Above: St. Mary’s Hospital once stood tall in Roswell until the building was closed in 1995 from deteriorating conditions and no prospects for a buyer. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)
Below: A side view of St. Mary’s Hospital. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)
Above: This bird’s eye view photo over looking Roswell was taken on April 2, 1912. The view is more angled toward the southwest over Main Street.St. Mary’s Hospital can be seen at the far end of Main Street. Cummings Garage was on Richardson, just off of Second Street. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)
Below: St. Peter’s Catholic Rectory for priests and nuns was built in 1929. Robert M. Watt was the building contractor. Father Matthews can be seen standing on the porch. Matthews served as pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Rectory from 1923 to 1934. The rectory was eventually torn down and replaced. Priests from St. John’s Franciscan in Ohio came to stay at the friary while receiving free medical care at St. Mary’s Hospital. A wind mill can be seen behind the building. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)
For any of us who have lived in Roswell longer than 20 years, St. Mary’s Hospital was a sort of landmark, on the south end of Main Street. It was where many of us were born and where many of us lost family members. For good, or for bad, it will be forever engraved in our mind’s eye.
The following is the history of St. Mary’s Hospital and of how it came to be.
In December of 1902, local citizens were prompted to seek means to establish a hospital. At that time, a Franciscan priest wrote: “Roswell has a superb climate, being similar to, although somewhat colder than Phoenix, and is certain to be the largest city in the state at no very distant date, and centering the richest agricultural section in arid America.” The population required health care, in a hospital situation.
The second American mission of the community in the Southwest was established in Roswell in 1906. Situated in the southern part of the state on the Hondo River, Roswell had grown surprisingly from a village to a city. Two years prior to the opening of the hospital, Roswell was incorporated as a city, its population at the time was about 2000.
The thought of starting a mission for the sisters with lung trouble, who could be segregated and properly cared for, had been considered for some time; it was a partial incentive toward the building of St. Mary’s Hospital in Roswell. Among other factors, the efforts of Rev. Brother Liborius Springbob were effective in getting the sisters to locate there. With a view to looking over the situation and determining the prospects for an establishment, Sister M. Bonafice, Vicaress at the time, went to Roswell with a companion in 1905. So cordially were they received, and so willing were the people to help them, that no time was lost in beginning the new hospital.
For the city, the project to secure funds and the appointing of a committee to assist in the development, was underway July 7, 1905. As funds were realized from local contributions, the land acquired, and plans finalized, the cornerstone of Roswell’s first hospital, St. Mary’s, was laid on Dec. 3, 1905, with the honorable H. J. Hagerman, governor of New Mexico, giving the principle address.
Construction was placed in charge of Pater Heribert Brockman, O. F. M., and by April of the following year, it was completed. Rev. Anton Joehren, who was chaplain to the sisters at Marshfield then and for many years, assisted Pater Heribert with the building, even lending a helping hand with the carpenter work and the manual labor of beautifying the grounds. Father Joehren called Roswell one of the dearest spots on earth.
He could already see the potential of this barren country. Together, both priests planted hundreds of fruit and shade trees, many around the large reservoir.
It is about 20×60 paces, and irrigated a large garden, which was a quiet, beautiful spot, being built on an elevation away from the hospital.
The produce from the trees and gardens helped feed the patients. The windmill from the well filled the reservoir, as well as supplying water for the hospital’s needs.
It all stood as a mark of their prudent foresight.
When completed, the building itself was an impressive edifice –– three stories high of brick exterior and with a spacious basement and attic.
The first four sisters appointed for Roswell arrived April 27, 1906. They were followed a few days later by four others, and later by several more.
There was much to do to prepare the building for the patients, but in comparison with the early foundations, the task of beginning was very much lighter. The sisters no longer had to undergo such extreme hardships. Most of the rooms for St. Mary’s were furnished by the people, and many of the needed supplies were brought from the sister’s hospital in Wichita, Kansa, so that when the dedication and informal opening of the building took place on June 1, everything was ready.
The first patient to be admitted was Rev. Joseph Doyle, a priest from Kansas City, Missouri. The first year saw a total of 105 patients, who soon found that hospital accommodations do not come cheap. Room rates in 1907 were $7.50 a week in wards, $10 a week in private rooms and $15 a week in corner rooms, which had a view.
A timeline of events…
• 1907: There was no scarcity of patients during the first years. A special house was erected for the consumptives; and this was succeeded by a new chapel, convent and sterilizing room.
• 1909: The elevator was installed. Up to that time patients were carried up and down the stairs.
• 1918: A new addition was completed, increasing the bed capacity to 65.
• 1922: During January, the maternity department was opened. The first baby born was Beverly Hodges, to W. S. and Jewel Hodges on January 13.
• 1931: Sister M. Clara died. She had been at St. Mary’s since 1907.
• 1942: A new hospital wing was completed. The wing was equipped with an x-ray, laboratory, emergency room, kitchen and diet kitchen, and a new assembly room.
• 1952: Peak year in admissions, numbering 5,716 with 865 babies born this year.
• 1958: St. Mary’s School of Practical Nursing opened January 6.
• 1959: The second floor rest home was opened.
St. Mary’s grew and lasted until 1995, when it was closed due to the deteriorating conditions of the building and no prospects for a buyer.
“To everything, there is a season…..”
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or email at email@example.com.