Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The $84.77 Hospital – St. Vincent

Terri Sinnott
Chicago, Illinois, United States

 Bishop Francis Silas Marean Chatard

What in the United States could be purchased with $87.44 in 1881?  In that year Bishop Francis Silas Marean Chatard and four Daughters of Charity1 took that sum and funded the first Catholic hospital in Indianapolis. Chatard had been born in 1834 in Baltimore and his initial calling was medicine.  He graduated from Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s College [now University] with a doctorate in medicine, but in 1862 answered a stronger call, the priesthood. In 1878 he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes [Indiana], but insisted on living in Indianapolis. There Chatard saw a population desperately in need of medical care. Indianapolis’s only hospital had opened in 1866 and could not meet the needs of the growing population, many of whose members could not afford medical care.

Chatard’s vision was to treat the spiritual as well as the physical needs of the community.  He requested the assistance of the Daughters of Charity, who had a relationship with Chatard’s alma mater.  Chartard contributed $50 towards creating an infirmary. In addition to their $34.77 stake in the project, the Daughters of Charity supplied the first nursing staff consisting of “… Sisters Mary Theresa O’Connor, Oswald Spaulding, Albertine Ott and Magdalen Kelleher.”2 By the time the Sisters arrived in Indianapolis, Chatard was caring for patients in an empty seminary building near St. Joseph’s Church.  Amidst the protests of many residents who feared that a hospital would breed disease, the Sisters quickly transformed the seminary into an infirmary. Their mission was “to serve those who are poor and vulnerable.”3 Neither the patients’ religious affiliation nor their lack of income would play a role in their care.  In 1884, their facility was legally incorporated as St. Vincent’s Infirmary. “The original infirmary had no operating room.  Surgery was done at the bedside or on tables behind partitions.”4 By 1885 “the number of infirmary beds was fifty, and Dr. Joseph W. Marsee was hired as the first house physician at $25 per month.”5 In 1896 the hospital opened the St. Vincent School of Nursing.  Many of the skills taught reflected the times.  “In addition to tending their patients, they scrubbed floors, repaired mattresses, made linens, milked cows, churned butter, gathered eggs, gardened, cooked, shopped, and raised money.”6

In 1889, the hospital moved to an industrial area in downtown Indianapolis.  Unfortunately, this was also where many of the railroads were located, thus preventing a “peaceful” convalescence. The location also proved unsafe.  In early 1908, the Sisters were granted approval to purchase land on which to build a new hospital.  The wisdom of their choice was quickly confirmed.

On June 6, 1908, the neighboring Prest-O-Lite Factory had a massive explosion, the third and most powerful of the year. St. Vincent was a mere 100 feet away. Patients and staff suffered minor injuries, but  damage to the building was extensive. “Glass was carried with such force from the windows of St. Vincent yesterday that it made dents in the opposite walls and some of the bits were buried in the doors across the room…The beautiful and valuable stained glass windows of the chapel on the east side of the hospital were entirely destroyed … The heat from the explosion was so intense that the paint on the outside of the window frames on the east side of the building was blistered.”7 Damage was estimated at $7000-$8000.  In 1913, the newly built St. Vincent Hospital opened on Fall Creek Parkway.  In celebration, the first baby born there was named Mary Vincentia Connor.

During the first half of the twentieth century, St. Vincent Hospital’s national reputation grew, as did its services.  It was the hospital chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt when he passed through Indianapolis in 1902 and needed immediate care. It was approved for medical internships in 1914 and by the American College of Surgeons in 1921.  By 1945 it had a full-time pathologist; and an orthopedic surgery residency program was established in 1947.  In the latter half of the twentieth century, St. Vincent increased its focus on specialties.  It opened its first heart clinic in 1952; the first coronary care and intensive care units in the city in 1963; and the Gatch Surgery Center in 1972.  As these additions presented an even greater need for expansion, the hospital moved in 1974 to a new site on 86th Street. With the army’s assistance, the Sisters, staff and patients were moved to the new location in three hours and twenty minutes.  Having graduated from St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing, Vincentia, sixty years after her celebrated birth at Fall Creek, was asked to assist with the birth of the first baby at the new hospital.8

This new facility and the generosity of many donors enabled St. Vincent to expand its services and open a Dermatology Clinic, the Tolley Coronary Care Unit, the Tarvin Bio-Med Laboratory, and a Cardiac Rehabilitation Laboratory. In 1979, “St. Vincent Dr. Donald E. Schwarten initiated percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PCTA) of most blood vessels.”9   (In the 1980s, St. Vincent and three physicians groups formed the Indiana Heart Institute which was listed as third in the world in performing PCTAs with the world’s best success rate at 93%10).  In 1979, the hospital “…opened the first Wellness Center east of the Mississippi River”11 and approval was given for a $38.5 million hospital expansion and a $7.1 million for the addition of a Stress Center.

