This Diamond Jubilee is a milestone event that commemorates service to thousands of men and women who have turned to the Brothers for the compassionate care that meets their special needs.
Observances for the Jubilee will extend throughout the year, and the Brothers hope that people will join them in marking this special occasion.
This section of the Franciscan Caring website provides a narrative history of the Brothers since their arrival in the 1920s and their official acceptance into the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1927. Most of this information is adapted from a 1977 account of their work, included in material produced from the archives for their Golden Anniversary.
Additional information on the Brothers, their 800-year-old background, and their service can be found in the index for this website under "About the Brothers." Related information appears in the sections entitled "Becoming a Brother" and "Black Madonna Shrine."
While the Franciscan Missionary Brothers have roots that go all the way back to the 12th Century, their more contemporary ties are with Poland and their journey and arrival much more recently in the Midwestern United States.
Not long after the conclusion of World War I, many people in our country were entering the fabulous era of the "Roaring Twenties." Times were more difficult in Europe -- and in economically devastated Poland. In the sad aftermath of the war, the sparks of one man's concern for another led many to review their lives and thinking in terms of helping other people.
In the years following, a small band of Polish men sought and found the Franciscan way of life -- initiating the Congregation of the Missionary of St. Francis. Their efforts were characterized by hardship and genuine self-sacrifice.
The Brothers' archives reveal that, in 1922, the Congregation's Superior General sent two Brothers to the United States. Their mission was to solicit funds from Polish Catholics in this country for the newly established group in Poland. The two Brothers spent six months traveling from city to city, searching out parishes where they hoped the goodwill of their countrymen would lead to offerings to help their cause and support efforts to serve the poor and needy back in their homeland.
It seems evident that, while in the United States, the two Brothers made contact with several groups of people in the St. Louis area. These included the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the administrator of the Alexian Brothers Hospital, Monsignor Francis Pudlowski, and Cardinal John Glennon. It was the latter who, in 1927, officially accepted and welcomed the Franciscan Missionary Brothers into the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Read Cardinal Glennon's letter congratulating the Brothers and giving them permission to establish "a house of charity".
This letter confirms the fact that, by the middle of December in 1927, the Brothers had taken occupancy of the former convent of the Sisters of Mercy in the La Barque Hills of Eureka, Missouri.The Sisters of Mercy convent dated back to 1884. The 222-acre farm became known as Josephville.
The Brothers Begin Their Work in Missouri
Having entered into negotiations with the Sisters of Mercy, agreement was reached for taking over the property. The Brothers moved in and began the work they've carried on ever since. Brother Bogumil Gowrecki served as the first Superior of the community.
Following transfer of the convent and property to the Brothers, a second and more modern phase of its history began. The Brothers were determined and committed to put into usable shape the abandoned building and grounds in order to care for the aged and infirm -- the work to which their religious Order was and remains dedicated. They began by changing the name to St. Joseph's Hill Infirmary.
Through the years, the once-handsome, solid-stone building had taken on the appearance of an old, dilapidated castle. By the time the Brothers arrived, Its only inmates were bats and owls, which had invaded the place and made their nests amid its leaking roof, fallen plaster, broken windows and sagging floors. There was no heating plant, no water, no plumbing, and even the electrical and telephone wiring was missing.
The first Brothers -- whose number gradually increased to 20 -- were not deterred by the shambles they had acquired. There was work to be done. Work that involved much more than a modicum of self-sacrifice, so they set forth with a prayerful energy. Corn cribs and horse barns were refurbished and made into wards for the waiting list of patients. And, then, the patients poured in.
Physically broken, incurably sick men beat a lame, halting, sometimes blind track to the Brothers' retreat. Afflicted with chronic diseases of all descriptions -- cancer, epilepsy, gangrene, heart problems, nervous conditions, paralysis and other serious ailments -- patients of all religions were welcomed until the already inadequate facilities of St. Joseph's Hill were bulging. Just a few months after the Brothers opened their doors and began accepting them, as many as 10 patients a week had to be turned away for lack of space.
Later -- the 1940s and 1950s
The next recorded history of the Brothers and their work resumes in 1942, when the Brothers' efforts were brought to the attention of St. Louis laymen. It was decided that -- despite World War II and its effect on prices -- a financial drive would be launched to enlarge and renovate the nursing facilities that the Brothers had been struggling with for more than the past 15 years.
