Ascension Wisconsin: Our Heritage, Our Story
Called to Continue the Healing Ministry of Jesus
The roots of our ministry — the roots of who we are as Ascension — go all the way back to the God who created us. In the scriptures, we see that God is always acting on behalf of creation and of human persons in community, especially on behalf of those who are poor and vulnerable. Throughout history, God has continually reached out in love. When our ancestors encountered the person of Jesus, they heard the Good News of God’s dream for the world — the full flourishing of every human person, a unity of the human community marked by peace and justice. The healing ministry of Jesus entrusted to us to continue today is a sign of the fullness of God’s reign.
Today, we are called to be the expression of God’s healing love in the world. We carry on the ministries our ancestors witnessed in Jesus: prayer and worship, healing, teaching, caring for those who are poor and marginalized – all ministries that serve human dignity and the common good. The women and men who founded Catholic healthcare lived in community, and carried out the ministry of healing, serving the whole person and whole communities. In their being and their actions, these persons were a living sign of God's love and healing presence.
In Ascension, our identity as a ministry of the Church guides us to be a community and to act in ways that give witness to God’s loving presence. Our Mission points the way and echoes the story that goes back to the dawn of creation: to the love of God poured out into creation, to the calling forth of the human family made in the image of God. Today, as Ascension, we live our unified Mission to be rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, to offer spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities, to be advocates for a compassionate and just society through our actions and our words.
As important parts of a national, integrated ministry, Ascension physicians and caregivers work in collaboration to provide compassionate, personalized care for all, especially those who need it most. Just as our historic sponsors adapted to the needs of their times and communities, we are making changes to meet the needs of our times within our communities. As we unite under one shared Mission statement and name, we will continue to draw from the strong local service heritage of all of our health ministries. This is our story.
1848 Sisters of Charity open St. John’s Infirmary in Milwaukee
After Milwaukee Bishop John Martin Henni invites the Sisters of Charity in Maryland — a community of women established by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1809 — to come to Milwaukee, six sisters arrive and in 1848 open St. John’s Infirmary near the city’s cathedral. Just two weeks later, Wisconsin becomes a U.S. state. St. John’s Infirmary is Wisconsin’s first private hospital.
1858 Daughters of Charity open St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee
In 1850, several branches of the Sisters of Charity based in Emmitsburg, Maryland, choose to become part of the International Daughters of Charity whose motherhouse is in Paris. In doing so, they become the first American Province of the Daughters of Charity. Eight years later, the Daughters open St. Mary’s Hospital overlooking Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, a larger facility to replace St. John’s Infirmary. Between 1861 and 1863, St. Mary’s Hospital is the only hospital in Wisconsin caring for sick or wounded Civil War soldiers. As a Marine Hospital for Great Lakes seamen, St. Mary’s cares for as many as 110 soldiers at a time.
1882 First St. Mary’s Hospital in Racine established
First St. Mary’s Hospital in Racine established Church leaders in Milwaukee ask the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary — which was founded by Mother M. Clara Pfaender in Olpe, Germany and subsequently established in the United States in St. Louis, Missouri — to start a hospital in Racine, Wisconsin. These Franciscan Sisters later become known as the Wheaton Franciscans in the United States. The hospital begins in 1882 in a renovated hotel. After space in that building becomes inadequate to meet the needs of the growing community, a new St. Mary’s Hospital is dedicated in 1889.
1883 St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee is dedicated
The (Wheaton) Franciscan Sisters had been caring for patients in their homes in Milwaukee since the late 1870s. As demand for their services increases, Milwaukee’s archbishop grants his permission for a hospital to be built. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee is dedicated in 1883.
1890 Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield opens
In 1888, under the direction of Mother Frances Streitel, two Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother are sent to the United States to beg for alms for the Sisters caring for the sick, the poor and the homeless back in Rome. However, once there, the Bishop of Wichita, Kansas, asks that they come and manage St. Francis Hospital, which is in danger of closing. Two years after establishing themselves in Wichita, the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, asks them to come to Marshfield to establish a hospital in an area where many of the inhabitants are lumberjacks. To help meet expenses, the Sisters go to the lumber camps and sell $5.00 insurance coupons for a year of free healthcare.
1891 Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother begin oversight of St. Mary’s Hospital in Oshkosh
Father Roman Scholter of Oshkosh travels to Marshfield to enlist help from the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother to oversee St. Mary’s Hospital. In 1918, the Sisters assume oversight for a competing hospital called Lakeside and change the name to Mercy Hospital (shown here). A new facility, called Mercy Medical Center, is built in 2000.
1893 Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk opens
The pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Tomahawk asks the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother to start a hospital there, which begins in 1893 in a ramshackle building that formerly housed a saloon. A new hospital is built and dedicated in 1894. The current hospital and outpatient clinic open in 2003.
