For history buffs and others interested in learning more about Sister Mary Benedict or Dr. William Reese, founders of the first Dodgeville hospitals, here, we share some information. Below are excerpts from "They Found A Way," a history of St. Joseph's Hospital:
From Pages 5 & 6:
In the month of November, 1912, the curiosity of the residents of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, was aroused by the appearance of strange women dressed in long, flowing, brown robes, black veils, and odd-looking head-dresses. "Are they Indians?" some of the people asked. It did not take very long for word to get around that these strangers were Catholic Sisters belonging to an incorporated congregation known as the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, whose Motherhouse is located in Little Falls, Minnesota. They had been sent here to "find ways and means of starting a Hospital…"
Exactly why Dodgeville was chosen as a site for the new hospital only God and Sister Mary Benedict know for certain. It is commonly believed that the Rev. Andrew J. Ambauen, of St. Joseph's parish, which was organized in 1883, was instrumental in forming some kind of contact. Fr. Ambauen agreed to let the Sisters use the abandoned school building as their temporary residence.
Finding herself alone, Sister Mary Benedict, with God in her heart, and very little money in her pocket, went to the parish church to beg for Divine assistance. Here an elderly lady known as Catherine Blotz found her in tears. She took her home with her and treated her royally. During the next few days, Sr. Mary Benedict, with the help of several generous ladies, cleaned up the old school to prepare for the arrival of the other two Sisters. In later year, when Sister M. Benedict would recall this period, she would always tell what a wonderful housekeeper Katie Blotz was. She was so clean that the sheets were immaculately white.
From Pages 7 & 8, describing the Sisters' first 14 months in Dodgeville, before the hospital was constructed:
The three Sisters lived in the abandoned school, which had stood vacant since 1906. It had been started by Father Ambauen in about 1896, but was closed after five years. It remained closed for several years until he obtained another group of Sisters to run it. Both groups had abandoned it because of the cold and other hardships…
The fourteen months spent in this old school were indeed a challenge to the perseverance and courage of these valiant women. In later years, recalling this period, Sister Mary Scholastica commented that if it had not been for the encouragement given them by Sister Mary Francis, who had been the community's first elected Mother General, they could not have endured the poverty, cold and hardships of that winter. One can estimate how cold the building was by the fact that in order to keep the bread raising, the pan of dough had to be covered with bedding. In order to keep the yeast from freezing over night, like the milk did, it was put in a covered fruit jar and taken along to bed.
…the parents of the Sisters sent their daughters donations of food from their home in Richmond, Minnesota. Mary Bishop and other generous donors also helped out by bringing the Sisters baskets of food. Every time Mr. Henry M. Richards would butcher, it would mean the Sisters would have blood sausage to eat. He would bring the Sisters out to his farm 2 miles South of Dodgeville, and either he or Luman would bring them back to the school again in horse and buggy. They butchered several times during the month of March in 1913.
From Pages 9 and 10, describing the Sisters' missions to the sick and their "begging tours" to raise money for the new hospital:
The first patient to be cared for by Sister Mary Benedict in Dodgeville was Mrs. William (Gertrude) Schoenemann, who had been ill since October, 1912. During the last three weeks of January 1913, Sister Mary Benedict stayed with her, giving her loving care. Meanwhile, Sister Mary Scholastica and one of the daughters, Gertrude by name, trudged the streets of Dodgeville, going from door to door. Sister would ask them for anything they were not using, which might be helpful to them in the hospital: funds, towels, pillow slips, sheets, anything was welcome…
Many drivers took Sister Benedict around soliciting with horse and buggy, including Matthew Ley and Joe Lautz, but no one did it oftener than Jim Pengelly, who had a livery stable. While they canvassed the area of Mineral Point… they returned to Dodgeville each night. The reason for this was that they might take turns staying with Mrs. James (Fanney) Talley, who was very ill with dropsy, and too heavy for her granddaughter, Mrs. Ella Perkins, to lift because of her conditions… During this period of waiting for the hospital to be built, Sister Mary Benedict is known to have done a great deal of home nursing…