego 1542-1907, William Smythe writes that Father Ubach “had been in failing health for several months, but insisted upon pursuing his accustomed tasks until he could no longer appear in public. His death, though not unexpected, impressed the community profoundly. It was the sundering of the last link which connected the new day with the olden time, for Father Ubach was in truth ‘the last of the padres.’ His funeral, which occurred in his church on the forenoon of Wednesday, April 2d, was exceedingly impressive. Bishop Conaty conducted the elaborate ceremonies and pronounced the eulogy. The church was filled to overflowing, while thousands of mourners remained outside the building.... The historic priest sleeps in the Catholic cemetery on the mesa, which overlooks the scene of his labors.”
The funeral is described by Elizabeth MacPhail in The Story of New San Diego and of Its Founder Alonzo E Horton: “His funeral was one of the largest ever held, in San Diego. St. Joseph’s Cathedral was packed to capacity. Thousands stood outside in respect. Indians arrived carrying wildflowers they knew he loved. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Mission Hills where an impressive memorial was erected over his grave.”
Father Ubach is buried in the western end of the cemetery, but his tombstone is at the southeastern end. It reads: “Rev. A. D. Ubach, 1835-1907, Native of Spain for over Forty Years, Faithful and Beloved Pastor in San Diego.” His death certificate indicates he was a patient for a half month at St. Joseph’s Hospital at the time of his death and had lived in California for 40 years. He was “about 72” when he died of uremia, contributory cause of longstanding cardiac degeneration. Dr. P.C. Remondino was his physician.
Death took another person instrumental in the development of St Joseph’s Hospital, as the “Annals” indicate: “At an early hour, March 24, 1911, Mother M. Josephine died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, with which Institution she had been connected for many years. Mother M. Josephine was the first Sister of Mercy professed in San Diego. Rev. Father Ubach received her vows on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16,1893, the anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in San Diego, by the saintly Franciscan Father Junipero Serra.... Her loss was keenly felt by the community to whom her life had been a source of encouragement, strength and hope....
“Mother Josephine had been in failing health yet she continued to be an active worker until Nov. 24, 1909, when she was stricken by paralysis, and rendered speechless until her death, which did not take place until sixteen months later, on March 24, 1911. After being stricken she was unconscious for a few weeks, but her naturally rugged constitution enabled her to recover her normal health, and her mind became unusually bright and keen for one in her condition.... Just before she was stricken with paralysis, she suffered a rather severe attack of cystitis; during this illness she made her review confession, as preparation for death, which she felt was approaching. The funeral services took place at the chapel of the Hospital.... The chapel was filled by the business men of San Diego and their families.”
A portion of an article written by a friend of 18 years, Rev. J.J. Conlan, is included in the “Annals”: “Devoting herself with entire singleness of purpose to assist in the solid establishment of an institution for the Christian care of the Aged and the Sick, in a district where Christian faith was weak, and where only vanishing traces remained of the once flourishing mission of the Spanish Franciscans, like them in their day, she also earned more censure than honor, but in the eyes of those who knew her best, she stood as a strong type of those who love approval only when it is gained through justice, and to whom duty and loyalty are above all price....
“This perhaps would not mean much in the ordinary community, but in the case of San Diego, only a soul of heroic qualities could have maintained its serenity and poise as did Mother Josephine, through the weary struggle of twenty-one years with poverty, and the opposition of prejudice. It has been aid that the world does not know its real heroes, and this thought has often occurred to those who observed Mother Josephine during the frequent, dark and apparently hopeless crises of the early days of St. Joseph’s.... She sent no trumpet before her on her errands of mercy, and as little would she appreciate the sounding of her praises now; but no one melted more easily at a tale of suffering, or was quicker to apply the remedy of relief or sympathy....
“She was born at Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan, Ireland, of stock who gave without stint, in all .its branches, servants to the cause of God. Her two brothers became priests, one of them being at present Pastor at St. Patrick’s, Omaha, the other died on the Mission in Ireland. From her youth she coveted the habit of the nun, and from the day her wish was realized, she never wavered for an instant in her love, loyalty and devotion to the holy cause it represented. May she rest in peace.”