1894 St. Mary’s Training School for Nurses opens in Milwaukee
Nurses opens in Milwaukee Connected to St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee, the first class of nurses trained in the program — seven lay nurses and nine sisters — graduate in 1896. A total of 131 nurses graduate from the school between 1896 and 1914. The nursing school remains open for the next 75 years, providing hundreds of skilled nurses in a variety of specialized fields.
1895 Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander opens
To meet the growing demand for healthcare in the Wisconsin Northwoods, Sisters from Marshfield are asked in 1893 to assume responsibility for the recently established Rhinelander Hospital. In order to provide financial support, a ticket insurance program similar to the one begun in Marshfield is introduced in Rhinelander. In 1895, Saint Mary’s Hospital is completed. In 2002, a replacement Saint Mary’s Hospital opens on land just northeast of the city.
1898 Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center opens in Wabasha, Minnesota
The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother travel from Wisconsin to establish a hospital in the rural Minnesota community of Wabasha.
1899 St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton opens
In 1885, the mayor of Appleton, Wisconsin, invites the (Wheaton) Franciscan Sisters to open a hospital in his community. It takes a number of years, but in 1899 the city agrees to donate land to the Sisters for the first site of St. Elizabeth Hospital.
1902 St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Milwaukee built on hospital grounds
The St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing begins in 1899 and moves to a building on the hospital grounds in 1902. By 1936, the nursing school becomes a collegiate program through Marquette University. St. Mary’s Hospital in Racine also begins a nursing school early in the 20th century.
1909 Cornerstone Laid for Second St. Mary’s Hospital — later known as the East Facility — in Milwaukee
A small group of physicians and community leaders found Columbia Hospital to provide additional patient care and encourage medical research and education.
1909 Cornerstone Laid for Second St. Mary’s Hospital
The cornerstone is laid for the second St. Mary’s Hospital that later becomes known as the east facility. The $500,000 facility is designed to hold 200 beds, and the first patients are moved to the new hospital in 1910. Shortly thereafter, the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee is razed.
1913 Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother begin oversight of Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point
The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother accept responsibility to manage Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point following a request from the City Hospital Association of Stevens Point in 1913.
1915 Catholic Hospital Association begins in Milwaukee
Initially proposed by the faculty of the Marquette University School of Medicine, the Catholic Hospital Association — which today is known as The Catholic Health Association of the United States — begins in 1915. Three hospitals operated by the (Wheaton) Franciscan Sisters are charter members.
1928 Seton Hall becomes new home for St. Mary’s School of Nursing, Milwaukee
Seton Hall, later named Grueninger Hall and even later St. Mary’s Medical Clinic-Northpoint, becomes the new home for St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Milwaukee in 1928.
1933 Third St. Mary’s Hospital in Racine opens
Racine’s third St. Mary’s Hospital opens in 1933. Crowds are so large at an open house for the new facility that the Sisters hold additional open houses each Sunday afternoon until all who are interested have an opportunity to visit the facility.
1937 St. Michael’s Hospital in Milwaukee established
After St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee relocates to a new facility in 1930, the old facility is sold. That property’s new owner, facing financial difficulties, sells the property back to the (Wheaton) Franciscan Sisters in 1937. The Sisters renovate the property and rename it St. Michael’s Hospital, with a focus on expanding its outpatient clinic presence. It relocates in 1957, and in 2006, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare closes the inpatient and emergency room services at St. Michael’s Hospital.
1947 Wheaton Franciscan motherhouse established
The Congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary receive permission to establish a new motherhouse in Wheaton, Illinois. From this point, the community comes to be known as the Wheaton Franciscans.
1983 Wheaton Franciscan Sisters establish Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc.
The Wheaton Franciscan Sisters found Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. (WFSI) as the parent organization for all of their corporate healthcare ministries. In 1986, WFSI establishes several regional healthcare organizations, including WFSI-Fox Valley, WFSI-Milwaukee and WFSI-Racine in Wisconsin. In 2006, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare becomes the name for all of the organization’s healthcare ministries.
1984 Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother establish precursor to Ministry Health Care
The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in the Midwest create the SSM-Ministry Corporation to align all of the Wisconsin hospitals they operate. In 1995 the corporation is renamed Ministry Health Care.
1985 St. Mary’s Hospital expands into Ozaukee County, Wisconsin
Milwaukee’s St. Mary’s Hospital expands into Ozaukee County in 1985 after purchasing the county’s only hospital, then-named St. Alphonsus, from the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. The facility, located in Port Washington, Wisconsin, is renamed St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee.
