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Franciscan tradition

Lives of Witness

The tradition at St. Anthony’s Medical center of "advanced medicine, compassionate care" stretches back to 1900. Patient-centered health care is our cornerstone and a hallmark of our Catholic identity rooted in the principles of Franciscan spirituality.

St. Anthony’s key challenge today is to find innovative ways to enhance health care — by drawing on our spiritual heritage — while respecting the diverse community of people that we serve.

Servant leadership

St. Anthony’s Medical Center traces its source to the hospital founded in 1872 by a group of consecrated religious women who had emigrated to St. Louis from Germany. The women were members of the Franciscan Sisters (Wheaton Franciscans), an order of Catholic nuns who drew their inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi.

Known to all as a simple, holy man, Francis is one of the most beloved of all the saints in Catholic Church tradition. Born in 1181, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant from central Italy, Francis grew up in privilege – but later rejected the trappings of society in order to devote his life to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In Francis’ mind, following Jesus meant action, not words…humble service, not high-minded theory. In fact, he often urged his followers, "Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words." Francis was not a physician by training, but he made it a core part of his ministry to visit hospitals and serve the sick. He is remembered for the care he provided to lepers in particular, the outcasts of society.

Like Francis, their patron saint, the Franciscan Sisters who founded St. Anthony’s Hospital saw in their work a deep connection to the healing ministry of Jesus. They took quite literally the commands that Jesus made to his followers in the Gospels:

"As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those suffering from skin diseases, drive out devils."
Matthew 10:7

"Truly I say to you, whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto me."
Matthew 25:40

The challenge of mission

You can begin to imagine how powerful the Sisters’ spirituality was when you consider that the three founders – Philomena Oldegeering, Mary Dorethea and Alphonsa Cormann – knew little English and had very little money when they set out from Germany to serve the sick in St. Louis. In essence, they demonstrated by their actions that they cared more about the patients they would serve than about their own individual welfare.

A few years later, five other members of the religious order would give even more dramatic expression to the same Franciscan ideal. The five Sisters were sent from Germany in 1875 to join the founders in St. Louis, but they would never arrive. When the ship on which they were traveling began to sink, the Sisters gave up their seats on the lifeboats so that other passengers would not be separated from their families. Later, the bodies of several Sisters were found on shore, bound together by the cords of their habits – symbolically testifying to their belief in the connections that link us all.

Throughout much of the 20th century, dozens of different Franciscan Sisters brought that same sense of selflessness and service to their work at St. Anthony’s Hospital. Even today, people remember the loving way in which the Sisters treated patients – providing aid and comfort to everyone in their care, regardless of the patient’s background: Rich or poor, Catholic or non-believer, African-American or white…all were welcomed, all were served with dignity and respect. The Sisters also are remembered for extending the same courtesy to staff and physicians – and even to the people of the neighborhood, the poorest of whom the Sisters fed from the bounty of the hospital’s garden and kitchen.

It is this tradition of servant leadership that first gave St. Anthony’s its unique character as a Catholic hospital, a place of advanced medicine and compassionate care. Today, the Franciscan Sisters are gone from the medical center. However, their example lives on in a mission that challenges us to perceive that it is not just a duty, but a privilege to serve each person who comes to us for medical care.

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For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.

Working as trusted partners, the physicians and employees of St. Anthony's Health System will deliver care distinguished by its demonstrated quality and personalized service. We will be visibly engaged in improving the health and well­ being of the communities we serve in South County and beyond. We will stand together, proud to set the standard for independent community health systems.