The people of St. Louis rallied to the cause, which was led by an honorary chairman who was Cardinal Glennon's representative appointed to oversee the work at St. Joseph's Hill for the Archdiocese. Recognizing that local hospitals were becoming more and more crowded -- and that few, if any, would accept chronic patients requiring continuous nursing care -- a businesslike case for funding was established. In addition, fund-raising appeals pointed out that the Brothers were working an average of 14 hours or more per day, trying to cope with the demand for care in woefully inadequate facilities that were not designed to serve as a nursing home. In just one month's time, more than $40,000 was raised -- a relatively large amount back in a time of war.
Archbishop Joseph Ritter laid the cornerstone for a new building on June 22, 1947. Construction was begun using money collected through the fund-raising effort. Completion of the new facility left the Brothers struggling with a $310,000 debt. But, the handsome brick structure with large, airy solariums was dedicated on August 15, 1948.
The Supporting Societies
This history of the Brothers and their work wouldn't be complete without reference to the hundreds of lay men and women who have supported them throughout the decades. By the time of their Silver Jubilee in 1952, the Brothers were searching for a way to successfully deal with their pressing financial situation.
On the occasion of their 25th anniversary, a small group of 17 men -- led by Joseph A. Glynn, Jr. -- formed the Society of Joseph as a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to helping the Brothers with their work. Throughout the ensuing decades, hundreds of members of the Society of Joseph have continued in their support for the Brothers' mission of caring for others. Because the Society was formed during the Silver Jubilee, its own anniversary coincides with the Brothers' Diamond Jubilee in 2002. The Society of Joseph proudly celebrates its 50th anniversary the same year.
However, the original supporting organization for the Brothers work pre-dates the Society of Joseph by 16 years. Founded in 1936 by Ann Bongard, the Society of Josephines also continues to this day. With hundreds of women as members, this group also provides important support for the Brothers and their ability to provide care for men and women of all faiths.
Growth in the Ensuing Years
In the early 1970s and with the financial backing of their supporting societies and other benefactors, the Brothers built a new chapel and dormitory. Importantly, they also were able to construct an additional floor at St. Joseph's Hill. It houses ancillary medical facilities, recreational space, and administrative offices. In addition, a sprinkler system, additional elevator, and stand-by power plant were installed. These substantial new additions to St. Joseph's Hill were completed in 1973, and dedicated by Cardinal Carberry, who also helped to restructure the governance through a Board of Trustees.
Great strides made through the years at St. Joseph's Hill enabled the Franciscan Missionary Brothers to embrace progress elsewhere. With the Archbishop's permission, they explored the feasibility of assuming administration for a new, not-for-profit nursing home in Clifton, Illinois. The Bishop of Joliet approved the Brothers' plans and, on April 7, 1974, ground breaking ceremonies were held. Dedication of the new facility took place on November 1, 1975. Known as the Arthur Merkle-Clara Knipprath home, it is designed to serve both men and women.
Less than a decade later, the Brothers commissioned a feasibility study for a new nursing home in Eureka proper. With the permission of the Archbishop and assisted by their Board of Trustees, they developed plans for a 120-bed facility to be build on their land donated by Mrs. Berthold Price.
Ground breaking marked the beginnings for the new, state-of-the-art facility, which was dedicated in 1981 by Archbishop John May. Planned and built to help meet growing demand for quality accommodations, Price Memorial is constructed thoughtfully on one level and offers lounges, reading rooms, family visiting rooms, a terrace and courtyard.
The Diamond Jubilee
After 75 years of dedicated service to those in need of care, the Franciscan Missionary Brothers continue in their mission to help others. From their early beginnings in a run-down, abandoned convent to their modern nursing homes today, the Brothers and their predecessors have worked to meet the special needs of thousands of men and women.
During this time of celebration and commemoration, the Brothers recall with deep gratitude the many opportunities for service that they've been blessed with. Ever-mindful of the past and continuing support they receive, they share this glorious time of their Diamond Jubilee with all who have touched them and their work -- as well as all of those they've been privileged to serve. Devout and prayerful good wishes are offered daily for these men and women whom they've been blessed to know.
Now in the 21st Century, the Brothers, their nursing home and their work are also highlighted elsewhere on this Internet website. For up-to-date information on today's facilities, click on "Our Nursing Home" in the menu. And, please browse through other sections that you may find interesting.
To conclude this Jubilee history and from a broad perspective, the following is reprinted from the Brother's 50th Anniversary booklet. Its sentiment endures.