History and Milestones
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
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
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 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.