Ascension Providence traces its roots to 17th-century France, where in 1633 a parish priest, Vincent de Paul, and an aristocratic widow, Louise de Marillac, founded a new religious order dedicated to serving the poor. Unlike other Catholic sisters, the Daughters of Charity were not cloistered. Instead, they took their ministry to the people most in need. Nearly 180 years later, a young widow and mother of five felt called to establish a similar religious community in the United States. Elizabeth Ann Seton, later named the first American-born saint in the Catholic Church, founded the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809.
Persistent bouts of yellow fever plagued Mobile throughout the 1800s, and in 1841, Mobile’s first bishop, Michael Portier, asked the Sisters to come to Mobile to care for children who lost their parents to the devastating disease. Four Sisters from Emmitsburg arrived that year to work at the Catholic Orphans’ Asylum, now known as St. Mary’s Home. In 1852, the Daughters of Charity, as they were by then known, began work in Mobile’s City Hospital but were soon asked to leave due to anti-Catholic bias.
Concerned citizens immediately began making plans to build the Daughters their own hospital. On August 15, 1854, a board for this new organization was formed, consisting of Father James McGarahan, vicar general of the diocese; C. W. Dorrance, an auctioneer and trader; and Patrick Pepper, a local merchant. The group purchased a plot of land at the corners of Broad and St. Anthony Streets at what was then the western edge of town and began construction of a two and one-half story, 60-bed hospital, which was opened the next year.
By the turn of the century, Mobile’s population had increased and shifted west. The Daughters of Charity did the same, moving the hospital to 1504 Springhill Avenue. This second hospital, a Mediterranean-inspired stucco building, opened its doors in 1902 and, two years later, became the home of Mobile’s first school of nursing and the second in Alabama.
In 1908 an east wing was added to the building, which remained largely unchanged until 1950 when the population of Mobile had grown to 230,000. For Ascension Providence, it was time to build again.
In late February 1949 ground was broken on land in front of the second facility on Springhill Avenue. Three years later the Daughters of Charity and patients moved into a $4 million, 250-bed modern hospital complete with air conditioning and fluorescent lighting. Several additions were made to this building over the years, and Providence became the first hospital in Mobile to offer kidney dialysis, neuroangiography, magnetic resonance imaging, health and wellness services, pastoral care and family-centered maternity care.
Population shifts, limited space and changes in technology soon required either a complete renovation of the facility or the building of a new one. In response, the Daughters of Charity made the difficult decision in 1982 to relocate Ascension Providence to its present site in West Mobile. The $60 million facility, with its distinctive futuristic architecture, accepted its first patients on July 15, 1987. More than thirty years later, Providence continues to be one of Mobile’s most advanced healthcare facility.