Alexian Brothers Hospital: St. Louis, Missouri


Brother Bonaventure Thelen, C.F.A. in 1869




The original home of Alexian Brothers Hospital is known variously as the "Simons Mansion," the "Simmons Mansion," and the "Simonds Mansion."






 Alexian Brothers Hospital in the 1870s






Alexian Brothers Hospital in 1905








Brothers Community 1929 







Alexian Brothers Hospital in 1959





Snack Shop in 1967





A Century of Service to God and Man





Brothers Residence





Blessing of Brothers Residence
December 8, 1977





Alexian Brothers Hospital in 1979





Alexian Brothers Health Center




Stained glass window from Belgium





The 1860s
Late in 1869 -- a little more than three years after his arrival in the United States -- the founder of the Alexian Brothers' American Province, Brother Bonaventure Thelen, sent two Brothers to St. Louis to establish a second hospital of the Congregation there. The proposal already had received the approbation of Peter Richard Kenrick, Archbishop of St. Louis. The two chosen were Brothers Paulus Pollig and Alexius Bernard. Brother Paulus had come to the U.S. in 1866 and Brother Alexius was the first American-born to join the Congregation, having entered the novitiate on September 20, 1866. Although he did not remain an Alexian Brother, this distinction and his contribution to the St. Louis foundation demand for Brother Alexius a place in the history of the American Province.

On December 7, 1869, the remodeled "Simmons Mansion" on Carondolet Road (now South Broadway) at Osage Street, which had been purchased by the Brothers from Mr. James Lucas, was blessed as St. Joseph's Hospital. Patients were not admitted to the twenty-bed hospital until April of 1870.

The 1870s
A rather large addition to the building (illustrated on some of the oldest hospital stationery) was completed in 1874 and the original mansion became the "Insane Department." Their records indicated that the Brothers who organized it called the special department "Misericordia Institute." This is believed to have been the first psychiatric division in any general hospital in St. Louis.

The 1880s and 1890s
Within ten years the Brothers concluded that more space was needed for patients, facilities and Brothers' quarters. According to oral history from the older Brothers, it was planned to have the addition in line with, and extending back from the 1874 structure. One influential physician, however, prevailed upon the Superior General to order the building (completed in 1889) extended forward to the street. The problems created by this decision persisted well into the 1970's. Following a devastating tornado which hit St. Louis on May 27, 1896, an additional floor was added to the 1874 building and with the exception of the so-called monastery wing, added in 1930, the basic hospital plant was unchanged until another wing and a new chapel were added in 1958.

The 1900s to the 1920s
A "Free Dispensary" for outpatients of both sexes was established in February 1900, and in 1910 was moved into the former Padberg residence immediately north of the hospital. This house was replaced by a new Clinic erected on the same site in 1930.

Since 1909 the hospital was an affiliate of St. Louis University School of Medicine, providing facilities for the clinical education of students, interns and residents. All attending physicians were, therefore, subject to approval by the University and in most cases were members of its faculty. Also in cooperation with the University, a School of Nursing was opened under the direction of Brother Camillus Snyder in September 1928. It was considered a unit of the St. Louis University School of Nursing, and accepted only male students. This school operated until 1951 when it was merged with the larger school operated in conjunction with the hospital in Chicago.

The 1940s and 1950s
In the late 1940's there had been an unsuccessful drive to raise funds for a new hospital. When the matter of rebuilding or expansion was again taken up, a Civic Advisory Board was formed in 1954.

Cardinal Joseph Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis set up the Board at the request of the Rector, Brother Jude Eckrich. J. Harvey Vatterott served as the first president of the Board to which Monsignor Lloyd A. Sullivan of Epiphany Parish gave strength through his untiring promotion of the Brothers' mission. The fundraising resulted in the construction of a new chapel and a four-story addition for the hospital. The first floor housed the Dietary department, kitchens, cafeteria, and Brothers' dining room. The second floor accommodated the X-ray department and the Clinical Laboratory. Patient rooms were on the third floor, and the fourth floor consisted of three new operating rooms and a recovery room. Cardinal Joseph Ritter blessed the addition and new chapel on March 15, 1959.

The 1960s
In recognition of the needs of the times the articles of incorporation were amended in 1962 to permit the admission of women patients, the first being admitted on July 1. The Psychiatric Department, however, remained exclusively male.

The hospital observed its 100th anniversary in 1969, with virtually all of the original buildings still in use, although they had been frequently renovated and were well maintained. Over the years many small additions had been made to the hospital complex: an enlarged power plant, shops, living quarters for nurses and employees, etc. New or expanded services were also added from time to time, ranging from the Occupational Therapy for psychiatric patients (1930) through the Intensive Care Unit (1966) on to the Respiratory Therapy Department in 1975.

The 1970s
On May 27, 1976, ground was broken for a $13 million building and remodeling program. Local and civic leaders gathered for this "official" ceremony, although work had already begun which would demolish nearly 80 percent of the old, obsolete hospital complex. Also on the agenda was a new Residence for the Brothers Community, to replace the existing 1928 building. This new building, at Keokuk and Ohio Streets, was completed the next year and blessed on December 8, 1977.

A little more than two and one half years after the hospital construction project was begun, hospital personnel and patients made the big move from the old quarters into the new buildings. These consisted of a six-story patient tower and a four-story general purpose building which replaced the 1874 and the 1889 buildings. The move on Sunday, September 3, 1978 was accomplished smoothly in two hours and twenty minutes. More than 75 percent of the hospital's off-duty personnel came in voluntarily to help with the move, and representatives from all of the St. Louis television stations and local newspapers were on the scene to record the event.