In the 1980s St. Vincent continued to excel in the medical community.  “Dr. Thomas J. Linnemeier performed the first laser-assisted thermal coronary angioplasty in the United States.”12 St. Vincent also gained staff geriatricians. “By the 1990s St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Service provided health care to 150,000 patients annually and employed over 5000 personnel, including a staff of 1000 physicians.”13 At decades end St. Vincent Health became a member of Ascension Health of St. Louis, Missouri. “Created in 1999, Ascension Health is sponsored by the four providences of the Daughters of Charity…to continue their vital role in the tradition and mission of Catholic health care.”14

In the 2000s, St. Vincent continued be praised for its work.  In 2006, St. Vincent was recognized as the CareScience Select Practice Customer Quality Leader in treatment of pneumonia, stroke, and heart attack.  In 2007, St. Vincent Heart Center was placed in the 100 Top Hospitals in Cardiovascular Benchmarks for Success. In 2008 it was named as one of the “Top 100 Hospitals: National Benchmarks by Thompson Reuters.15

By 2013, “St. Vincent was recognized by U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals Top 100 in five specialties: gastroenterology, gynecology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, and ear, nose and throat, and ranked high in its management of cancer, diabetes and endocrinology, geriatrics, heart and heart surgery, nephrology, pulmonology, and urology. St. Vincent was also acknowledged in HealthGrades America’s 100 Best Hospitals for cardiac care, coronary intervention, spine surgery, stroke care and critical care.”16

In 2014, after 133 years of service to St. Vincent Hospital and St. Vincent Health, the Daughters of Charity left to begin a different mission.  While the Sisters no longer have a physical presence at St. Vincent, their legacy remains.  Today, St. Vincent continues the work of Chatard and the Daughters of Charity. Its current mission “is to care for the bodies, minds, and spirits of those in need, regardless of personal means or religion.”17 St. Vincent has also created Centers of Excellence, among these the Orthopedic Center, Spine Center, Heart Center of Indiana, Neuroscience Institute, Cancer Care, Bariatric Center, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, Stress Center and St. Vincent Women’s. It continues to serve “22 health ministries serving 57 counties in central and southern Indiana.”18  $84.77?  A wise investment indeed!


  1. Daughters of Charity is a women’s Society of Apostolic Life in which members (Sisters) “do not take religious vows and their communities are governed by each society’s constitution…founded by Vincent de Paul…the Daughters of Charity…belong to a group of Societies founded in the 16th and 17th century to respond do increasing poverty in France.” http://famvin.org/wiki/Societies_of_Apostolic_Life#cite_note-1 (January 12, 2015). Citation referenced from Holland IHM, Sharon L., “Societies of Apostolic Life. “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Ed. John P. Beal, James A. Coriden and Thomas J. Green, eds. p. 892. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press.
  2. St. Vincent Hospital & Health Services, http://www.indianahistory.org/our-services/books-publications/hbr/st-vincent-hospital.pdf (September 25, 2014).
  3. Hoefer, Natalie. “Daughters of Charity pass along mission to ‘serve poor and vulnerable,’ The Criterion Online Edition, May 9, 2014. http://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2014/05-09/daughters.html  (November 11, 2014).
  4. St. Vincent Hospital & Health Services, http://www.indianahistory.org/our-services/books-publications/hbr/st-vincent-hospital.pdf  (September 25, 2014).
  5. Farris, Bain.  St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc. Past, Present and Future. Newcomen Publication Number 1307, Indianapolis: St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., 1988. (23). The chronological details throughout the piece, unless otherwise noted, come from this publication’s section entitled St. Vincent Historical Chronology 1881-1987, (23, 24).
  6. Ibid., 7.
  7. Prest-O-Lite http://www.firstsuperspeedway.com/sites/default/files/Prest-O-Lite060708.pdf  Indianapolis Star, “Force Jars Hospital,” June 7, 1908 from http://www.firstsuperspeedway.com/articles/prest-o-lite History of Prest-O-Lite,  (October 5, 2014).
  8. Mary Ellen Martin (Vincentia’s daughter), oral interview with author, January 26, 2015.
  9. Farris, “St. Vincent Hospital” (See endnote 5).
  10. Farris, “St. Vincent Hospital,” 13.
  11. Farris, “St. Vincent Hospital,” (See endnote 5).
  12. Ibid.
  13. St. Vincent Hospital & Health Services, http://www.indianahistory.org/our-services/books-publications/hbr/st-vincent-hospital.pdf  (September 25, 2014).
  14. www.stvincent.org/careers/About-Ascension-Health.aspx. (January 10, 2015).
  15. “Other Awards,” St. Vincent. http://www.stvincent.org/St-Vincent-Indianapolis/About-Us/About-Us.aspx (January 12, 2015).
  16. 2013 St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital Annual Report, page 22. http://peytonmanning.stvincent.org/hosted-previews/Indy-Annual-Report-2013/#22
  17. “A History Still In the Making,” St. Vincent.  http://www.stvincent.org/About-Us.aspx (January 11, 2015).
  18. Ibid.

TERRI L. SINNOTT, MA is a museum consultant with over thirty years’ experience in museum project management and exhibit development, in both non-profit and corporate museums, including Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, Motorola’s Museum of Electronics, and Motorola’s Beijing Gallery.  Ms. Sinnott holds a BA in history from the University of Notre Dame, MA in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program/SUNY, and a Masters Certificate in project management from George Washington University.

Sections  |  Hospitals of Note

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