Sister Mary Josephine Smith is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in the Sisters of Mercy plot in the St. Elizabeth section. Her tombstone reads: “Mother Josephine Smith, Born 1853, Professed 1893, Died 1911, RIP.” Her death certificate reveals her birth in h Ireland on April 28,1853. Her father was Thomas Smith; her mother’s name was unknown. She was under the care of Dr. P.C. Remondino and died of a cerebral embolism and other causes.
Rev. Hammer discusses the doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital, stating: “From the very beginning Dr. P. C. Remondino and Dr. Thomas Davis proved themselves devoted friends of the institution. Dr. Burnham’s attentive solicitude and valuable services as house physician during five years will ever be gratefully remembered, whilst the kind and conscientious treatment accorded to patients by Dr. Franklin, Dr. Valle, Dr. Hurlburt, Dr. Hearne and Dr. Gregg entitles them to the deep and lasting gratitude of all who experienced it.”
One might ask, who was Dr. Peter G Remondino, the doctor who treated Father Baert, Father Ubach, and Sister M. Josephine Smith? In William Smythe’s History of San Diego 1542-1907, we find a brief biography, which states: “Dr. P. C. Remondino is...one of the few living pioneer physicians. He is a native of Turin, Italy, whose parents came to America while he was young. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1865. Coming to San Diego in January, 1874, he opened an office next door to his old classmate, Dr. Gregg, and entered at once upon the practice of his profession. He was city physician in 1875-76; county physician for several terms; surgeon for the California Southern Railroad Company for some time; surgeon of the Marine Hospital, also surgeon for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.
“In 1887 he retired and built the St. James Hotel. In later years he resumed practice.... He is the author of several works on medical subjects which have a wide popularity, and is engaged in the preparation of others. His technical library is one of the best in the United States.”
In his thesis entitled “The Fever of Life: The Story of Peter Charles Remondino,” Peter Ottaviano writes:
“Dr. Remondino found success in the 1890s through his pen and practice. The majority of his published books and articles appeared during the decade. In 1890 he began his productive twenty-five year association with St. Joseph’s Dispensary.. .. Four years later he built and occupied his last and most notable San Diego home on the northwest corner of Fifth and Beech, in which he and his wife lived until his death in 1926....
“He was closely aligned as a physician with the Sisters of Mercy from 1890 through 1914. The Sisters of Mercy started St. Joseph’s Dispensary at San Diego’s H Street (Market) and 6th Avenue on July 9, 1890. Their original Patient Log recorded that within six months Remondino sent his first phthisis (tuberculosis) patient to them on November 15, 1890. During the decade he admitted 377 patients with many different ailments to St. Joseph’s. In the first three years the leading causes were tuberculosis, surgical operations, alcoholism, and carcinoma....
“In his last decade as a full-time physician and surgeon from 1900 to 1910, Remondino’s medical practice continued at a steady pace, and he admitted significant numbers of patients to St. Joseph’s Hospital each year. The annual total fluctuated between a low of 25 in 1901 and a high of 58 in 1908.
“During Remondino’s relationship with St Joseph’s, perhaps the most famous disaster emergency of the period was the deadly explosion on board the Navy gunboat, U.S.S. Bennington, in San Diego Harbor on July 21, 1905. Remondino played an active role in the treatment of ten of the burn victims at St. Joseph’s Hospital, all of whom survived.”
“On July 9,1915,” the “Factual History of Mercy Hospital” records, “the sisters quietly celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the hospital. Present was Mr. John O’Connell, the first patient to be received into the hospital, and ever since a devoted friend....
“[In 1918] the Chapel ceiling was repaired and the whole chapel was newly painted and decorated. Steps were also taken, this year, to build and equip a laundry. This eliminated a great inconvenience and expense.”
