Mother Monica

An image of Mother Monica. From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

Mother Monica

  • Date of birth: Feb. 23, 1851
  • Date of death: Jan. 23, 1931
  • Accomplishments related to: Health
  • Major affiliations: St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph exterior

St. Joseph July 1905. From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

In 1881 a group of 5 Sisters from the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph came to the area that is now recognized as Thunder Bay to meet the unmet needs of the residents.

Originally the Sisters set up a school but quickly identified that there was a great need for a hospital in this area. With the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway underway, workers were at risk of injury or death due to the dangerous and difficult work they were doing.

First hospital 1884

A photo of the first hospital building in 1884. From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

View of hospital from Algoma Street

A view from Algoma St. of the hospital (left) built in 1884 and the Convent and Church (right). From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

In 1884, the Sisters were caring for patients at the makeshift hospital established in their convent, and Sister Monica was placed in charge of these nursing services. At this time, the need for a proper facility was evident. On September 8, 1884, the cornerstone for a new hospital was laid. This was to become known as St. Joseph's Hospital.

Financing the needs of the Hospital was a heavy task. The town council had pledged $50 a month to the Sisters, but many of those who were treated were on low wages or unemployed. In those days no welfare provision for health care was available.

But the nuns, led by Sister (after 1887 Mother) Monica, were industrious in seeking funds and innovative in their methods. One account of these years, written in the 1950s, records:

"These were the days when Mother Monica personally conducted hazardous trips up and down the line of construction (of the CPR) to collect in the camps money to carry on her work of mercy... and though... little money was in circulation, the Sisters were never refused their dollar. A person could buy a hospital card for $5 for which in case of accident or sickness the holder would be taken care of during his stay in hospital without additional costs."

Mother Monica headed the Hospital from 1884 until her retirement in 1923. Her influence upon the development of St. Joseph's Hospital was, therefore, paramount. She oversaw the expansion of the Hospital and its services during a period of very rapid growth of both Port Arthur and Fort William.

By 1900, such was the demand for hospital services that the Sisters built an additional three-storey wing to the original structure, which itself received a third floor to match it. In 1904, a third wing was added and St. Joseph's Hospital School of Nursing was established.

Operating room, St. Joseph's Hospital

Operating Room, St. Joseph's Hospital, 1906. From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

First graduating class

Photo of the first graduating class from St. Joseph's Hospital School of Nursing with Nursing School Director (centre) 1907. From the collection of St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

By 1918 construction was completed on another five-storey wing. The fifth floor housed surgical facilities of the most modern kind. By that time the Hospital could accommodate 150 patients with a staff of fifty. In 1922 the Hospital received an A1 grade from the American College of Surgeons.

As Mother Monica's life drew to its close in 1931, she would have every reason to feel proud of her achievements. In addition to her sterling leadership, she had set a precedent for future administrations of the Hospital - that it would be headed by a series of powerful women. One cannot think of another major institution in the region that can make such a claim. As in so many other ways, St. Joseph's Hospital was ahead of its time.

Submitted by: St. Joseph's Foundation of Thunder Bay

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