This was during the Civil War, when many wounded men were arriving in the hospitals. The purpose of the sisters' journey was to establish a Franciscan hospital in Hoboken.
Father Couvin had secured a building from a local butcher named Brian Smith at 134 Meadow St. (now 324 Park Ave.) The sisters worked tirelessly to put the old house in order, and when it was ready, they began their visitation of the sick and the needy.
This old 12-room home was to become St. Mary Hospital.
In 1863, the population of Hoboken was 9,662. That number would double in a decade, and so would the need for medical treatment.
Expansion in 1865
In December 1863, in anticipation of this population explosion, the sisters purchased five lots at Fourth and Willow, where the new hospital would rise. The tiny 28-bed facility simply was not large enough.
So in September of 1865, work began on what would be the first hospital to occupy the present-day site of St. Mary.
The money to pay for the land was raised though donations and subscription. The Stevens family, through the efforts of Martha Bayard Stevens, donated additional land and endowed a St. Martha's ward to the new hospital. The Most Rev. James Roosevelt Bayley, first bishop of the Diocese of Newark, blessed the completed 125-bed institution on May 6, 1866, just three and a half years after the sisters arrived in Hoboken.
In 1870, Saint Mary Hospital expanded once more to meet the demands of what was now a growing city.
In 1889, a South wing was added, just months before the Spanish-American War began filling the seaport hospital with wounded servicemen.
By 1916, once again, St. Mary Hospital had outgrown its facility, so a new complex that would better serve the needs of the people of Hoboken replaced the 1866 building.
When America entered World War I in 1917, the United States government took over the operation of St. Mary Hospital. Hoboken became the main port of embarkation for the nearly two million doughboys bound for the western front, and Saint Mary became "Embarkation Hospital Number One."
For the third time in the 54-year history of the hospital, soldiers were again patients at Saint Mary.
In 1920, after the armistice and most of the troops were back home, the Army repainted the hospital and returned it to the sisters. The School of Nursing that had been established before the Army took over was reorganized, medical and administrative staffs were formed, and the hospital began functioning as before.
Part of history
During the Great Depression, the sisters opened a soup kitchen that fed 200 to 300 people twice a day. This facility remained open for many years.
In 1927, St. Mary opened one of the first tuberculosis clinics in the state, and in 1955 the Infectious Diseases Wing became the maternity ward. In 1971, a new South Wing was dedicated.
On Oct. 24, 1977, Jerome Pechillo, the archdiocesan auxiliary bishop for Hudson County, officiated at the dedication ceremonies for the new $10 million North Tower health care facility. On that day, U.S. Senators Clifford Case and Harrison Williams joined with city officials to extol the praises of the Franciscan Sisters.
In 2000, after 142 years of operation, St. Mary Hospital was sold to Bon Secours Heath Care System.
St. Mary Hospital still tends to the medical needs of the people of Hoboken and the rest of Hudson County with the same philosophy the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor brought with them when they first came to Hoboken: excellence in health care and promotion of the dignity of the human person.
Editor's note: A full version of this column was originally printed in Hoboken History Issue No. 20, published by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Please visit the museum at 1301 Hudson St. for more information. To read past columns from this year-long series, visit www.hobokenreporter.com.