Get To Know CSM: The Daughters of Charity

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 St. Mary’s Groundbreaking, 1927

For 164 years, the Daughters of Charity have been a guiding light, leading and supporting the mission of Columbia St. Mary’s. Sadly, their presence in Milwaukee is coming to an end. 

When summer comes to a close, the Daughters of Charity will withdraw from Milwaukee. Just like 164 years ago, today the Daughters must heed their calling and go where need is greatest. While their physical presence is ending, their sponsorship of Columbia St. Mary’s remains strong. We are forever grateful for their years of service and guidance.

It was winter of 1846 when three sisters came from Emmitsburg, Maryland. Traveling by boat, the sisters braved howling winds and the treacherous frozen waters of Lake Michigan. Within 90 days of arriving they started a school, an orphanage and a hospital – the first hospital in Wisconsin. They brought a new approach to medical treatment and a new approach to care, one dedicated to helping all people, regardless of race, religion or nationality.

When the Daughters established St. Mary’s Hospital, just as Milwaukee was a much different city, so were the roles the Daughters played. Back then, they did everything – from administrator to cook to nurse. They were integral to the growth and maturation of both St. Mary’s Hospital and the city of Milwaukee. At every defining event in this city’s and country’s history, they were there.

As new immigrants came to Milwaukee during its formative years in the second half of the 19th century, the Daughters were there to greet them and ensure their health, setting up a makeshift hospital on Jones Island to prevent the spread of disease to the rest of the burgeoning city.

St. Mary's Marine Ward, 1917

 St. Mary’s Marine Ward, 1917

During the Civil War, St. Mary’s devoted itself to the care of Wisconsin’s soldiers. In fact, during the first two years of the war it was the only hospital in the state caring for the sick or wounded Civil War veterans. During the last half of the war, there were often as many as 80 soldiers at a time filling out the 55-bed facility. St. Mary’s was similarly active during the Spanish American War of 1898 as well as World War I and World War II.

As the city grew, St. Mary’s grew with it, expanding capacity to meet new demands and keep Milwaukee healthy. In the first couple decades of the 20th century, Milwaukee won several awards as the “healthiest city in the nation,” due in no small part to the efforts of St. Mary’s Hospital and the Daughters of Charity. And that commitment to the health and well-being of Milwaukee continues today.

Since the first Daughters of Charity came to Milwaukee, 368 of their sisters have selflessly given their service to the people of Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin. Today, Sister Mary Kay Tyrell, Sister Mary Elizabeth Cullen, Sister Angele Hinkey and Sister Jean Maher have continued the tradition and work of those Daughters who came before them. And even as they prepare to leave, it’s important to remember their role in shaping what Columbia St. Mary’s has become.

While Columbia St. Mary’s is sad to see the Daughters leave, we will continue to honor the mission they worked tirelessly to support. We will continue to care for the whole patient – mind, body and spirit – and treat every individual with dignity and the utmost respect.

An endowment has been established to honor and continue the work of the Daughters of Charity, with annual gifts made to further the spiritual and emotional aspects of care. To make a gift, click here or contact the CSM Foundation office at 414-270-4900.


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