What was to be the effect of religious women upon a town which had felt the impact of so many and such varied forces? This was the settlement which had developed from an Indian village to an impregnable walled town under the direction of Padre Graces. Here, under the loving care and watchful guardianship of the missionaries, the natives had assimilated the rudiments of the Faith and had responded to its civilizing influences. This was the city besieged and desecrated throughout its history by the Apaches. In time, from it as from all parts of the new Mexican Republic had been banished the mission fathers, the greatest influence for good that had as yet touched it. Then had come to pass that period of spiritual drought when for nearly a half century Arizona lay desolate and abandoned by both church and civil authority. Meanwhile, into it had begun to penetrate the Anglo-American-- the hunter, the miner, the trader, the soldier, and the adventurer. Ox and mule teams, prairie schooners, and commissary wagons became familiar sights. In place of the pueblo directed by the mission fathers, it metamorphosized into one of the leading frontier towns of the Southwest with a reputation for superlative wickedness. It was to be the task of Bishop Salpointe, his small corps of priests, and the Sisters of St. Joseph to evangelize and educate the inhabitants of this new Tucson and its environs. They were to play a large part in changing the raw frontier town into a great city.
It is difficult to reconcile the modern residential and business sections, the well-paved roads and streets, the educational and recreational facilities, the fine hospitals and sanatoria, the beautiful churches of modern Tucson with the town which greeted the eager curious eyes of the seven pioneer Sisters.
The following is the impression it made upon a German immigrant boy who reached Tucson in 1872:
The enthusiastic welcome accorded the Sisters by the people of Tucson was convincing proof for all that Bishop Salpointe had claimed regarding their sincerity and their great desire for religious education. The first few days were spent by the Sisters in acquainting themselves with their new environment and in considering the possibilities of the house as a boarding and day school. Since Spanish was the prevailing language it had to be mastered. This presented no serious problem because most of the Sisters were French. In fact, the first academy came to be known as "The French School". The Sisters prepared to open the academy on June 6, 1870, just eleven days after their arrival. Sister Monica comments on the speed with which this was accomplished: "We had scarcely time to brush the dust off our habits before opening school."2
Bishop Salpointe, in a letter to Reverend Mother St. John, gives his impression of the pioneer Sisters and prophesies their success:
In the eighty-one years which have elapsed since that first registration day, St. Joseph's Academy has been in continuous operation, although its location has been changed several times. The original academy adjoining old San Agustin Cathedral remained in use until 1885. Its Primary, elementary, and secondary departments followed the program common to the select schools being conducted at that time by the Congregation in various parts of the United States.4 From the very beginning the school was overcrowded, but it was not until 1885 that the Sisters were financially able to consider another building. Bishop Salpointe had never been able to do anything towards supporting the academy and other works of the Sisters. No provision was made for those children who were unable to pay tuition.
The Sisters had tried to remedy this condition by providing one classroom in the overcrowded academy for the poor. Besides religion, reading and arithmetic were the subjects which received the greatest emphasis.5 Religion classes in both English and Spanish were conducted every Sunday for all` those children who could not be accommodated in the school. Still the Sisters were not satisfied. Since the academy was barely self-supporting, no help from that quarter could be expected. They decided to take matters into their own hands by gaining permission to visit the various mining camps of southern Arizona and of Sonora, Mexico for the purpose of begging help from the miners. The following is a testimonial of approval granted by Bishop Salpointe which they presented in the Mexican dioceses across the border:
This means of supporting the various works of the Congregation in the Territory was kept up for years.7 Many and varied are the tales that have been handed down regarding this humiliating task. A favorite was that dealing with the intoxicated miner who knocked at the kitchen door of the old academy on Christmas day and begged for his dinner. The Sister cook generously served him the best that was in the house. Each delicious helping of food was interspersed with a sound scolding on the evils of drink and what would be his fate if he continued on the downward path. A few months later she and another sister were delegated to go on a begging tour. Much to her surprise, at one of the mines a young man stepped up and presented her with a sum of money which was his salary for several months. He had recognized Sister as the donor of his Christmas dinner. She never knew whether the money was in gratitude for the dinner or for the lecture which accompanied it.