1986 Daughters of Charity National Health System
Daughters of Charity National Health System (DCNHS) is established, headquartered in St. Louis, extending the practice begun in the 1940s of sharing services among Daughters of Charity hospitals to bring greater efficiency to the healthcare ministry while continuing their commitment to the healing ministry of Jesus. By 1999, DCNHS includes nearly 80 hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics and other healthcare facilities in 15 states.
1987 All Saints Healthcare System in Racine established
Saint Mary’s Hospital (shown here), part of WFSI-Racine, and St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital, a community hospital in the Episcopal tradition, affiliate as All Saints Healthcare System. Today, All Saints operates on two campuses in Racine.
1989 Marian Health System is established
The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother establish the Marian Health System, which includes Ministry Health Care in Wisconsin as well as the sisters’ other health ministries in Oklahoma and Kansas. The health ministries of the Marian Health System join Ascension in 2013.
1993 Covenant Healthcare in Milwaukee is established
The Wheaton Franciscan hospitals in the Milwaukee area (collectively WFSI-Milwaukee) and St. Francis Hospital (top) affiliate to create Covenant Healthcare. St. Francis Hospital’s roots go back to five Felician Sisters who established a motherhouse in Polonia, Wisconsin, in 1874. In 1944, the Sisters were asked to help build a medical facility on the south side of Milwaukee. It took almost 12 years, but in 1956 St. Francis Hospital opened, and in 2006 it became known as Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare–St. Francis. One of the Wheaton hospitals, Elmbrook Memorial (bottom), began in 1910 as Misericordia Hospital, sponsored by the Misericordia Sisters. This small group of women got their start helping the homeless and ill of Montreal. In 1848, this group became known as the Sisters of Misericordia and later migrated from Canada to Wisconsin. In 1969, a replacement hospital was built in Brookfield and named Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, and in 1984 Elmbrook Memorial became a part of the Wheaton Franciscan system.
1994 Flambeau Hospital – Park Falls
Ministry Health Care enters into a joint sponsorship agreement with Marshfield Clinic to operate Flambeau Hospital.
1995 Columbia St. Mary’s established in Milwaukee
St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee enters into a joint operating agreement with neighboring Columbia Hospital to improve the scope and coordination of healthcare services to the Milwaukee and Ozaukee communities. Columbia St. Mary’s is established.
1995 Our Lady of Victory Hospital – Stanley
Ministry Health Care assumes operational responsibility for Victory Medical Center in Stanley, which had been founded in 1919. In 2003, a new hospital facility is opened and the facility is renamed Our Lady of Victory Hospital.
1995 Affinity Health System – Fox Valley is established
Wheaton Franciscan enters into an agreement with the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother to form Affinity Health System in the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin. The partnership unites Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton (shown here), and Calumet Medical Center in Chilton. In 2012, the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters transfer their sponsorship of Affinity Health System to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, and Ministry Health Care assumes sole responsibility for Affinity.
1999 Ascension Health is formed
The Daughters of Charity National Health System and the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System in Michigan come together to form Ascension Health, a national Catholic healthcare system, in order to extend into the future a shared healing Mission — caring for those persons who are poor and most in need — as well as a common Vision and set of core Values. At its founding, Ascension Health has 87,000 associates serving in acute care hospitals and other care facilities in 15 states and the District of Columbia. In fiscal year 1999, the new organization provides $374 million in community benefits and care for persons who are poor and vulnerable. The steering committee charged with naming the new health system considers hundreds of names. They decide on “Ascension Health” because the name clearly connotes the organization’s Catholic heritage, is easy to understand and remember, and implies an entity on the rise. The committee approves a new identity, fashioned in the shape of a trinity symbol, with an “A” in the middle. The three-color trinity symbolizes Ascension Health’s Catholic tradition — with green representing growth; blue, health; and purple, compassion. The integration of the “A” with the trinity symbol forever links the two and allows the new organization to tell stories of commitment, compassion, and growth of a healthy community.
2001 Ascension Health Ventures established
Ascension Health Ventures (now Ascension Ventures) is established to support Ascension’s health ministries by investing in medical device, healthcare technology, and healthcare service companies. To date, Ascension’s hospitals have adopted more than 270 solutions that were referred by Ascension Ventures.
2001 Howard Young Health Care – Woodruff and Eagle River
Lakeland Memorial Hospital opens in Woodruff in 1954. It is replaced by Howard Young Medical Center in 1977 — a new hospital made possible through the generosity of S. Howard Young, a New York art dealer who loved life in the Northwoods. Eagle River Memorial Hospital opens in 1961, and is expanded in 1977 and 1983. In 2001, Howard Young Health Care, comprised of Howard Young Medical Center and Eagle River Memorial Hospital, join Ministry Health Care. (Photo is of Elizabeth Taylor, Howard Young’s great-niece, speaking at the medical center in 1977.)