On New Year’s Day, 1917, in the Union’s special annual section promoting San Diego, a drive was begun by the sisters to raise funds for a new hospital. Plans for a large new hospital were depicted as rendered by architect Harrison Albright. Statistics were reported about the nonsectarian charity that the sisters had provided in their years of operation, and testimonials were given by Mayor Edwin Capps, Senator Leroy Wright, Health Officer Dr. Alfred Banks, Chamber of Commerce secretary E.F. Stahle, city judge George Puterbaugh, and others, attesting to the charity of the sisters and the need for a new hospital. At this time, the only other hospital was San Diego County Hospital, built in 1904 at the present location of UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.
The January 1,1917, Union article reported: “Construction will be started within the year upon the new Mercy Hospital, an institution sufficient in size for the present needs of the city and for the progress that is certain to take place within the next few years. The new hospital will cost $200,000 for buildings and equipment, and will be the last word in every particular of its arrangement and furnishings. Its location will be in the most choice section of the city, easily accessible and yet far enough away from the busy sections to eliminate the noise of heavy traffic.
“While scarcely half of the required amount has been subscribed, work: others in the campaign are confident that the full $200,000 will be forthcoming before the date set for the beginning of actual construction”
However, the plans proved too ambitious. The “Annals” discuss the building of a new “Annex” facility on the old St. Josephs grounds, stating: “In the previous year so-called ‘drive’ had been made in the city to secure funds for the construction of a new fire-proof Hospital on the fine site donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stephens [the site of the present Mercy Hospital ]. But as the ‘drive’ did not meet with the success expected, and the amount subscribed was only about $51,000, of which only $22,000 in cash was realized, the Bishop permitted an annex to be built on the east side of the Hospital, which was to serve as a surgery and furnish a hall for the instruction of the pupil-nurses.
“The new building was so constructed that it may be removed when a new Hospital is built. The assembly hall was placed on the first floor with quarters for a complete installment of X-Ray and radium treatment; while on the second floor the surgical rooms and outfit were so conveniently and completely furnished as to call for the admiring comments of local and visiting surgeons. However, it was not till the following year, 1919, that the building was finished and every equipment was at hand, and the house blessed. Many thanks we owe to Dr. Gahan for the donation of the valuable sterilizer and also for the Murphy Operating Table for the surgery.
“On September 12th at noon a fire broke out in the Convent, owing probably to the accumulation of soot in a chimney from the kitchen. The fire gained such headway that not only the Convent seemed doomed, but the Hospital appeared in great danger of becoming ignited. The firemen labored in union with the old men and laborers on the place with such energy and anxiety that the conflagration was soon subdued, although the roof with the third floor was practically destroyed, and the second floor so gutted with water and debris that the task of cleaning and renovating it seemed endless.
“The agents of the Insurance Companies were very considerate and allowed a fair equitable estimate of the damage inflicted. The moneys contributed permitted some very useful improvements, so that the fire eventually appeared to have been a blessing in disguise. The old people admired the new dining-room installed, while the Sisters appreciated the large kitchen with its appurtenances, the commodious refectory, and the increase in sleeping apartments. Indeed, not a few visitors expressed the opinion that our Convent is one of the homiest and most cheerful convents they have seen.”
The nurses of St. Joseph’s Hospital needed a residence, for they lived in a group of older dwellings scattered around the hospital complex. This wish was realized, as stated in the “Annals”: “This year 1920 the grounds of the Hospital appeared like a busy beehive. Hitherto, our pupil-nurses were domiciled in several cottages that we rented in our neighborhood. The inconveniences were many and the accommodations unsatisfactory. The State Board of Nurses Examiners urged the construction of more suitable quarters. Pursuant to this insistence, although much embarrassed for funds, we deliberated what steps to take in this direction.
“It was finally thought best to buy two lots across [Eighth Avenue] from the hospital grounds for the erection of a nurses-home. Some cottages were purchased and re-arranged, others renovated and rooms thereunto added, and all moved to and harmoniously located on the free lots in the rear of the hospital property. These cottages and halls were supplied with steam heat and assigned to the old people, who had secured homes with us.
