Remembering Mother Mary Bernard Sheridan, CSJ, who died on this day, Feb 1, 1924

At CHC/SEK, our calling has always been to “do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, to all the people we can, and just as long as we can.”

Those words of inspiration first came from Mother Mary Bernard Sheridan, the Foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita.

Born in 1860, Jeanne Sheridan was the youngest of six children in County Roscommon, Ireland. Her journey to the United States began as her family fled Ireland after her father was charged with striking an officer of the law who was evicting a poor, aged widow from her cottage. Although his plan was to come to the U.S. and send for his family, he purportedly was lost at sea. Assuming that she was a widow, Jeanne’s mother immigrated to New York In 1866 and, without means, placed her three younger daughters, including Jeanne, in the care of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. On October 20, 1877, the seventeen-year-old Jeanne received the habit of the Congregation of St. Joseph at Erie and was given the name Sister Bernard.

By 1888, she had traveled west to Abilene, KS, where at twenty-eight years old, she became the founding superior known as Mother Bernard Sheridan. The new congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph numbered three professed sisters and one novice. By 1896, Mother Bernard was on the move again, this time to Parsons to establish a Motherhouse, and three years later to Osage Mission (now St. Paul) to oversee a school for the education of the Indian children.

At the same time, southeast Kansas was becoming a booming industrial area. Concerned local citizens were anxious to have a hospital to address the numerous injuries from dangerous mining and railroad accidents and to care for the ills of the increasing population (there was only a small, private hospital in Pittsburg at the time). They called upon the acting Catholic Bishop and facing tremendous obstacles, the task to establish the hospital fell upon Mother Bernard and a few of her Sisters. They opened Mount Carmel hospital in 1903, the first publicly accessible hospital that served all, regardless of ability to pay. She followed with a nursing school for Sisters and later anyone, introduced the concept of pre-paid health insurance for 25 cents a month, and challenged her staff to care for others as they would want God to care for their loved ones.

Serendipitously, the Michigan Street campus of CHC/SEK sits on the very land of the original Mount Carmel hospital where the Sisters labored for more than 70 years. Mother Bernard was a benevolent innovator and a risk-taker whom we remember and honor for her vision, determination, and commitment to the people of southeast Kansas. She left a legacy that lives on in the work we do today. 
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