The Mayo Clinic is considered the best hospital in the United States and the world, known for their high quality of patient care. If not for a miraculous vision by a Catholic sister, the legendary Drs. Mayo may have never founded their world-renowned practice that would eventually grow to serve over a million people yearly.
In 1863, Dr. William Worrall Mayo came to Rochester, Minnesota during the Civil War as an examining surgeon. He found the city likable, and his wife moved there shortly afterward. He would have two sons: William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo, both attending medical school and joining his father’s practice in the city.
On August 21, 1883, a tornado struck Rochester destroying over a third of the city and leaving 37 dead with over 200 injured. W.W. Mayo recognized the need for a central location for the medical rescue efforts, as the small frontier town was without a proper hospital. He converted a dance hall into a makeshift infirmary and recruited sisters from the nearby Sisters of Saint Francis of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The congregation was founded in 1877 by Mother Mary Alfred Moes, who immediately sent two sisters to the temporary hospital when Dr. Mayo asked for assistance: “There ought to be a sister down there to look after those fellows.”
After the city recovered, Mother Moes visited Dr. Mayo once again, telling him of a miraculous vision she had of founding a hospital for Rochester. Dr. Mayo was reluctant to agree, saying the city was too small to support it. Moes replied “just promise me to take charge of it and we will set the building before you at once,” and quoted Psalms 37:5,
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act”
On September 30, 1889, the Saint Marys Hospital was opened in a cornfield after years of saving and prayer by the sisters. The three-story, twenty-seven-bed hospital was founded as a teaching order where sisters would tend to the sick, cook meals, clean laundry, stoke the fire, and even use convent horse hair to make sutures.
The sister’s hospital was revolutionary: with excellent surgical skills by the Drs. Mayo and the use of antiseptics the Mayo Clinic garnered a reputation for excellent patient care. By 1912, the once small Saint Marys Hospital had five additions, and ten years later a seven-story surgical center was erected.
“From September 30, 1889, to January 1, 1893, 1,037 patients were admitted and the number of deaths was 22.”
Today, Saint Mary’s Hospital at the Mayo Clinic is believed to be the country’s largest not-for-profit, acute-care hospital. The Catholic and Franciscan tradition is carried on, with sisters serving on the Hospital Sponsorship Board and retired sister-nurses volunteering to do hospital work and minister to patients.
Ken Burns, the celebrated documentary producer, has recently completed a documentary about the Mayo Clinic titled “The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science” which will air on PBS September 25. In a an appearance on the Seth Meyers show, Ken Burns recounted what he discovered about the founding of the clinic and the vision Mother Mary Alfred Moes.