“In the meantime, the large old people’s original home was dismantled and moved to the vacant lots across the street and there converted with considerable expense, into an admirable and well-equipped home for the pupil-nurses. This nurses-home was also supplied with steam heat, a new large boiler having been added to the laundry. December 8th the house was blessed but was not ready for occupancy till shortly before Xmas. All visitors have expressed admiration for the comfortableness and beauty of the Home, none more so than the efficient Secretary of the State Board of Examiner.”
The 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map depicts the increase in the number of buildings on the St Joseph’s campus. The Annex, housing the nurses’ meeting hall and second-floor surgery, is attached to the east end of the hospital and is connected to it by a passageway at the second floor level of both buildings.
Tent houses appear where the old men’s dorm was, and across Eighth Avenue one can see the “St. Joseph’s Hospital Nurses Home” and the old men’s dormitory building, which was moved to this location. At the northeast corner of the complex are depicted the buildings of the St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged, which was in existence until about 1972. The garden, located across University Avenue, has disappeared, and more structures appear in the immediate neighborhood of the hospital.
The 1921 map shows a moderate increase in the number of buildings in the neighborhood surrounding St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“Now well-established locally, St. Joseph’s was making its mark nationally as well,” records the MercyShield Centennial Edition. “In 1921, due largely pectoris and myocarditis.
“Those who knew Mother Michael best often remarked on her fine administrative habit of having her work so systematized that it could go on smoothly without her,” reports the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego ” “Sister M. Angeles Cooney who had been closely associated with Mother Michael since her entrance to the San Diego community in 1901 took up the duties of superiorship until the first general chapter of the amalgamated communities was held in July, 1923. The appointments of that summer sent Sister M. Angela to Oxnard to take charge of St. John’s Hospital and brought Sister M. Ligouri McNamara to San Diego in the office of local superior of St Joseph’s Hospital”
The “Annals” continue: “It was left for Sister M. Ligouri to complete all arrangements for the borrowing of the money required to erect a large fire-proof hospital. The Sisters in San Diego had several large and valuable pieces of property, some of which had been purchased at a nominal figure in the pioneer days of San Diego, and other parcels being gifts to the Sisters from patients, who, out of grateful recognition for services rendered them, were glad to offer in lieu of money, the property which they owned. All this property was mortgaged to the Hibernia Bank and a loan approximating $700,000 was raised.
“On August 23,1923, ground was broken on the site of the new hospital, a short distance from the present St. Joseph’s and sufficiently distant from the car line to obviate the noise which was now becoming objectionable to the patients. This site, costing twenty-five thousand dollars, was a gift from Mrs. (Anson P.j Stephens and family in the old days of St. Joseph’s.
“The work of construction was begun immediately. Busy days followed for the Sisters, and many trips back and forth were made during the months of construction. It was always a joy to witness the progress of the new building as it raised aloft its stately pile....
“The erection of the new hospital was progressing, but funds were required for its equipment in addition to the cost of the building. A Convent was also needed together with a Nurses’ residence and, a home for the old people. Located as they were, near the old hospital site, it was very inconvenient for all, requiring the Sisters to walk to and from the new building several times a day. These problems were all considered and with indomitable courage Sister M. Ligouri, accompanied by one of the Sisters, set about canvassing the city for financial aid.
“Many stories could be told of the various ways in which the citizens of San Diego received the Sisters; some showed the greatest kindness and cordiality, others showed coldness and in a few instances, even disdain; but on the whole, the residents of San Diego were most generous and gave their hearty cooperation to the Sisters in their great enterprise.
“A call was made upon Mr. John D. Spreckels, San Diego’s great financier, and Mr. Spreckels proved to be a friend indeed to the Sisters. He promised them a contribution sufficient to erect a wing to the main hospital.
“On March 30,1924, Mr. Spreckels called at the hospital in person to confirm his promise, and paid a visit to the new site; he expressed his pleasure at the progress of the building. This was a happy day for the Sisters for they had been assured by many that they could expect no assistance from Mr. Spreckels, statements which subsequent events proved to be entirely false....
