Providence Hospital traces its roots to 17th-century France, where in 1633 a parish priest, Vincent de Paul, and an aristocratic widow, Louise de Marillac, founded a new religious order dedicated to serving the poor. Unlike other Catholic sisters, the Daughters of Charity were not cloistered. Instead, they took their ministry to the people most in need.
Nearly one hundred and eighty years later, a young widow and mother of five children felt called to establish a similar religious community in the United States. Elizabeth Ann Seton, later named the first American-born saint in the Catholic Church, founded the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809.
St. Vincent de Paul
Born: April 24, 1581
St. Louise de Marillac
Born: Aug 12, 1591
Persistent bouts of yellow fever plagued Mobile throughout the 1800s, and in 1841, Mobile’s first bishop, Michael Portier, asked the Sisters to come to Mobile to care for children who lost their parents to this devastating disease. Four Sisters from Emmitsburg arrived that year to work at the Catholic Orphans’ Asylum (the facility we now know as St. Mary’s Home). In 1852, the Daughters of Charity, as they were by then known, began work in Mobile’s City Hospital. Within just two years, however, these tireless servants were asked to leave the City Hospital, victims of anti-Catholic bias.
Concerned citizens immediately began making plans to build the Daughters their own hospital. On August 15, 1854, a board for this new organization was formed, consisting of Father James McGarahan, vicar general of the diocese; C. W. Dorrance, an auctioneer and trader; and Patrick Pepper, a local merchant. The group purchased a plot of land at the corners of Broad and St. Anthony Streets at what was then the western edge of town and began construction of a two and one-half story, 60-bed hospital, which was opened the next year.
An article in the Mobile Daily Register from April 27, 1857 stated “Nothing can be devised more conductive to the restoration of health than this building; unless indeed, it be the increasing attentions of its gentle inmates – ministers of mercy – at a time when kindness comes nearest to its divine origin. The first floor is devoted to male patients, the second to females, and servants are accommodated in the spacious airy attic. From front to rear, and from the East end, the public wards, a spacious passage admits the free circulation of air from every quarter. . . In the rear, and on each side, are large grounds and gardens for exercise and unlimited ventilation. Cleanliness in every place and of everything, is more marked than in the neatest dwelling.”
By the turn of the century, Mobile’s population had increased and shifted west. The Daughters of Charity did the same, moving the hospital to 1504 Springhill Avenue. This second hospital, a Mediterranean-inspired stucco building, opened its doors in 1902 and, according to reports at the time, it was “modern in every respect and the pride of South Alabamians.” Providence would begin a series of “firsts” in 1904 when it established a school of nursing, the first in Mobile and only the second in the state of Alabama.
In 1908 an east wing was added to the building, which remained largely unchanged until 1950. That year the population of Mobile was 230,000, and Providence Hospital, even with the additional wing, contained only 100 beds. It was time to build again.
The third Providence Hospital was planned to provide the finest diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive care to the sick and injured. In late February 1949 ground was broken on land in front of the second facility on Springhill Avenue. Three years later the Daughters of Charity moved into this $4 million modern marvel with their first patients.
The Mobile Register reported in October 1952 that “With 250 beds, a battery of a dozen operating rooms, all the latest facilities for the care and comfort of sick people, this hospital is a great new health asset for Mobile and the adjacent Gulf Coast area. Planned for maximum efficiency, the building is impressive in appearance.”
It seems a bit quaint today, but two of the hospital’s features that created headlines at the time were the fact that it was completely air-conditioned and had fluorescent lighting. Several additions were made to this building over the years, and Providence continued its series of “firsts,” including kidney dialysis, neurangiography, magnetic resonance imaging, health and wellness services, pastoral care and family-centered maternity care.
Population shifts and limited space at Springhill Avenue caused the Daughters of Charity to make the very difficult decision to relocate Providence Hospital from its 11-acre site to a 250-acre campus west of town.
The quickly changing world of treatment and diagnostic technology required either a complete renovation of the existing facility or the building of a new one.
In 1982 the Daughters chose to move and designed a hospital that even today is futuristic. The $60-million facility accepted its first patients on July 15, 1987.
Nearly twenty years later, Providence continues to be Mobile’s most advanced healthcare facility, with a patient-centered design unique in the area.
However, the hospital has not lost sight of the calling that inspired St. Vincent, St. Louise, St. Elizabeth Ann, as well as its local founders. Our physicians and associates continue to be inspired by the words of St. Vincent de Paul,”It is God who has called you here because you are going to do good work.”