With the completion of the new St. Joseph's Academy at Sixth and Fifteenth Streets, the old one was converted into a parochial school for the poorer children of the locality. Thus a cherished dream of the Sisters was realized. The new academy surrounded by attractive and well-kept lawns and playgrounds was to be used for forty-five years in the education of hundreds of girls from all parts of Arizona. But when the fall term of 1931 came around the eager academy girls were introduced to their new home eight miles beyond the city near the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. On a 175 acre tract of land, set amid velvety lawns, flowering terraces, and sunken gardens is a magnificent group of modem buildings named Villa Carondelet in honor of the seven valiant pioneers who had traveled across the desert to found the first St. Joseph's Academy. It was indeed a far cry from that primitive one- story adobe convent school with its poor equipment and cramped quarters. Still more was it a monument to the perseverance of the Sisters, who in spite of almost super-human odds had persisted in their objective of the Christian education of the youth of Arizona. Regarding the achievements of this school and the other institutions conducted by the Sisters in Tucson, a local newspaper on the occasion of the celebration of their 50th anniversary, made the following comments on its front page:
Bishop Salpointe gives a similar tribute to the cultural influence of the Sisters:
Tucson's remote location and its almost negligible means of communication with the outside world had from the very first disturbed the authorities at Carondelet. Although the number of Sisters in Arizona was pitifully small, it was hoped that vocations would be found among the girls of Tucson. Thus, as early as 1871, tentative plans were under way for the creation of a separate province and novitiate. This fact can be gathered from a letter from Bishop Salpointe in which he remarks:
The necessity of bringing a higher authority to the isolated group of missionaries was very forcibly brought to the attention of the authorities at Carondelet by a grim visitor--death. Mother Emerentia Bonnefoy, the superior of the group, died August 1, 1874, a victim of the hardships and toil of frontier life. Her counterpart can be found in practically every religious community which participated in the spread of the Faith in our land. These gentle, refined women exhausted themselves and undermined their health in the foundation of Christian Institutions on the various frontiers of America. When the Sisters realized how ill Mother Emerentia was, they urged her to spend some time away from the scene of her labor at a health resort in Mexico. She refused to do this until she had received permission from Reverend Mother St. John. When the permission came from St-Louis via the slow round-about mail courier, Mother Emerentia was buried.
After the necessary arrangements had been made with the Holy See, Mother Irene Facemaz, a native of Moutiers, France, was appointed the first provincial superior of the new western province. In 1876 a small tract of land, in the foothills west of the city, was obtained for the proposed novitiate. The one-story adobe house erected there bore the impressive title, Mount Saint Joseph. In the ensuing years it was to shelter within its thick, cool walls youthful novices, still younger orphans, and finally hoary old age. Here Arizona's first bishop spent his last days on earth. After retiring from the Archbishopric of Santa Fe because of failing health and advanced age, Archbishop Salpointe turned his weary feet toward that desert city which had received his youth's best gifts of mind and body. In humble Mount Saint Joseph, Arizona's pioneer bishop quietly prepared himself for eternity under the tender and watchful care of Arizona's pioneer religious, the Sisters of St. Joseph.11
The hope that the novitiate would supply much-needed laborers for the West was never realized. That Arizona was not fertile ground for religious vocations can be readily understood when one remembers the long years during which the area was completely bereft of spiritual ministration. Vocations do not spring up on such sterile soil. During the years in which the novitiate was in existence six native Tucsonians were professed as Sisters of St. Joseph: Sisters Mary Agnes Orosco, Amelia Leon, Teresa Ortiz in 1879; Sisters Clara Otero, Mary Joseph Franco, and Mary John Noli in 1880. Sister Mary John Noli, the only surviving member, is living in retirement at St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson. She is in the eighty-ninth year of her age and has been professed seventy-one years. She is probably the oldest pioneer still living in Tucson.
