BUCKHANNON – On the 101st anniversary of St. Joseph’s Hospital opening its doors, the Pallottine Missionary Sister affiliated with the health care facility that her religious community founded more than 100 years ago read a Bible passage.
It was from Acts 3, and Sister Francesca Lowis, St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Vice President of Mission Integration, believed it best summed up the work of her order in Upshur County, West Virginia.
The selection was short, Sister Francesca assured the audience gathered to mark the conclusion of St. Joseph’s Hospital’s year-long 100th-anniversary celebration Monday. Acts 3:1-10 describes the interaction between two of Jesus’s disciples, Peter and John, and a crippled man who had asked them for money.
“Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!’” Sister Francesca read aloud.
As the story goes, the formerly crippled man’s ankles surged with newfound strength and he sprung to his feet and began to walk in the temple courts, “walking and jumping and praising God,” Sister Francesca relayed.
“This is exactly what the sisters and the staff of St. Joseph’s have done over the past 100 years — they had neither silver nor gold, but they gave of themselves and through their works and example,” Sister Francesca said. “They have continued and will continue the healing ministry of Jesus.”
Sister Francesca was just one of the keynote speakers at Monday’s celebration, denoting the end of the hospital’s centennial anniversary celebration. On March 28, 1921, four Pallottine Missionary Sisters who had journeyed from Germany opened St. Joseph’s Hospital as an eight-bed hospital, and it has since blossomed into an entire medical community dedicated to serving the health care needs of north-central West Virginia residents in Upshur and five surrounding counties.
Dennis Xander, President of St. Joseph Hospital’s Board of Trustees, characterized the Pallottine Sisters’ mission in Buckhannon as one of perseverance and faith.
“You think of two things when you think of the work it took to maintain a health care facility like St. Joseph’s Hospital for 100 years – perseverance and faith,” Xander said.
They demonstrated faith and exhibited perseverance in the face of a series of “misadventures” – like when the Sisters revised their travel plans from Germany to the U.S. and those changes resulted in them not taking the ill-fated Titanic ship across the Atlantic Ocean, Xander said. And they again demonstrated those qualities when the hospital’s financial health began to suffer in 2010.
“Against all odds, they built this hospital, and they maintained it throughout all these years and they grew it, and it prospered until it didn’t,” Xander said. “It became a struggle for them to succeed and they made a decision – the Sisters made a decision that it was in the best interest of the community and all the people involved to sell the hospital so it could be part of a bigger organization (WVU Health System) and thrive for our community.”
Around the time the Pallottine Sisters handed over sponsorship to WVU Medicine in fall 2015, Xander had a conversation with a couple of sisters he won’t soon forget.
“I said, ‘This must be terribly hard for you to give up control of something you built for all these years,’” Xander recalled. “And this is where perseverance and faith come in, because they said to me, ‘No, it’s not hard at all. This is God’s will. If God had wanted us to continue [owning and operating the hospital], He would have provided us with more Sisters and more opportunities, but He said this is the way it’s supposed to be. We’ve accomplished our mission: we’ve built this and planted it, and now it’s time to move on.’”
Xander saw the wisdom in that statement.
“I was just so impressed by that … The point I want to make is the perseverance and faith hasn’t stopped there,” he said.
Xander pointed to the ongoing work of the Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon, which has a mission of supporting initiatives that promote healthy lifestyles and transformative change in the community with grants, according to its website.
“All of the proceeds the Sisters derived from the sale of St. Joseph’s Hospital is now part of the Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon and they’re making grants throughout the service territory of St. Joseph’s Hospital for health-related projects, and they’re doing wonderful work,” Xander said. “So, it comes back to perseverance and faith, and they’re still exhibiting it today, 100 years later.”
Hospital President and CEO Skip Gjolberg hosted the event, and other speakers included Sister Mary Grace Barile, Provincial Superior of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters USA; chaplain Barry Moll, vice president of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation Don Nestor; Buckhannon mayor and Foundation board member Robbie Skinner; and WVU Health System president and CEO Albert Wright Jr., who appeared via a recorded video message.
Sister Francesca and Gjolberg extended special thanks to St. Joseph’s Hospital employee Kathy White, who chaired the 100th Anniversary Committee, coordinating many activities and events throughout the milestone celebration despite pandemic-related challenges.
You can read more about the hospital’s history here.