Soon after the move was completed, the two older buildings were demolished and work was begun on the last phase of the construction project. This was a two-story building that would house administrative as well as other business offices, a new Emergency Department, and a new Pharmacy.

The project was completed in 1979, and dedicated and blessed on September 30 by John Joseph Cardinal Carberry, Archbishop of St. Louis. The new complex included 198 beds with new equipment for patient care in every room. There were new emergency and trauma departments, and an enlarged ancillary services building for dietary, laboratory, radiology, surgery, psychiatry, and occupational therapy departments. Added also were new monitoring systems for Intensive Care and Coronary Care, a new ultrasound and special X-ray procedure facilities, and a new laminar flow hood in the orthopedic operating room. The completion of this project made ABH the "newest -- in terms of structure -- yet the oldest -- in length of service in the city of St. Louis."

The 1980s
Late in 1982, Brother Philip Kennedy, who was the Chief Executive Officer at that time, was asked by the mayor of St. Louis to coordinate the management of City Hospital for an interim period. The Brothers agreed that his time and expertise should be donated to City Hospital for about three months while the management system at City underwent reorganization. Brother Thomas Keusenkothen and four lay officials from ABH were also used as consultants during this period of time, which actually turned out to be almost seven months, not the anticipated 90 days.

The addition of the Alexian Brothers Health Center in south St. Louis County enhanced convenient accessibility to health care. The center offered a group of primary care physicians and specialists essential for comprehensive outpatient care. Services and features included radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, optical center, eye clinic, speech and hearing center, physical therapy, sports medicine, offices to accommodate 30 to 40 physicians, community meeting rooms, cardiac rehabilitation, a cancer diagnostic center, and a One-Day Surgery Center. The building also housed a MedStop making it a convenient one-stop facility for a variety of health care needs. The grand opening of the Health Center was held on June 2 and 3, 1984.

Perhaps the most enduring event of 1984 was the publication of the book To Rest in Charity by St. Louis writer and historian Father William B. Faherty, S.J. This book is a history of the Alexian Brothers in St. Louis during the years 1869 to 1984, and chronicles the arrival of the Alexian Brothers in America and their work in St. Louis. The book explores the Brothers' experiences against a backdrop of the history of St. Louis from its beginnings as a French settlement to the modern world of 1984.

In August of 1987, a three-panel, stained glass window set of a scene entitled "Christ the Healer" arrived at the Brother's Residence from Belgium. The windows came out of a sixteenth century building, although they were of modern design. They were first brought to the attention of Brother Augustine Lohman and Brother Valentino Bianco at the General Chapter in Belgium in 1986. The Brothers were shown the windows and in the spirit of inter-province collaboration the windows were given to the St. Louis Community for use in their newly designed chapel. They were reframed before they were placed in the chapel of the Brothers' Residence. The windows were memorialized to Brother Cyprian Yotowta and to Theresa Provasnik, mother of Brother Francis.

In July of 1989 construction began on the Alexian Brothers Senior Health Center, the first one-stop, full service, medical office in St. Louis for Medicare patients. Located at 4600 Chippewa in the Southtown Plaza, it opened on September 25. The second Alexian Brothers Senior Health Center opened one year later in Grasso Plaza.

The 1990s
Early in 1991, Alexian Plaza opened. This was a 14,600 square foot retail and medical building located on the east side of Broadway, directly across from the hospital.

The Associates Program was developed under the direction of Brother John Grider in October of 1992. The initial group consisted of eight members and began meeting on the fourth Saturday of every month. Reflecting the Alexian Brothers committment to partnership, this group functioned as the lay membership of the Alexian Brothers Community.

On July 6, 1993 the third Senior Health Center was opened in the Lindell Marketplace Shopping Center at 4131 Lindell. Later that year, Alexian Brothers Hospital made Missouri history when it helped purchase the defunct Central Medical Center on the City's north side for the state to open the first-ever human service and family support center in Missouri.

In November of 1993, the announcement was made that for the first time since the new ABH was completed in 1978, a major addition was to be built to house a $1.3 million expansion of the emergency department, registration area, and the addition of space for the growing Senior Services program. The 4,611 square-foot addition extended out from where the hospital's current ambulance and registration entrances were located on the west side of the building. Major reconfiguring and remodeling of another 6,083 existing square feet rounded out the expansion. Construction began in April of 1994 and the new areas were dedicated on January 26, 1995.

During the 1980's, the healthcare climate in St. Louis was rapidly changing. Managed care was a strong force in the hospital industry, and consolidation of healthcare facilities into powerful systems created intense competition. At the Provincial Chapter of 1991, a resolution had been passed empowering the Provincial Council to try all ways and means to keep the St. Louis hospital viable. By 1992 the Brothers had come to the realization that because of the dynamics of the St. Louis market, ABH could not continue to be viable in the long term.

The Brothers wanted to ensure that the health needs of the people in St. Louis would continue to be met, and so the decision was made to transfer sponsorship and control of the hospital to Unity Health System, a faith-based multihospital system. The third largest corporation in metropolitan St. Louis, Unity was a member of the Sisters of Mercy Health System-St. Louis. Under the agreement, the name would remain "Alexian Brothers Hospital", and operations would continue as an acute-care facility. Sponsorship of the hospital was transferred on June 30, 1997. The local Alexian Brothers community remained to assist the people of St. Louis through other ministries.

Copyright Alexian Brothers Provincial Archives, 2001