Standing with Bishop James P. Powers are (left to right) Carmen Viegut, director of nursing, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital; Terri Theiler, vice president of patient care, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital; Sandy Anderson, president, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital; Bishop Powers; Debra Standridge, North Region president, Ascension Wisconsin; Antonina Olszewski, director of spiritual services, Ascension Wisconsin. (Submitted photo)

Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital, Tomahawk, welcomed Bishop James P. Powers of the Diocese of Superior to celebrate the hospital’s 125th anniversary Thursday, Sept. 27.

The 125th anniversary celebration included Mass with Bishop Powers at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and a memorial service at Calvary Cemetery honoring the institution’s founding sisters.

“This is a wonderful celebration of the legacy of those who laid the foundation for Sacred Heart Hospital and our current system of care,” said Sandy Anderson, president, Ascension Sacred Heart.

The tradition of Sacred Heart Hospital dates to 1893 when Fr. Charles Hoogstoel, pastor at St. Mary’s parish, learned that the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother were planning a hospital in Rhinelander. He pleaded that they begin one in Tomahawk, as well. The higher superiors of the Community of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother were pleased with the prospect and permission was granted from Bishop Messmer and Mother Frances Streitel.

Fr. Joseph Joch arrived in Tomahawk from Marshfield in October 1893, along with Sisters M. Anna Niegel, superior; M. Alexia Bauer, cook; M. Gabriela Ortlieb, portress; M. Clementia Baes, and later M. Dionysia Griebel, nurses. They started the hospital in an abandoned saloon and had their first patient the same day they arrived.

At the time, Fr. Joch wrote: “We started the hospital the same day that we arrived. We rented a ramshackle building – an abandoned saloon – drew a curtain through the middle of the barroom, put up a stove and beds in the front section of the room, used the rear for a kitchen, and the hospital was finished. On the same day we had one patient. After the building had been heated a little, all the hungry bedbugs that were hidden in the crevices came out, and the sisters had quite a killing time.”

The old saloon was poorly suited for a hospital, and after a few months, the sisters rented a home and 12 patients were admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital between Dec. 2, 1893, and Jan. 12, 1894.

Donated land led to a new hospital at 216 N. Seventh St. that was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on July 20, 1894. There were two wards and two private rooms on each floor with a bed capacity of 25.

In 1928, a third story was added to provide better accommodations for the sisters. Less than a decade later, a three-story addition on Washington Street provided 18 additional beds. At the same time, remodeling of the existing building resulted in new surgical and maternity departments and sun parlors. A new chapel was also built at this time. The chapel and addition were dedicated on Dec. 14, 1937.

In 1957, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother commissioned architects to design a new Sacred Heart Hospital. A blessing and laying of the cornerstone took place July 23, 1961. In October 1962, patients were moved from the old building into the new facility.

In 2001, Sacred Heart Hospital and then Ministry Medical Group announced plans to build a new facility on West Mohawk Drive, and the current hospital was completed in 2003.

“Today, we live our unified mission to be rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, to offer spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities, to be advocates for a compassionate and just society through our actions and our words,” said Anderson.

In 2013, Ascension St. Mary’s and the other legacy facilities of Ministry Health Care in central and northern Wisconsin joined Ascension. Ascension is the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.