Years of Expansion Lead to "M-Day"
For the next eight decades the facility on Broadway and Division Streets, commonly called the "Broadway hospital," grew and changed, evolving with the pace of medical advances and the needs of the community.
Photo: Laying of Cornerstone, 1964. (l-r) Sr Theresa, Mother Timothy Marie, Bishop Romeo Blanchette
By the 1950's however, it became clear that a new hospital would be needed to accommodate the growing population and the ever expanding universe technology. Adding on to the existing building one more time would not suffice.
"We must keep the hospital progressing along with the community," wrote the Sisters. And so in 1956, thirty-three acres of land located three miles west of the existing facility were purchased. The next mountain to climb was that of raising funds to build the new hospital.
Over the course of the next several years, a series fundraising phases were conducted. Approximately $9,000,000 was needed to construct a new hospital and so again the community opened its coffers to the Sisters. Local parishes, schools, individuals, trade unions, civic clubs and corporations joined the effort. Every imaginable fundraiser was held from weenie roasts to rummage sales to dinner dances. Even the government chipped in $1,000,000 under the Hill-Burton Act. The Sisters themselves finally tipped the scales by borrowing $3,000,000.
Finally, on Sunday, May 14, 1961, Mother M. Adeline Mazure turned the first spadeful of earth for the new hospital, followed by Bishop Martin D. McNamara, who remarked, "This is truly a historic day for the city of Joliet and surrounding countryside. It has been a long, hard struggle, with some discouraging setbacks. But you have remained loyal and with your help we will have our new hospital."
The next morning work began, and just two and a half years later, on January 26, 1964 - designated M-Day - the big move commenced.
It was a well orchestrated affair with every detail minutely planned and all contingencies contemplated. Cooperation with the community again played a major part in the successful move. City officials, civil defense, police and fire agencies, and even the press joined the Saint Joseph staff to bring about a smooth, flawless transition. "Operation Life-Line" as the move was called, commenced at 6:49 a.m. on Sunday, January 26. The first of 102 patients was placed in an ambulance and transferred to the new hospital. Within five hours and forty-six minutes, all patients had been successfully transferred thanks to the efforts of 250 volunteers and Sisters. It was an amazing feat, one which had been expected to take as many as twelve hours.
In the years since, St. Joseph's has continued to expand and evolve reflecting the changing community and embracing advances in medicine and technology. Greater need has led to increased fundraising, expansive building projects and tens of thousands of people cared for. It is no longer a stand-alone hospital but a regional medical center and the leading provider of a large, six-hospital Catholic health system, Provena Health.
Yet as we hearken back to earlier struggles, we recognize familiar values and strengths, and we reaffirm the commitment those pioneering Sisters made 125 years ago to protect, cherish, nurture and respect life through loving and serving others.