Many delicate novices were sent from Carondelet to complete their novitiate in the healthful environment of Mount Saint Joseph. In 1881 Sister St. Barbara Reilly, a young novice from St. Louis, was sent to Tucson because it was feared she was a victim of the dreaded tuberculosis. Actually she lived to spend sixty-five years on the Arizona missions. She has left many interesting anecdotes of her trip to Tucson and of her pioneer experiences. She was one of the first four sisters to make the trip entirely by rail12 and her extremely youthful appearance attracted much attention from the other passengers. Among the many tales she often recounted is the following:
The mysterious package proved to be a dozen large juicy peaches, a welcome sight to the well-nigh starved sisters. On the very first day of their journey, the large hamper carefully packed with more than sufficient food for the long journey had become infested with ants.
Everything about the convents in Tucson intrigued rather than repelled Sister St. Barbara. The fact that candles and lamps were used for lighting instead of gas, that the floors were neither hard nor soft wood but dirt which was hardened and kept clean by means of sprinkling eight buckets of water on them each day, that drinking water was purchased from a regular dealer who filled two immense ollas each morning was amazing to this Easterner. The account of how she made her vows on the proper day is to the purpose here because it throws light on conditions in a frontier novitiate. Owing to the fact that she was the only novice at the time, it was impossible to engage a mistress of novices for her training solely. Consequently she did not live in the novitiate proper but helped in the academy. In the meantime, she was receiving direction from the provincial, Mother Gonzaga Grand.
If she had remained in St.Louis her vow day would have been the feast of St. Teresa. A few weeks before the feast Bishop Salpointe and Mother met the novice in the hall. The Bishop, upon noticing her, directed Mother to let her make her vows on the proper day even if he were away. Consequently, on the Feast of St. Teresa, Sister St. Barbara joyously and courageously pronounced her vows as she had prophesied.
In 1886, at the request of Bishop Bourgade, who had succeeded Bishop Salpointe as the Vicar Apostolic of Arizona, the novitiate building was converted into an orphanage. This was the first orphanage in the state of Arizona. It was pitifully small and extremely poor. But what was lacking in equipment and supplies was made up for in love. Not more than thirty children could be accommodated at a time. The Sisters received no financial aid for this work but supported it by begging for their poor orphans. Bishop Salpointe mentions this fact in SOLDERS OF THE CROSS;
Since the hospital was located across the road from the home a single superior directed both institutions. The existence of the orphanage came to an abrupt end in 1901 when a cyclone, which struck Tucson, tore off the roof and damaged the rest of the building beyond repair. In an account of the catastrophe is found the following:
Although the children were cared for in the academy or in private homes the Sisters who had so lovingly sheltered them were broken-hearted at their plight. Sister Angelica Byrne received the rather dubious permission from Reverend Mother Agatha Guthrie that she might build another home when she would have the money to do so. Such a permission might daunt a less hardy soul, not so Sister Angelica. For almost four years, accompanied only by an orphan girl, she trampled from one mining camp to another throughout the length and breadth of Arizona begging funds that the orphans of Arizona might have a home. Her story reads like a romance. Emboldened by the spirit of charity for Christ's little ones, she overcame almost insurmountable obstacles. To reach the widely separated mining camps she often rode in the caboose of a freight train; the stage was frequently her means of conveyance over the great stretches of desert; and often she walked many weary miles. In order to meet the miners, sometimes it was necessary for her to be lowered deep into the mine shaft in a great kettle worked by a pulley. She received kindness from some; insults from others.
