St. Mary's Hospital cornerstone opened; artifacts revealed
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - Necks craned and cameras flashed as the 1907 cornerstone of St. Mary's Hospital was unsealed.
Lori Wood Habiger/Key photo
Sister Marylu Stueber studies a 1907 copy of The Catholic Register found in the original cornerstone of St. Mary's Hospital. Joan Hilger-Mullen, archivist of the Piper Medical Museum at St. Joseph Health Center and hospital shares the moment.
At a June 28 media event in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank building downtown, Franciscan Sister of Mary Marylu Stueber, archivist for the congregation, wearing white gloves, reached into a blackened copper box and pulled out memorabilia placed inside when the cornerstone was laid on Oct. 13, 1907.
The cornerstone and a second stone, dated Oct. 14, 1948, were pulled from the hospital building as part of the demolition process. The hospital, which closed in 1988, will be torn down to make way for a new Federal Reserve Bank facility.
Sister Stueber was assisted by Doris Rauschelbach and Raegene King, co-chairs of the St. Mary's School of Nursing alumni association, Joan Hilger-Mullen, archivist of the Piper Memorial Medical Museum of Saint Joseph Health Center, Bruce Van Cleve, chief executive officer of Saint Joseph Health Center, and Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
"If the red bricks around these cornerstones could talk," King said. "If they could talk they would tell about illnesses cured and deaths that couldn't be prevented. They'd talk about the epidemic of influenza in the early 1900s and the outbreak of poliomyelitis in the 1950s. But most of all they would talk about the doctors, nurses and families who walked the halls."
Sister Stueber said she was thrilled that the "Franciscan Sisters of Mary were remembered at this very exciting moment."
In the summer of 1895, two members of the board of directors of Kansas City's German Hospital at 22nd Street and Holmes Road traveled to St. Louis to invite the Sisters of Mary to take charge of the hospital. The Sisters arrived in Kansas City in August 1895, and served at the German Hospital until 1905. They intended to return to St. Louis but local people persuaded them to stay and open their own hospital. Bishop John J. Hogan gave written permission for the hospital's founding to the sisters in November 1904, and land was purchased that same month at 28th and Main streets. The land, which was on part of the Santa Fe Trail, had been the property of early Kansas City five-term mayor, Milton Jameson Payne, who was known as the "Father of Public Improvements."
St. Mary's Hospital was dedicated May 18, 1909.
Nearly a century later, the contents of the cornerstone's copper box were revealed one by one. The first article Sister Stueber lifted out was a brown, crumbling copy of The Kansas City Star, dated Oct. 13, 1907. Moisture had gotten into the sealed box and mildew had attacked most of the contents, leaving them hard to decipher. Sister Stueber was able to identify a brochure from the Catholic Ladies Aid Society, a German newspaper, several medals, a greenish copper statue of St. Joseph, coins and a copy of The Catholic Register, the Kansas City diocesan newspaper that was the predecessor to The Catholic Reporter, The New People and The Catholic Key.
An article from the Oct. 6, 1907, Catholic Register, saved on microfilm in the Catholic Chancery archives, noted that the cornerstone festivities were to be attended by Bishop Thomas Lillis of Kansas City, St. Louis archdiocesan vicar general Msgr. O.S.J. Hoog, and many local and visiting priests and Catholic societies.
"It is an event of especial interest to Kansas Citians, as it marks the erection of a large and much needed charity hospital in our fast growing city," said the article.
The issue of The Register that was placed in the cornerstone contained a poem written by Kate Woodward Noble about the cornerstone.
"Lord, as the cornerstone we lay, of this, the House of Healing, Make us to feel that Thou art near, Thy tender love revealing. In benediction e'en as when Thou, on this earth, didst dwell with men.
"May all who to this house shall come in future days, afflicted with sore disease, or rent and torn, see Thee, their Lord, depicted by those who here Thy work shall do, and for their souls find healing too."
The cornerstone for a $1.5 million addition to the hospital was laid in October 1948. The new addition, which brought the number of beds to 300, was dedicated in 1950.
The 1948 cornerstone had been opened privately on June 7. Federal Reserve Bank and Carondelet Health Care officials unsealed the box which contained a number of articles including statues of St. Francis of Assisi and the Virgin Mary; a Kansas City Times newspaper dated Oct. 14, 1948; holy cards and medals; crosses made of palm fronds and wood; a small American flag with 48 stars; pamphlets and brochures of information and regulations about St. Mary's Hospital, its women's auxiliary, school of nursing and building fund; brochures and pamphlets about the Sisters of Mary, and dust from the tomb of then-Blessed Martin de Porres, patron saint of public health, who was canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1962.
The contents of the 1948 cornerstone were on display at the event.
In the near future, the memorabilia from both cornerstones, as well as other artifacts from the hospital will be moved from the Piper Medical Museum at St. Joseph Health Center to the archives of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary motherhouse in St. Louis. The Sisters of Mary united with the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville in 1985, becoming the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.
According to Tom Hoenig, the Federal Reserve Bank hopes to erect a memorial to the Sisters of Mary and St. Mary's Hospital in front of their new facility, scheduled to open in late 2007. The monument will combine an existing Santa Fe Trail marker, erected in 1882, the two cornerstones of the hospital, the bell and a copper cross from the chapel. A plaque will commemorate the site.
The demolition of the hospital building will begin in late July.