St. Mary's Hospital Anniversary

Sisters Honored for 50 Years of Service

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St. Mary's Hospital 50th Anniversary

The Sisters Celebrate 50 Years at St. Mary's Hospital


History, founding of St. Mary's Hospital

Five year trip has lasted for 50

Sister Anne Christina O' Sullivan was still a teenager when she decided her life calling was to become a nun and join the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in her native Ireland.

It is that kind of certainty and focus that led her to Norton to be one of the original sisters who founded St. Mary's Hospital 50 years ago.

Sister Anne travelled to America in 1947 aboard the Queen Mary and was seasick most of the trip. From the port in New York, she and 4 other nuns travelled to High Point, N.C., where they established a nursing home. But not long after they had been in America, they received word through Bishop Sweet in Wheeling, West VA that a clinic was for sale in Norton.

Sister Anne said the idea to buy the clinic was almost dismissed. The women had only been in America for a short lime and the church didn't know if the venture would be successful. But after consideration, a decision was made to travel to Norton and talk to Dr. Noah Short and his wife, who owned the Norton Clinic.

Sister Anne and Sister Patrice initially travelled to Norton and the church determined that it would help fund the purchase of the clinic. The nuns moved in with the nurses in the yellow house on the comer of Virginia Avenue and 10th Street and set to work. Most the nuns, including Sister Anne, also were trained nurses, who worked alongside the nurses in the new 48-bed hospital.

Auxiliary Support - In the early 1950s, a group of hospital volunteers donated the First television to the hospital. Shown left to right are Rebecca Pickering, Sister Mary Patrice, Billie Dellinger, Jean Holcomb, Sister Agnes Concepta and Ann Lively. The auxiliary continues its work today through a variety of projects and returns all proceeds to the hospital. Today the  gift shop, is operated by the auxiliary.



Sister Anne’s stay was to have been for five years "but they never reassigned me. I don't guess they will now." she said laughing. She served for 20 years as the hospital’s administrator and still is a leader in the hospital.

She has seen the hospital grow from the clinic on Virginia Avenue to a large complex located off East Park avenue. She is modes about her own role, but proud for the hospital’s accomplishments.
“I think people who know me, know I’m not interested in publicity,” she said. “I’m just grateful that the Lord sent me here and I appreciate the people of this community. We truly have been blessed.”
St. Mary's Hospital in Norton marks its 50th anniversary year of service to the community today. July 23, 1998.

One of its founders, Sister Anne Christina O'Sullivan, is still on the job. She was in an original delegation which came to Norton in 1947 from England to establish the first hospital in America sponsored by the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. The pioneer sisters were Sister Anne and Sister Mary Patrice.


Sisters - The original group of nuns from the Servants of the Mother of God in Ireland who founded St. Mary's Hospital were, front row, left to right, Sister Anne Christina, Sister Rose Xavier and Sister Finten; and back row, left to right, Sister Agnes, Sister Finian, Sister Mary Imelda, Sister Bridie and Sister Agnes Gabriel.


The sisters came to Norton in 1948, at the suggestion of Father Joseph Dean, then pastor of St. Anthony's Catholic Church, who told them that the old Norton clinic was for sale.

Sisters Agnes, Rose Xavier and Agnes Gabriel are deceased. Sister Finian, now called Sister Kathleen, is living in North Carolina and Sister Finten is living in England.  Sister Anne Christina and Sister Bridie are still living in Norton and are active with the hospital.


History, founding of St. Mary's Hospital continued

Word had been received from the priest of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Norton, Father Joseph Dean that the Norton Clinic, located on Virginia Avenue was for sale.

The sisters were without funds, but still this afforded them an opportunity to establish their first hospital in America.

Buildings on the property at the time of purchase were a 48-bed general hospital, a nurses home, a small cottage and a garage apartment.

His Excellency, John J. Swint, bishop of Wheeling, West VA, advanced the sisters $167,000 for the purchase of the property, charging them 3 percent interest.

The sisters also borrowed $90,537.30 from the bishop to purchase the former hospital's inventory. The note was redeemed in April 1957 and the mortgage cleared completely of debt in 1960. The hospital paid its own way without outside financial assistance. It became and still is the only Catholic hospital in Virginia west of Richmond.

When Sister Anne Christina left her native Ireland, via London, to America, she and those with her were told to expect to stay for five to 10 years. Sister Anne left London on the Queen Mary in 1947 and she remembers to this day the terrible seasickness she suffered until she hit dry land in New York. Sister Anne remains an integral part of St. Mary's Hospital years later. She served as hospital administrator for more than 20 years.

In 1954, St. Mary's became the first hospital in Southwest Virginia to be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation.

Hospital nurses Dr. Thomas Tudor, above, one of the first physicians at St. Mary's Hospital, is shown with a group of student nurses, circa 1950. In the early days of the hospital, student nurses lived next door to the hospital on Virginia Avenue. Today the hospital has a full staff of trained registered nurses, certified nurses assistants and physicians in it's emergency room and operating room.

The nuns at St. Mary's have served in various capacities. Many have been registered nurses, operating room nurses, physical therapists, nursing home administrators, x-ray technicians, teachers and dieticians.

Early x-rays . Dr. Thomas Tudor, left, and Sister Anne Christina O'Sullivan are shown with a patient, circa 1950. O'Sullivan, who is a trained nurse, was taking an x-ray of the patient. She is one of the founders of St. Mary's Hospital, coming from Ireland to the United States in 1947. She was one  of a group of nuns who established a nursing home in High Point, N.C. before coming to Norton in 1948. Tudor was one of the first physicians at St. Mary's Hospital, which was originally housed in the old Norton clinic building on Virginia Ave.


One St. Mary's sister, Sister Agnes Gabriele, was the first registered midwife in the state of Virginia.
Through the years, the hospital prospered and expanded its facilities until, in 1975; the sisters realized their 45-year-old building home was bulging at the seams. Sixty-five beds land a lifetime ago to administer to the ill and were not enough poor in Southwest Virginia.

The Hagan estate, consisting of 68 acres and located within two miles of the hospital on Virginia Avenue, was purchased for $175,000. A campaign to help finance the construction and equipping of a 98-bed hospital, costing an estimated $5.5 million, was begun in September 1975. The new hospital was complete in October 1981.

After the hospital was finished, Sr. Anne decided to have a building built for the Doctors of St. Mary's Hospital. Denise Gabriele of Drafting and Design Inc. of Norton, VA, prepared the floor plans for the Medical Arts Building and Sinicrope Construction Company of Norton, VA, built the building. At a later date, to accommodate the doctors that were interested in joining the hospital, Thompson and Litton of Wise VA, added an addition to the original building and built a pharmacy.

The present St. Mary’s Hospital attests to the success of the campaign to the continuing dream that shows no sign of faltering. It’s what one might expect from a handful of Irish Sisters, who left their precious homeland a lifetime ago to administer to the ill and the poor in Southwest Virginia.

Their faith has never faltered and it has sustained the hospital through trying times. Today, St. Mary’s Hospital is a multi-million dollar complex.

It is a complete, self-contained 133-bed medical facility that also offers mental health care, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation; operates a nursing home; operates three out-patient clinics and provides a variety of medical services to the community.

Source of the Information

This Article was provided by St. Mary's Hospital for the St. Mary’s Hospital 50th Anniversary Edition - Printed by the Coalfield Progress - July 23, 1998; and made available by Denise Gabriele for the web 2012.