When she had obtained forty acres of land and sixteen thousand dollars she felt the time had come to build. Sister Angelica rode the two miles from the academy to the new site each day the building was in progress, as she wanted to miss nothing in seeing her dream fulfilled. The first Mass in the new St. Joseph's Home was offered on the feast of the Sacred Heart, 1905. It was a fitting day to welcome back to the shelter of the Home His little ones. Although much of this occurred after the period being considered, it is a concrete example of the spirit which motivated our pioneer sisters. It is well to repeat here that this, as well as the other Arizona institutions under the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph, continued to be operated at the expense of the Sisters.
The fourth project sponsored by our pioneer sisters in Tucson was the establishment of St. Mary's Hospital, the first hospital in Arizona. As a matter of fact, in the very beginning, this was a diocesan rather than a community, project. Bishop Salpointe had purchased sixty acres of land opposite Mount St. Joseph with the intention of erecting a manual training school for boys on the plot. But an event of major importance to Tucson changed his plans. The long awaited Southern Pacific Railroad reached the city in March of 1880. It is impossible to appreciate the significance of this event, especially to the eastern American emigrants. With this penetration of their isolated city, communication with and transportation to the East would now be a comparatively simple matter. But the railroad brought its problems too. Many of its employees were sick or injured and needed care. Bishop Salpointe, recognizing this as an opportunity for saving souls, decided to build a Catholic hospital on the site selected for the manual training school. He was aware of the fact that among the railway employees were numerous immigrants, many of whom were fallen-away Catholics. One might wonder at his temerity. With very little capital, a few doctors, and no nurses he expected to set up so ambitious a project. He went on fearlessly because on one point he had no fears. The nursing end would be capably and charitably carried on by his faithful co- workers, the Sisters of St. Joseph. For nine years he had witnessed them devoting the best of their abilities not only to the work of education, but also to the care of the sick and the poor of Tucson. The Sisters carrying their basket of supplies and simple remedies had become a familiar sight on its dusty streets.
Ground was broken on February 15, 1879,16 and the building which consisted of a basement and first floor was ready for occupancy in a little more than a year. The Bishop had pitched in and shouldered rocks with the workmen to bring this about. Some of the novices from Mount St.Joseph across the road were detailed to carry bricks, but eventually this task proved too much for feminine strength and they were excused. To raise funds for financing the completion of the hospital, the Bishop wrote a pamphlet entitled, "A Brief Sketch of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac."17 This was sold for fifty cents a copy.
The stone and adobe building was blessed on April 24, 1880 by the Bishop assisted by Fathers Francis and Anthony Jouvenceau. The Sisters took charge that very day. Mother Basil Morris was the Provincial at the time, so she assumed its direction. The three sisters assigned for duty were Sister Mary John Noli, a native Tucsonian, Sister Julia Ford, and Sister St. Martin Dunn. Sisters Julia and Mary John had been professed only six months before. Sister Mary John sums up St. Mary's first staff:
The term "hard work" is an understatement. In addition to the actual care of the patients, these three sisters did all the manual labor connected with the hospital. All the linen was washed and ironed by hand, floors were scrubbed, and food prepared. It is well to recall that this was before the day of gas and electricity. A huge wood stove was the sole means of heating water for the patients' baths and for sterilizing surgical instruments. In a night emergency the only illumination was that cast by a few coal oil lamps and candles. As a side issue, a garden and dairy were maintained to insure a good supply. In the interview mentioned earlier, Sister Mary John adds:
We usually arose at five in the mornings, but often as early as one if we were to get all our work done, and sometimes we did not sleep at all if there was a sick patient who could not be left alone.19
It is no wonder that St. Mary's has gained the reputation it holds today since this was the type of woman who mothered it in its infant days. Without any formal nurse's training, but with great compassion for suffering humanity and a forgetfulness of self they launched St. Mary's on its way. Their perseverance and courage were rewarded even in their own day by the conversion and reform of many of their patients.