2002 Carondelet Health System joins Ascension Health
The health ministries of Carondelet Health System, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, join Ascension Health, the first addition to the health system since its founding in 1999. Adding a third sponsoring organization serves in many ways to solidify Ascension Health as a true system with a shared vision of preserving and enhancing Catholic healthcare.
2002 Ascension Health leaders create our Call to Action
More than 100 leaders from across Ascension Health gather to create the health system’s Call to Action — a commitment to provide Healthcare That Works, Healthcare That Is Safe and Healthcare That Leaves No One Behind, for Life. The Call to Action evolves in 2005 into our 2020 Strategic Direction. Our Strategic Direction continues today, as together we are driven by compassion and a dedication to provide person-centered care for all — especially those most in need.
2005 Good Samaritan Health Center in Merrill
The Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross from Ingenbohl, Switzerland, come to Merrill in 1924 to establish a hospital, which is dedicated in 1926 as Holy Cross Hospital. In 1987, the sisters transfer sponsorship of the hospital to the Catholic Health Corporation — now known as Catholic Health Initiatives — and the facility is renamed Good Samaritan Health Center. The hospital becomes a part of Ministry Health Care in 2005.
2005 Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston
Ministry Health Care opens a new hospital to serve the needs of central Wisconsin patients.
2008 Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare - Franklin opens
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare – Franklin opens as a full-service hospital. In 2009, the Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital opens in Franklin as a partnership with local orthopedic physicians.
2010 New Columbia St. Mary’s opens in Milwaukee
Columbia St. Mary’s opens a new $417 million hospital that is a national model for safe, efficient, patient-centered healthcare.
2011 Vatican formally recognizes Ascension Sponsor
From its creation in 1999, Ascension Health had been “co-sponsored” as a faith-based healthcare system by the historic congregations and communities who brought their health ministries to form and grow the system. In 2011, the Vatican approves a request from Ascension Health’s historic sponsors to establish a Ministerial Public Juridic Person, now known as Ascension Sponsor. This is the official link that makes Ascension a ministry of the Catholic Church, continuing Jesus’ healing ministry through our particular mission. With the same courage that was theirs from their origins, the historic sponsors officially entrust their healthcare ministries to this Ascension Sponsor, providing a powerful continuity linking the past, present and future.
2012 Ascension is formed as parent for Ascension Health and other supporting subsidiary organizations
Ascension, now the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health system, implements an innovative organizational structure in response to a changing environment. The evolution in structure increases focus on the delivery of a full range of support services, allowing Ascension’s subsidiaries greater freedom, while welcoming other organizations to join our healthcare ministry.
2012 Alexian Brothers Health System joins Ascension
The Alexian Brothers operate hospitals in the Chicago area as well as senior living facilities in other parts of the country. Their joining Ascension builds on our mutual strengths along the full continuum of care, particularly senior and long-term care, and reflects our shared commitment to provide person-centered care throughout the life cycle for all of the populations we serve.
2013 Ministry Health Care and the other health ministries of the former Marian Health System join Ascension
The three health systems that comprised the Marian Health System — Ministry Health Care in Wisconsin and Minnesota, St. John Health System in Oklahoma, and Via Christi Health in Kansas — join Ascension, bringing a rich heritage from its founding by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in 1989. Ascension welcomes nearly 29,000 associates who serve in more than 180 hospitals, clinics and other sites of care. Via Christi already had been an affiliate of Ascension in light of its sponsorship by the Congregation of St. Joseph — of which the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth had become a part upon the Congregation’s establishment in 2007.
2014 Ascension Senior Living is established
Ascension connects its various locally branded senior living operations around the country as Ascension Senior Living, one of the largest nonprofit senior living providers in the U.S. with more than 30 facilities in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Ascension Senior Living carries on the legacy of Ascension’s historic sponsors, who have provided care to the elderly for centuries.
2014 Ascension At Home joint venture is created
Ascension connects its various locally branded home care services as Ascension At Home, a joint venture with Evolution Health, a division of Envision Healthcare. Ascension At Home provides an array of post-acute services including home care, hospice care and infusion therapy.
2016 Southeast Wisconsin operations and related corporate services of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare join Ascension
Adding the strengths and expertise of Wheaton’s 11,000 associates to Ascension makes Ascension Wisconsin the second largest health system in the state and one of Ascension’s largest Ministry Markets.
2017 Ascension: One Integrated Ministry
Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, adopts a single common Mission statement across all of Ascension’s health ministries as well as a consistent Ascension identity in the communities we serve. This step along our journey reflects the unity of purpose of our One Integrated Ministry, honors our common Ascension heritage, and helps us sustain and grow our ministry for the future, furthering the healing ministry of Jesus.