During centennial year, St. Mary's in West Virginia honors past, focuses on advancing mission

January 2024

Sr. Joanne Obrochta, SAC, and a fellow nurse care for a patient at St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, in the late 1950s. Sr. Obrochta began with St. Mary's after her 1951 graduation from nursing school and continues to minister to patients today through her volunteer work in the hospital's department of spiritual care. In a message recorded for the "100 People, 100 Reasons" campaign, she spoke of her 70 years of service at the hospital.


As St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, marks its centennial this year, it is not just celebrating the past. It also is incorporating formation activities into its observances to help employees gain new insights into how they can shape the hospital's future.

The hospital launched its anniversary year with a November celebration involving members of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, the congregation that founded St. Mary's. During the festivities, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams named a city square in honor of the sisters. This year, anniversary activities will continue with a devotional book release, the dedication of a historical timeline, a Hospital Week celebration, a gala, a parade, a carnival and health fair, a summer luau for employees and a football tailgate. The centennial will conclude with a dinner and Mass in November.

Rev. Creasy

Rev. Greg Creasy, St. Mary's director of spiritual care and mission integration, is spearheading the commemorations. "We are not just talking about where we've come from but also where we're heading," he says. "We're talking about, after a century of caring, the legacy continues."

One of the formation elements St. Mary's is using to help employees process this concept is the weekly messages Rev. Creasy sends to staff. He's now tying the messages, called "Seeds of Faith," to anniversary themes. For instance, one message explains how St. Mary's founding sisters trusted God's provision, even when finances were very lean, and challenges employees to ask how they are doing the same. Another message describes how the sisters wanted to include everyone in their mission even when other hospitals were exclusionary. It asks how employees now are being inclusive.

Also Rev. Creasy and his wife, Robin Creasy, who worked for many years at St. Mary's, are releasing this month a prayer and devotions book. The book is centered on St. Mary's legacy and how past and present employees have lived out — and continue to live out — St. Mary's values. The acronym of those values — compassion, hospitality, reverence, interdependence, stewardship and trust — is CHRIST.

St. Mary's main entrance around 1950. The hospital is celebrating its 100th year.

Rev. Creasy also will be weaving centennial themes into an ongoing leadership formation series he runs that draws in part on CHA formation resources.

St. Mary's also is curating stories of past and present employees and other stakeholders. The hospital's "100 People, 100 Reasons" story collection highlights people who have been part of the hospital's legacy and the many reasons they are devoted to St. Mary's.

St. Mary's traces its roots to 1912, when four sisters from a congregation founded by St. Vincent Pallotti departed Bremerhaven, Germany, to serve in the United States. They twice cheated calamity. First, when one of the sisters' travel documents were not in order, all four had to delay the voyage they had planned on the Titanic, instead boarding a ship departing later. Once they arrived in the U.S., they had to delay a train trip they'd planned to Stella Niagara, New York, where they were to learn English with a congregation of St. Francis sisters. The train that they were to take wrecked and many of its passengers died.

The very fortunate sisters began their U.S. ministry in Richwood, West Virginia, opening a school there in 1912 and a hospital in 1913. In 1921, the Pallottine sisters opened another hospital, in Buckhannon, West Virginia. They then accepted the Wheeling, West Virginia, bishop's invitation to establish a hospital in Huntington.

St. Mary's main entrance now.

The sisters and local volunteers converted an abandoned school and gymnasium into the 35-bed hospital and convent that opened Nov. 6, 1924.

Initially the sisters did all the work at the hospital, nursing the sick and injured, cooking, cleaning, ironing and growing their own fruits and vegetables. Recognizing the need for more staff, the sisters in 1926 began a nursing school at St. Mary's that remains today.

St. Mary's was the only hospital in the region during that era that had an "open medical staff." St. Mary's did not bar its physicians from also having admitting privileges at other hospitals. The open policy promoted its swift growth.

Over the past century, St. Mary's has expanded to its current 393-bed capacity. It has 2,600 employees.

In 2012, St. Mary's partnered with a community organization to build an $18 million satellite campus 20 miles away in Ironton, Ohio.

In 2014, the sisters ceded governance of the hospital, entering into an agreement for Cabell Huntington Hospital to run St. Mary's. In 2018, Cabell Huntington Hospital acquired St. Mary's, with both hospitals now under the Mountain Health Network parent system. Last year, Mountain Health Network joined with nearby Marshall Health and Marshall University to form an integrated academic health system. That system, called Marshall Health Network, includes four hospitals. Amid all the changes, St. Mary's has maintained its Catholic identity.

Rev. Creasy acknowledges recent changes have brought some angst, but he says that St. Mary's and its leadership are focusing on their commitment to the hospital's faith-based mission. "We are emphasizing the values," he says. "We're focusing on how we're all living out the values and carrying out our vocations."


Copyright © 2024 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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