“On May 9,1924, the Corporate title of St. Joseph’s Hospital was changed to that of Mercy Hospital.’ It was Sister Mary Ligouri’s wish to have the new hospital named after our Lady of Mercy, and in order to enable the people to become accustomed to the new name, the change was made before moving to the new building.”
“Saturday, November 15,1924,” the “Factual History of Mercy Hospital” states, “the Sisters, nurses, and patients bid a final adieu to the old St. Joseph’s. Moving began at noon and by six p.m. the patients were resting comfortably in their new surroundings which had been previously blessed by the Right Reverend Bishop Cantwell.”
“The Sisters and the old people in their care retained living quarters at the old St. Joseph’s for another year when this property was sold, Jan. 15, 1926, with the proviso that the building be vacated within thirty days,” according to “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego.”
The “Factual History of Mercy Hospital” states that “In September [ 1925], work was begun in wrecking the old hospital. The ground was well cleared of debris.”
The old St. Joseph’s property was sold to two brothers, as the San Diego Union reported on January 20, 1926: “Sale of the site formerly occupied by the old St. Joseph’s hospital, one of the biggest local real estate transactions in many months, was announced yesterday by G. L. Wilson, through whom G. A. and K. G. Bush acquired the property in a deal which involved more than $200,000. The negotiations were carried on for more than a month before the sale was finally consummated and G. A. and K. G. Bush acquired title to the property.
“The new owners of the site have been very active lately in real estate in various parts of the county and especially here in San Diego. They have been particularly interested in the development of University avenue east of Fifth street and have made some large investments in property on that street.
“The site just purchased is on the north side of University avenue and extends east 600 feet from Sixth street. It is approximately as deep as it is long, and includes approximately 10 acres of land. The improvements on the property in the way of buildings are worth not less than $50,000, it was said yesterday, and they are so situated that they will not interfere with the development of the University avenue frontage. They are also in such condition that they can easily be moved if the development of the property contemplates the use of the land for other purposes than those for which the buildings already there are suited.
“G. A. Bush announced yesterday, in confirming the announcement by Mr. Wilson, that no development will be started at once, but that the tract will be carefully surveyed before anything else is done. The property will then be offered for sale for high-class business development. It is expected to prove extremely popular, for the Hillcrest district is growing rapidly and the values are appreciating accordingly.
“The two new owners of the site recently announced the purchase of a quarter block of land at Falcon and Washington streets, where they will erect a motion picture theatre. They will also announce in the near future the purchase of another lot for another theatre to add to their growing string of picture houses and other realty developments in the city”
The City Directory for 1926 lists the Bush brothers as owners of the Bush Theatres, and the Bush Investment Company was located at 821 C Street, downtown.
A Sanborn Fire Insurance map updated to the 1940s shows that the land purchased by the Bush brothers was not developed as they had anticipated, for the only business that was on the property was a small restaurant and an auto repair shop. One factor that may have played a part in the lack of development of the property was the death of Grant Bush in January 1936, nearly ten years to the day after the brothers purchased the property. His funeral notice listed him as a philanthropist, theatrical man, and inventor.
As a result of the sale of the old St. Joseph’s property, the nuns and the old people who lived on the former St. Joseph’s site had to move to new quarters. “Accommodations were found in cottages on Hill-crest Drive [now Fifth Avenue, north of Washington] and Lewis Street; some of the nuns slept in the sun-room attached to the nurses’ lecture hall. These were days of hardship and inconvenience, and great was the joy when the separate convent building began next to the hospital was sufficiently finished for the Sisters to move in, December, 1926. Suitable homes for their elderly charges were found in cottages on Hillcrest Drive.
“This same banner year, 1926, also saw the completion of the north wing of the hospital and the new Mercy School of Nursing,” states the “Sisters of Mercy in San Diego.” “Mother Michael’s dream of a complete reconstruction of her establishment had come true within four years of her death. On November 2,1927, another blessing came with a bequest of $300,000 from the estate of Mr. John Spreckels. Ground was broken for the Spreckels Wing (south), January 19,1928.”
