In 1898, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother had a desire to provide healthcare to the underserved population in and around the Wabasha area. Through their determination, diligence and hard work, they established a retrofitted hospital in the historic Milligan home, creating what would become a foundational benchmark in the community that would stand the test of time.
On Jan. 24, Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Clinics, an affiliate since 2020, kicked off its year-long celebration marking the 125th anniversary of care and service to the Wabasha area. St. Elizabeth’s leaders, staff, residents and guests gathered that morning to honor the trinity of religious sisters who brought their vision to fruition more than a century ago, as well as those who’ve assumed their mission and built upon that legacy of medical innovation that exists today.
“It’s a privilege for me to be here to celebrate 125 years of caring for this community by St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,” said Scott Rathgaber, MD, CEO of Bellin Health/Gundersen Health System. “Who could’ve imagined all that progress and where we are today when the Sisters established the medical outpost before the turn of the previous century.”
What remains with Dr. Rathgaber, he said, are the many acts of healing and compassion witnessed at St. Elizabeth’s by those in the greater Wabasha community.
“We celebrate that long legacy of service today, and we look to continue that commitment for many years to come,” he said. “It’s a celebration of the past but also a look to the future.”
Dr. Rathgaber added that although Gundersen is a new partner in the history of care at St. Elizabeth’s, the organization he leads shares that same commitment to the community and the promise to support care close to home.
“We appreciate our partnership with the Diocese (of Winona-Rochester), the Bishop and the community to work together as we shepherd that vision of the founders for the next 125 years,” he said.
Tom Crowley, the director of St. Elizabeth’s Community Development Foundation, who’s worked in some capacity at the hospital for 52 years, reflected on the perseverance of those founders, who arrived on the banks of the Mississippi River in a horse and buggy, with few essentials in their possession.
“The needs were so great, but their will was mightier,” Crowley said. “True to their core principles, they served nobly and humbly, with compassion and generosity.”
The Sisters’ job, he said, was day and night, not only caring for the health of the people, but also taking in orphans, tending to farmland and animals, and harvesting their own food.
“I marvel at the sheer faith, determination, courage and foresight of these wise Sisters,” Crowley said. “The mission and values we live out today were offered by these legacy makers and guide every action we take and decision we make.”
At the celebration, which was duplicated for those at Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Care Center that day, those in attendance browsed photo books to learn more about the hospital’s history and signed a guestbook that will be sealed in a time capsule until the 150th anniversary commemoration.
The event that day was the first of many planned for patients, staff and community members throughout 2023. Be on the lookout for more information about activities and events in the coming year.
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