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A History of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange

The Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in France in 1650. The Sisters arrived in Missouri in 1836 to carry forth a mission of establishing schools and orphanages. The Sisters came to California from Illinois in 1912 on the invitation of the Bishop of Sacramento to begin a new foundation and start a Catholic school in Eureka. So, that same year, the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in Eureka with 60¢ and a desire to build schools and teach.

In 1918, a flu epidemic swept the United States, causing thousands of deaths. The Sisters began serving the community in a way they never expected: health care. Their mission was firmly in their minds: "Go out into the neighborhoods, see what the needs are, and meet them to the best of your ability."

The people of Eureka were impressed with the Sisters' hard work and dedication and asked the Sisters to consider broadening their ministry to health care. The town had a hospital which was closed, and the Sisters were urged to buy and operate it. Since they didn't have the funds, Mother Bernard (pictured above), whose motto was "faith, foresight, and flexibility," exchanged some timber land, which was gifted to the Sisters, for the hospital.

In 1920, the old Northern California Hospital becomes St. Joseph Hospital (pictured at left) and opens with 18 Sisters and one lay nurse. The Sisters worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Their job responsibilities included nursing, administration, purchasing, record-keeping, billing, laundry work, and cooking. They did it all.

In 1922, the Motherhouse of the Sisters was moved to Orange in Southern California where the Sisters continued their health care ministry and became officially the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.

In 1954, St. Joseph Hospital opened in its present location, on Dolbeer St. in Eureka. While it has changed dramatically over the years, St. Joseph Hospital still holds strongly to the integrity and vision of its founding Sisters and the values of the St. Joseph Health. These values are the guiding principles in all that we do and the foundation for every aspect of our work together.

Then, in 1957, building of Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna (pictured at right) was completed after the Renner family donated the land, and the Sisters provided the funding.

At present, St. Joseph Health is the second largest employer in the county. Over the last 90 plus years, the original mission of the Sisters to respond to needs has been the inspiration behind the development of new programs and services. The mission of the Sisters continues today. St. Joseph Health System's mission is broad and deep: to improve health and quality of life. This requires excellent health care services, but it requires more than that. Access to food, affordable housing, a safe environment, jobs, and social supports are key determinants of the health of individuals and of communities. Therefore, we make regular assessments of community needs and work with others in the community to address as many of these needs as possible.

If Mother Bernard and the 18 Sisters who staffed the first St. Joseph Hospital could pay a visit to Humboldt County today, they would be amazed and very proud. They would marvel at the sophisticated technology and the commitment of so many employees, physicians, board members, and volunteers. They would praise the variety of services offered to the poor. It would all be very new to them except for one thing: the mission to seek out and meet needs. For the faith, foresight, and flexibility of those who have followed them, they would be truly grateful.

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