The San Diego Union, on July 5, 1971, reported what happened to the remaining buildings on the old St Joseph’s campus: “When the 1891 St. Joseph’s on University Avenue was demolished, it left behind 22 one-story buildings that had been used mainly to house nurses, interns and workers.
“These buildings survived as rental units, and eventually came to be owned by John J. Gasperski and Hans Landt.
“Such old buildings could command only low rents, which could not keep pace with the rising taxes, the owners say.
“So they decreed that another bit of old San Diego had to die.
“The buildings, which run from 3944 to 3984 Eighth Ave., near Washington Street, were vacated. The last tenants left Thursday.
“Tomorrow, the buildings go under the wrecker’s ball. A 60-unit apartment complex will rise on the site.
“ ‘All that will be left will be two palm trees we understand were planted in 1854,’ said Landt ‘They’re supposed to be the only seedless date trees in the country.’
“However, over the years the buildings bequeathed, so to speak, many items now scattered in various homes.
“ ‘As the buildings were altered,’ says Landt, ‘the valuable antiques from the Victorian period, the 1890s, were sold or given away. Such items as newel posts, fireplaces, decorations.
“So there wasn’t much left when we got ready to vacate. But there was enough to hold a garage sale. So we took out an ad. People showed up to buy old furnishings, pull-chain toilets and door knobs. Some items were sold off at an auction in Lemon Grove.’ ”
The current Mercy Hospital was built in the 1960s. An article in the San Diego Union on July 8,1990, discussed the hospital’s history: “One hundred years ago tomorrow, two Roman Catholic nuns opened the predecessor of today’s Mercy Hospital in two rooms of a San Diego hotel with a wealth of spirit and desire, but few medical supplies.
“Mercy Hospital now enters its second century with helicopters flying patients to a 523-bed medical center filled with sophisticated drugs and life-prolonging equipment, but only a handful of sisters to keep the institution’s spirit vibrant.
“Nearly 100 Sisters of Mercy once bustled through the hallways when the hospital was the regions only fully equipped and staffed medical facility....
“Now there are just seven Sisters of Mercy at the Hillcrest hospital, officials say, with four others living in retirement in an adjacent convent....
“Whatever the changes, 86-year-old Sister Mary Imelda Patterson, one of the few sisters still alive [now deceased] who knew a Mercy founder, said one watchword remains the same.
“ ‘Commitment,’ said Patterson.... The world is turned around; things go so fast. People need commitment for everything— work, marriage or whatever. Often, there is no commitment now....
“During 1920-21, Sister Mary Imelda Patterson trained at Mercy Hospital, working primarily in food service. She is one of only a handful of people. . .who knew the founding Sister Mary Michael.
“ ‘We had about 18 or 19 tents out back for the TB patients,’ said Patterson, who [lived] in a retirement home in Burlingame, the home of the Sisters of Mercy order. ‘That was so the patients would have fresh air.
“ ‘It is hard to give a real picture of Sister Mary Michael. You knew she was an outstanding person as soon as you met her. There was a kindness, gentleness. She had a gift of being able to correct people in a way that they never felt any resentment.
“ ‘She had showed great management capabilities, even as a girl on a farm before she entered the convent at 17. People would turn the sick farm animals over to her for treatment.’ ”
The nuns at St. Joseph’s Hospital increased in number during the early years, as revealed by the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census figures. In 1900, there were 14 nuns and 7 novices (at least 5 of whom later became Sisters of Mercy). They attended 38 patients and 35 “inmates,” as the census-taker called the older people who lived at the complex.
In addition to the founding Sisters of Mercy— Mother M. Michael Cummings, Sisters M. Josephine Smith (who died in 1911), M. Francis Regan, M. Gabriel Gardiner, M. Catherine Gildea, M. Teresa Keleher (who died shortly after she professed in 1898), M. Veronica Dean, and M. Anita Moser—there were also in the 1900 census year the following employees at St. Joseph’s: five laborers, five kitchen workers, and one each of the following: a coachman, plumber, errand boy, teamster, gardener, and night watchman. Father Baert appears on this census as a retired priest.
