In 1844, a Franciscan priest named Fr. Christopher Bernsmeyer, OFM, founded an order of religious women, the Sisters of Charity. The sisters had a simple mission: to help the needy and provide care for the sick in their homes. By 1880, the name for this order of sisters had changed to the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
In 1875, three sisters embarked on a 28 day journey from their Motherhouse in Muenster, Germany to begin a health care mission in Belleville. An old school house of St. Peter’s parish was quickly renovated into a hospital and convent. With its primitive equipment, the small hospital had barely enough room for the sisters and, in case of emergency, six patients. For the next five years, the sisters’ lived in the hospital, focusing on nursing the sick in their homes.
By 1880, their mission was growing and the little schoolhouse could no longer accommodate the growing number of patients. So the sisters built a larger hospital — one that would house 58 patients — on the grounds where St. Elizabeth’s stands today. Many additions and renovations followed until the 1950s, when most of the original structure was razed and replaced with beautiful, new state-of-the-art facilities.
Belleville and the surrounding area, meanwhile, continued to grow. Serious epidemics, from scarlet fever to polio, were brought to St. Elizabeth’s for care. The hospital kept pace with changes in health care and new technologies, building a reputation as a leader in health care for Southern Illinois.
Since its completion in 1954, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital has more than quadrupled in size, with the addition of medical office buildings and other health care facilities. With outpatient facilities in communities like O’Fallon and Mascoutah, the hospital continues to look for ways to make health care more accessible and convenient. The hospital now partners with the HSHS Medical Group, Prairie Heart Institute and Healogics Wound Care to provide an integrated patient care experience across all of Southern Illinois.
With all the changes and growth over the past 138 years, the mission of the founding sisters remains unchanged: To reveal and embody Christ’s healing love for all people through our high quality Franciscan health care ministry. Their mission was to provide care for the sick and needy with a spirit of respect, care, competence and joy.
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is an affiliate of Hospital Sisters Health System.
The life of Elizabeth of Hungary, Patroness of our Hospital, is characterized by her love of the poor and her work for social justice. She was born in 1207, daughter of the king of Hungary and the niece of St. Hedwig. At the young age of 16, she learned about Francis of Assisi and his deep compassion and care for the poor. She heard how he left behind a life of affluence and security to work with the poor. She heard how he overcame his fear of leprosy when he was moved to embrace and kiss a leper, and then went to their slum-like quarters to care for them.
Moved by his story, Elizabeth dedicated her life to the care of the sick, especially the poor. When her husband died, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, made up of lay men and woman dedicated to helping to care for the poor. At the age of 19, she used her personal wealth to build a 28 bed hospital, specifically to care for the poor. Twice daily she would go to the hospital, bringing the sick food and helping to care for their needs. Before Elizabeth died, at the young age of 23, she built her second hospital thus demonstrating her full commitment to caring for the needs of the sick.
This same Franciscan compassion and care that moved Elizabeth to help the sick guides the work we do each day.