A mission of educating and providing health care for the poor and underserved that began in Germany in 1863 arrived in Northwest Indiana on Feb. 2, 1898, when Sisters Alphonsia, Richardis and Edwarda, of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, stepped from a train in Hammond.
They came at the request of city leaders who saw the need for more local health care. The Rev. H.M. Plaster, of St. Joseph Church in downtown Hammond, recruited the sisters from Lafayette, Ind., to extend their mission northward.
That train trip from Lafayette brought the three nuns to a very different Lake County than the one today. Then it was a place where swamps and farm fields shared space with new industries along the shores of Lake Michigan, where the nearest hospital outside of Chicago was a small private one in Michigan City, where seeking health care in Chicago or Michigan City meant a sometimes tortuous journey through rough terrain.
Later that February afternoon in 1898, the large two-story Lautman home at 30 Clinton St. was purchased for $9,000 and Lake County’s first hospital — St. Margaret Hospital — opened its doors. The next day, the sisters and Dr. James Thomas Clark treated their first patient, John Stephens, who arrived with a broken leg.
That first year, 118 patients came through the doors of the hospital, where a long narrow table in the living room served as an operating table, each surgeon brought his own instruments and prayers were said in a small room that served as a chapel.
The three original sisters were joined soon by six others from the order and cared for about 20 patients at a time.
“In the years that followed (the founding of St. Margaret Hospital in Hammond), the sisters have continued to respond to numerous requests throughout the region to serve in health care and education,” said Sister M. Angela Mellady OSF, provincial superior based in Mishawaka.
“The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration dedicate their lives to prayer, and to the education and health care ministries,” Sister Angela said.
The order’s calling has taken them throughout the Diocese of Gary and the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In addition to St. Margaret Hospital in Hammond, the Mishawaka-based Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration founded St. Anthony Hospital in Michigan City in 1903 and St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights in 1910.
The order purchased Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Dyer in 1992, known today as Franciscan St. Margaret Health. In 1999, the order added St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point, now called Franciscan St. Anthony Health. The following year, the organization merged with Ingalls Health System in Olympia Fields.
Recently, the Franciscan Alliance purchased the Hammond Clinic, Medical Specialists’ practice and Physicians Hospital in Munster. All now have Franciscan added to their names.
“The mission of Franciscan Alliance is continuing Christ’s ministry in our Franciscan tradition. Our vision is to provide high-quality, value-based, compassionate care through collaboration with others in the communities we are privileged to serve,” Sister Angela said.
“Physicians have been and will continue to be essential partners in the continuation of our mission,” she said. “We have acquired and expanded our facilities and physician practices in order to provide as many access points as possible for the convenience of the patients we serve.”
Providing Catholic education for the children of Northwest Indiana and suburban Chicago also has been a major part of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration’s contributions throughout the years.
The schools the sisters started and staffed include St. Casimir School in Hammond (1901-present); St. John the Evangelist School in St. John (1903-present); St. Martin School in Cedar Lake (1905-1934); SS Cyril & Methodius School, North Judson (1910-1970); St. Edward School in Lowell (1915-1970); and St. Bridget School, Hobart (1927-1940).
Others include St. Mary School in Griffith (1928-present); St. Joseph School in LaPorte (1930-2012); Our Lady of Grace in Highland (1954-1995); St. Francis Xavier School, East Gary/Lake Station (1956-1973); St. Andrew School in Calumet City (1906-1906); and St. Agnes School in Chicago Heights (1911-present).
“Due to an increase in the number of young women joining our congregation, we are grateful to once again have a presence at St. Casimir Parish in Hammond and St. John the Evangelist Parish in St. John,” Sister Angela said.