This history of one hospital founded by three Sisters of St. Francis in 1861 presents a panorama of social, political, religious, and health care events and issues occurring at that time in Pittsburgh and in other large cities in the United States. Pastors and priests already established in flourishing urban churches wrote to superiors of religious orders in Europe, asking them to come to this country to serve the needs of particular populations. Redemptorist priests in Pittsburgh had been providing for the spiritual needs of the increasing numbers of German Catholic immigrants, but they felt keenly the need to also serve the burgeoning health needs of this population. A small community of St. Francis nuns had established a fifteen-bed hospital in Pittsburgh earlier, but they subsequently settled in Buffalo. A physician, Dr. Philip Weisenberger, had been working closely with the “German Catholic St. Franciscus Beneficial Society of Pittsburgh,” a group of German-born business men and entrepreneurs who were concerned about the welfare of the German immigrants. This group urged Dr. Weisenberger to travel to Buffalo and convince the Sisters of St. Francis to return to Pittsburgh in order to further develop the small hospital. Dr. Weisenberger himself purchased land and a building on Forty-fourth Street that would accommodate thirty hospital beds. His pleas for help to the St. Francis nuns resulted in two of their members’ agreeing to direct the new hospital.
From this tenuous beginning, the current St. Francis Medical Center grew—a fascinating story in itself. However, the author weaves this story into a comprehensive tapestry of perspectives regarding the social, religious, and political factions that were major influences in the development of the city and the region. For example, the German Catholics were beleaguered, both by Catholics from countries other than Germany, who considered them to be not valid [End Page 139] Catholics, and by other groups who were not in favor of German-speaking people settling in Pittsburgh.
A major, continuing concern of the Sisters, especially in the early years, was securing sufficient financial support. Their scrutiny of all expenditures, and donations from loyal patrons, the Catholic diocesan leaders, and the Commonwealth helped to sustain the hospital during hard times. Regardless of financial exigencies, St. Francis continued to serve the indigent in the hospital and in the community. To counteract the dearth of well-educated nurses, the Sisters established the St. Francis Hospital Nurse Training School in 1901, which served as a model nursing education program throughout its history.
St. Francis was one of the first hospitals to provide outreach health care, particularly to those needing psychiatric care. In the early decades of the 1900s, and especially during the Depression years, the Sisters and staff consistently provided care to people of all denominations who could not afford to pay, and they knew all the families in the Lawrenceville area around the hospital. In 1958, the hospital established a home care service, and in 1966, a Cancer Detection Program in the community, with support from the U.S. Public Health Service. Retaining control of the hospital was a continuing worry, particularly as the hospital grew and expanded into a renowned medical center; many groups and corporations were only too anxious to claim ownership. In 1992, the Sisters considered it necessary to affirm their authority in the By-Laws of the Medical Center.
This book stimulates questions for further research, such as, “How many hospitals in America were initially begun by religious orders, particularly women’s orders?” A chapter titled “Women Religious in a Secular World” suggests a subject suitable for feminist research.
Carson’s book is rich in detail, a result of thorough research, using all available sources. It can easily serve as a model for others interested in writing about the historical development of hospitals in America.