By the 1910 census, there were 32 nuns listed as “nurses” and 126 patients. There were also four priests, including two chaplains (John J. Fortier from Canada and John Hummett from Germany) and two “clergymen” (John O’Keefe and John Reynolds, both from Ireland). One of the nuns, Sister M. Angeles Cooney, came to the convent in 1901, professed in 1904, and by 1920 was superintendent of the Sisters of Mercy in San Diego. She was mother superior for a year after M. Michael Cummings died.
By the 1920 census, there were 53 nuns, of whom 16 were nurses. Additionally, the nuns acted in the following capacities: Mother Mary Michael was listed as “Sister of Mercy” and Sister Angela Cooney was superintendent. Additionally, 1 nun was the manager of a children’s home, 1 was a music teacher, 1 was a governess, and 1 was a pharmacist. Two of the nuns were bookkeepers, 4 were housekeepers, and 12 did “general work.” Three nuns were seamstresses, 1 was a dressmaker, and 7 younger nuns had no occupation recorded.
In the 1920 census, there were 25 student nurses listed. Only 15 patients were listed and 74 “homers” who lived on the St. Joseph’s campus. Also listed were 1 laborer, 1 janitor, and 1 elevator operator plus a clergyman, Jerry Brinkmeyer, born in Ohio of Prussian/German parents, whose sister Mary also lived on campus.
The 1920 list of 53 nuns gives a breakdown of the nativity: 30 were born in Ireland, 1 in England, 1 in Bavaria, and the remaining 21 were born in the United States. Of those who were American born, at least 4 had parents who were both born in Ireland, 2 had one parent who was born in Ireland, 7 had parents who were natives of Germany, and the rest had parents who were born in the United States or Canada.
At least 71 of the sisters who worked at St. Joseph’s and/or Mercy Hospital are buried at the Sisters of Mercy plot at Holy Cross Cemetery. Many were long-lived. Only 5 of the 71 died before age 49; 8 died between the ages of 50 and 59; 11 died between the ages of 60 and 69; 17 died between the ages of 70 and 79; 19 died between the ages of 80 and 89; and 11 died between the ages of 90 and 99.
Census records reveal that the nurses who worked at St. Joseph’s tended to live on the campus of the hospital and probably in or near the convent, for the three census records reviewed did not show any nurses who were boarders in nearby homes. In 1920, the nurses were housed at 3927 Eighth Avenue, in the nurses’ home mentioned above.
It was impossible to determine if other people living in the neighborhood worked at the hospital. At least one resident of the Colonial Court complex was a teacher and another was a draftsman. Occupations of other nearby residents, most of whom lived with their families in single-family homes, included farmer, poultry worker, dairyman, coachman, and day laborer. One man who owned a home or lot was policeman Walter Northern, a Civil War veteran from Indiana. Other occupations included gardener, carpenter, mining engineer, clerk, retail grocer, lumbermen, wholesale grain dealer, contractor, realtor, a sewing machine seller, bookkeeper, streetcar conductor, dress-maker, book binder, expressman, telephone operator, builder.
A few of the private homes still exist. One is at 3937 Eighth Avenue, which appears on the 1904 Sanborn map and was lived in and possibly built by Louis Boegen, a German carpenter. He was living in this house with his wife and adult children when the census returns for 1910 and 1920 were compiled and may have continued to live there until 1926, when the City Directory listed the property as vacant. Later, the house was owned by Mrs. Alice Batey, who lived there from at least 1941 to around 1961. The 1971 City Directory indicated that a Donald Batey lived in the house, and then the property was sold in 1974 to the present owner.
The home at 3853 Eighth Avenue was built in 1908, according to title company records, and owned from 1926 until about 1971 by Claude McCormick. The McCormick house appears on the 1921 Sanborn map along with several other homes of a similar bungalow style on the same side of the street. Sidewalk stamps indicate that the sidewalks were laid down along this block in 1907, so building appears to have followed soon after that.
