Sisters help prepare for the opening of the replacement St. Mary’s Medical Center

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Sisters help prepare for the opening of the replacement St. Mary’s Medical Center

The third week of July was memorable for all who are part of the health care ministry at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth.

First, a little history. In 1888 the Sisters founded a hospital on 20th Avenue West in West Duluth, using buildings that had been intended for a priory for Benedictine monks. Duluth was small but grew quickly, and with frequent typhoid epidemics and injuries from mining, shipping, and logging the need for medical care outgrew the smaller 100-bed hospital. The Sisters built a larger hospital of 200 beds in the heart of the city and moved into it in 1898. As Duluth grew, our mission grew with it, and healthcare at St. Mary’s Hospital kept pace with advances in medicine.

The facility, now St. Mary’s Medical Center and part of Essentia Health, was built in stages over the years and the structure is nearing the end of its usefulness. In 2019, after some years of visioning and planning, Essentia Health broke ground for a replacement medical center just down the hill. During the pandemic, we Duluthians have watched it grow from excavation in bedrock near lake level to 18 floors high above the city. The structure is wrapped with grey-green glass that is ‘fritted’, covered with linear patterns that help prevent bird strikes. It holds 344 private patient rooms, surgical suites, the Birthing Center, support centers, offices, diagnostics – everything needed to provide the best care in a beautiful setting overlooking Lake Superior.

The inpatient tower of St. Mary's Medical Center, with the rooftop garden in the foreground
The inpatient tower rises in the background. In the foreground is the garden on the roof of the second tower that includes clinic space and surgical suites.

Now we are preparing to transition to the replacement hospital on July 30. The ‘legacy’ hospital was made sacred by the work of all who brought healing in body, mind, and spirit, and by the prayers of employees, Sisters, and those whose lives were transformed through care. The replacement St. Mary’s Medical Center will in turn be blessed by those who will work there, and by those who come to receive competent and compassionate medical care. As the Move day on July 30 approached, we blessed it in a series of rituals to mark the passing of mission from one facility to the next, to remember why we created this and how it came about through the spirit of collaboration, and to bless the building and its chapel — its heart.

On July 18, about 150 employees and Sisters met in the original St. Mary’s Medical Center to symbolically transfer our mission of healthcare to its replacement. Bret Reuter, Director of Mission Integration, and Janet Schade, Senior Vice President of Hospital and Surgical Operations in the East Market, shared the reasons why people go into health care, a demanding and sometimes thankless work. Sister Kathleen Hofer, who served as CEO of St. Mary’s for decades, spoke of  the hospital’s vision and ministry since its founding. In closing she said, “We celebrate and are grateful for all St. Mary’s staff and employees who have served in this building for their mission work and for the tremendous healing that has taken place here. Our commitment to our mission and to the people we serve is the core of our success. It is a legacy that has been built over the years and will be carried forward by dedicated leadership and the work of all employed here. It will continue long into the future in our new St. Mary’s Medical Center.” All picked up a Benedictine cross or a sign with our mission and values, and together processed to the circular drive at the main entrance of the new building.

From left and center: Sisters gather with employees and staff to celebrate the history of St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Right, Sister Kathleen Hofer speaks eloquently and with humor as she relates the history of the hospital.

Left to right: Sister Beverly Raway leads procession which stretches up the hill to the older hospital. She speaks on the sacred mission of health care, “caring for the sick as we would care for Christ” (from the Rule of St. Benedict).  Three current and former prioresses are present: Sisters Beverly Raway, Danile Lynch, and Kathleen Hofer.

At the ribbon cutting on July 20, we heard how myriad people and organizations came together to make the Vision Northland dream a reality. Speakers included Essentia Health CEO Dr. David Herman, Prioress Sister Beverly Raway and Bishop Daniel Felton (both of whom gave a blessing), Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, Governor Tim Walz, Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar (by video) and Kari Dziedzic, Representative Greg Davids, and a union leader representing those who labored for 2.8 million hours to build this astonishing center. Dr. Herman acknowledged that the Medical Center is built on lands that had once belonged to the local Indigenous peoples and invited Ricky Defoe, an elder of the Fond du Lac reservation and Pipe Carrier, to make an offering of smoke while two members of the Drum Circle drummed and chanted.

From left: The large Benedictine Medal was removed from the old hospital, refurbished, and installed over the main entrance.  Sisters Donna Schroeder, Pauline Micke, Mary Josephine Torborg, and Kathleen Del Monte by entrance.  Sister Beverly Raway leads the assembly in a prayer of thanks. Sisters Kathleen Hofer, Beverly Raway, and Clare Marie Trettel pose with other Essentia Health Board members at the ribbon cutting.

The next morning, we were blessed to be present at the First Mass to dedicate the new Chapel and altar. Bishop Daniel Felton of Duluth concelebrated with retiring chaplain Fr. Tom Foster and new chaplain Fr. Gregory Okafer.

The rite began at the chapel doors, where representatives of those who had worked to build the hospital handed over the architectural drawings of the chapel to the Bishop. He then blessed the water of the baptismal font, which stands in front of the beautiful stained glass image of the final farewell of Saints Benedict and his sister Scholastica. He then blessed with water the walls, altar, ambo, tabernacle, and all present. After pouring Holy Chrism oil onto the altar at the four corners and in the middle, he spread the oil over the whole surface. He also anointed the four walls with chrism.

After the oil was wiped away, Sisters Jeanne Ann Weber and Sue Fortier laid a new altar cloth, which was sewn by Sister Josephine Krulc. The Mass was concelebrated with the Bishop, Fr. Gregory Okafer the new SMMC chaplain (on right), and Fr. Tom Foster the retiring chaplain (off edge of photo). After Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament was placed within the tabernacle and the sanctuary candle lit. This tabernacle came from the first Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery. It was taken out of storage, restored to full beauty, and given to St. Mary’s Medical Center where it will once more serve those who come seeking the presence of God. At the end, Fr. Gregory spoke briefly about beginning his ministry sa chaplain at St. Mary’s. We are blessed to have him.

Fifteen Sisters came to serve at and witness the Dedication of the new Chapel. May it be a blessing to all who come, of all faiths and traditions, to find solace and healing in the presence of God.

From left to right: Sisters Dorene King, Beverly Horn, Therese Carson, Mary Josephine Torborg, Lois Eckes, Kathleen Hofer, Jeanne Ann Weber, Claudia Cherro, Kathleen Del Monte, Theresa Spinler, Sue Fortier, Danile Lynch, Clare Marie Trettel, Beverly Raway, and Pauline Micke.

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