Mother Gonzaga Grand was appointed Provincial Superior in 1881. This deeply spiritual woman, through her various administrative positions in the community, had developed a keen business sense. Upon an examination of affairs at the hospital she reached the conclusion that greater efficiency and progress would be possible if it were entirely under the control of the Congregation. Bishop Salpointe readily agreed, and the building and its grounds were purchased from the diocese for $20,000 on October 7, 1882.20 The latest eight-story addition to the modern St.Mary plant was ready for occupancy on March 3, 1951. It had been constructed at a cost of $1,500,000, and raised the bed capacity to 375.21
St. Mary's can boast not only of being the first hospital in the entire state of Arizona, but also of being the first in the state to recognize and adopt each new scientific discovery in the hospital field. It was the first in Arizona to install X-ray equipment and has at present the most modern X-ray plant in the Southwest. Its photoroentgen unit for the detection of tuberculosis, cancer, and other pulmonary diseases in their early stages, is the first installed in any Arizona hospital. St. Mary's pharmacy was the first to be chosen by the United States government as a central depot for the distribution of penicillin and streptomycin. It was the first hospital with a blood bank and the first to install an iron lung. It was the first in the state to be accredited by the American College of Surgeons, and the first in Southern Arizona to establish a training school for nurses. It has an efficient and completely equipped obstetrical department, pediatrics department, clinical laboratory, dietary services, pharmacy, and operating rooms. Its medical staff of carefully selected specialists in all fields of medicine and surgery is composed of 165 physicians.
It would seem that St. Mary's has come a long way in the seventy-one years of its existence. From a twelve-bed hospital staffed by three doctors, it has developed into one containing 375 beds attended by 165 doctors. Probably the secret of its success lies in the fact that from that April day in 1880 when Bishop Salpointe solemnly blessed and opened the hospital until the present, its policy has been to provide a definite and compassionate aid for the sick poor. The annual cost of operating primitive St. Mary's was $1,212. Modern St.Mary’s expends $24,000 each year on the care of the sick poor alone. In fact, the latest addition to the hospital is a free out-patient clinic for the needy.
CHAPTER V REFERENCES
1 Mary Hughston, Albert Steinfeld, Merchand, ARIZONA HIGHWAYS, XXVI (October, 1950), 6
2 Sister Monica, op. cit.
3 French original in archives at Carondelet.
4 In a report to the County Superintendent of schools, dated December, 1875 is contained the following: The branches studied at present by ‘First Class’ are Elocution, Physical Geography, History, Composition, Astronomy, Intellectual and Practical Arithmetic. Copy in the Carondelet Archives.
6 Spanish original in the Carondelet Archives.
7 Letters of approbation from the following Mexican Bishops are in the Carondelet Archives. Bishop of Tepic, Feb. 28, 1883. Tomas, Bishop of Leon, March 19, 1883. P.A., Archbishop of Mexico, April 7, 1883. G.Masarra, Bishop of Durango. There is likewise a letter licensing the Sisters to beg in the city of Monterey issued by Sr. Sepulinva, COMANDANCIA DE POLICIA, May 10, I883. Spanish
8 TUCSON CITIZEN, May 23,1920. 1
9 Salpointe, op. cit., 262
10 Bishop Salpointe to Reverend Mother St. John, November 3,1871. French original in the Carondelet Archives.
11 Memoir of Sister St. Peter. Archives of St. Mary's Provincial House, Los Angeles.
12 The Southern Pacific Railroad entered Tucson for the first time on March 17, 1880
13 Memoir of Sister St. Barbara. Archives of St. Mary’s Provincial House, Los Angeles.
14 Salpointe, op. cit., 264
15 Anonymous account of.St. Joseph's Home, Tucson. Carondelet Archives.
16 Salpointe, op. cit., 268
17 John B.Salpointe, A BRIEF SKETCH OF THE MISSION OF SAN XAVIER DEL BAC WHITH A DESCRIPTION OF ITS CHURCH (San Francisco: 1880).
18 TUCSON CITIZEN, December 16,1947
20 Savage, op. cit., 258
21 THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR, MARCH 4,1951, 10
Continue with Chapter 6