Another older private home that is still standing is a house at 3809 Seventh Avenue. This house was on the 1904 Sanborn map, and the 1910 census indicates it was owned by William J. Mellor. Mr. Mellor was a carpenter from Ohio who may have built the house himself. However, he didn’t stay in it long. By 1920, the house was occupied by plumber Thomas Atkinson, and in 1926 it was occupied by Buckboro Wentworth.
Other houses that existed between 1890 and 1924 include 728,736 (exterior remodeled), and 744 Robinson Street.
Several of the St Joseph’s Hospital complex buildings still exist in the neighborhood surrounding the old hospital grounds. The best example is the Chaplain’s Residence, at 836 Washington Street. The Chaplain’s Residence, home to Father Baert, was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites and is also Historical Landmark No. 134 of the San Diego Historical Site Board.
Paula Boghosian prepared the National Register of Historic Places “Inventory —Nomination Form” for this house, and in it she states: “The former Chaplains Residence of the St. Joseph’s Sanitarium [was] built in 1896 and first occupied in 1897.... The Chaplain’s Residence was moved in 1920, and in 1922 was relocated to its present location, approximately 1 ½ blocks from the first site....
“The structure is an unusually fine and well preserved example of a late 19th century vernacular cottage, and possesses some particularly noteworthy architectural values....
“The asymmetrical composition and freely combined forms relate the building somewhat to Queen Anne stylistic idioms that often mix architectural elements with apparent abandon.
“Stylistically, the building also refers to the Old Men’s Home, another Sanitarium structure in the original complex. There are similarities in the broken pediment of the gable and the shingled porch roofs at the entrance of the Home.”
The Old Men’s dormitory, built possibly around 1903, was dismantled and moved from the hospital complex in 1920 and is now a hotel located at 3927 Eighth Avenue. On the 1921 Sanborn map, the building is called the “St. Josephs Hospital Nurses Home,” but from at least 1931 until about 1950, the structure was called the Hotel Earle Apartments. It later was called the Hillcrest Hotel, a name that persisted into the 1970s.
The former convent at St. Joseph’s Hospital was moved around 1926 and is now a hotel located at 3942 Eighth Avenue. While title-company records indicate that the building was built in 1924, information discussed above suggests that it was probably completed in 1900. In the 1931 City Directory it was called Rogers Flats. From at least 1941 to 1971 it was called the Knox Hotel, probably named after A.G. Knox, who lived there in 1931. Its current name is Anita’s Friendship Hotel. One individual currently owns both of these hotel properties. A tour of the properties reveals small, cell-like rooms built as if for members of a religious community.
Even more surprising is the existence of the St Joseph Hospital “Annex” building, which can be seen on the 1921 Sanborn map. The Annex was built in 1919 and added onto the east end of the suite of hospital buildings along University Avenue. It is now the House of Heirlooms at 801-803 University Avenue. A tour of this building reveals a high-ceilinged main floor, which was used as a common room for nurses training and an area were X-rays were taken. The second floor remains much as it was in 1919, with skylights and various rooms used for surgery. The second floor is in disrepair, with siding peeling off the interior walls and floors that give in places when you walk on them.
The House of Heirlooms building is owned by descendants of Adolph Levi, an early pioneer in San Diego who owned a large portion of Mission Valley west of State Highway 163, as well as Rancho Peñasquitos, land in Lakeside, land under Grossmont Hospital, and other land holdings. The grandchildren of Adolph Levi grew up at Sixth and Ivy Lane in Hillcrest, and all were born at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Levi family contributed to the foundation of St Joseph s Hospital, and Adolph Levi, who was in the livestock business, helped to feed the Sisters of Mercy’s cows in the early days. Simon Levi, Adolph’s brother, worked and later owned retail establishments about a block from where the Sisters first started at Sixth and H in downtown San Diego.
Many years have passed since that day in 1890 when Sister M. Michael Cummings arrived in San Diego. The prayer of Bishop Mora — that God would prosper and multiply the little mustard seed — was indeed answered.