Enduring establishments create a legacy, and how they came to be says a great deal about their creators.
Just such a legacy was celebrated Aug. 1 in Jerome, when city officials, St. Luke’s staff members and a group of living angels gathered to close a historic chapter in the life of the community and say goodbye to one very special woman.
“The word is ‘wow,’” Sister Barbara Jean Glodowski said when St. Luke’s Health System President and CEO Dr. David Pate announced that she had been recognized with a special President’s Award.
“I did not expect this.”
Sister Barbara, who has experienced health challenges in recent years and has been called back to the motherhouse in Cottonwood in North Idaho, is the last in a long line of Benedictine sisters who have been critical participants in health care in southern Idaho.
Over the decades, the sisters steadily and mindfully built a legacy of compassion, sacrifice, spirituality and humanitarian concern, along with bricks and mortar. That chapter quietly came to a close Aug. 1, and for the first time since the early 1900s, hospitals in southern Idaho will be without the Benedictine presence.
The order has a long history of advancing culture, education and care in the region, dating to the time the first three missionary sisters from a cloistered community in Switzerland came to Oregon in 1882.
They established schools in Washington, Oregon and Idaho before founding the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood in 1907.
The pressing need for medical care for the families of Idaho drew them to health care and to the Magic Valley. In February of 1923, the prioress of the St. Gertrude’s convent and another sister representing the order purchased and renovated the Wendell Inn in Gooding County to address an escalating need for elder care and established a “home for the aged.”
Before the facility opened, however, the sisters were receiving requests to accept acutely ill patients for hospital care. Their calling compelled them to accept the invitation, and so began the health care legacy of the Benedictine sisters at St. Valentine’s Hospital in Wendell.
None of the sisters had training as nurses, so two local physicians trained them in health care and surgery. The sisters purchased medical equipment and hospital supplies for $4,000. Shortly thereafter, the first hospital in western Magic Valley was operational.
Their success and the expanding need for health care in rural Idaho did not go unnoticed. By the 1940s, the sisters had received numerous requests from the Jerome Memorial Hospital Board to establish a hospital in Jerome.
The community of Jerome collected $300,000. The Jerome Chamber of Commerce provided $75,000 and a grant provided $208,000 toward a new hospital. The sisters assumed responsibility for all remaining costs, including construction of their living quarters, the chapel and ongoing improvements, totaling $1,068,911; the value amounts to nearly $10 million in current dollars.
In an effort that joined the civic and monastic communities, the project was completed and on March 18, 1952, the move to the new hospital from St. Valentine’s in Wendell was accomplished in a single day with the help of the National Guard, which moved equipment and furnishings. Four ambulances and several cars moved the first patients into the new St. Benedict’s Hospital.
In 1961, the sisters added a long-term care unit on land west of the hospital. The $400,000, 40-bed nursing home was filled to capacity soon after opening.
Accolades and recognition for excellence for the quality and care at St. Benedict’s was plentiful. The facility was named among the top 100 hospitals in America, on two occasions being the only such facility with that distinction in the state of Idaho.
In the years that followed, St. Benedict’s established the first hospital-based home health agency in Idaho, opened a kidney dialysis unit and was designated a Critical Access Hospital by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Such designation is intended to improve access to health care in rural communities.
St. Benedict’s integrated with St. Luke’s Twin Falls in 2011 and took on the new name of St. Luke’s Jerome, shortly after Sister Barbara Jean Glodowski joined the hospital to serve in pastoral care. As had her predecessors, she jumped vigorously into the life of the hospital, providing spiritual care, coordinating volunteers, helping with employee orientation and becoming involved with numerous other programs and projects.
Representatives from the Cottonwood monastic community, dozens of St. Luke’s staff members, patients, family members and others celebrated the sisters’ legacy Aug. 1, and Sister Barbara took the opportunity to share the call that made the Benedictine spirit so meaningful.
“Watch who we’re serving,” she told celebrants. “We’re serving the whole person, body, mind and spirit.
“We just need to treat everyone with respect.”
Roya Camp is managing editor and executive communications coordinator for St. Luke’s Health System.