A Remarkable Beginning

In 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph are founded by Father Jean-Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest in LePuy, France. He has the vision to organize an order of religious women who, rather than remaining safely cloistered in a convent, would venture out into the community, seek out "the dear neighbor" and minister to their needs. In 1836, the first six missionaries travel to St. Louis, Missouri.

More than 60 years ago, over two thousand people stood in the rain to see the opening of the new St. Jude Hospital. In the words of one newspaper, “This is the day we have been waiting for. All of Orange County rejoices over the completion of the ultramodern St. Jude Hospital.”

There was tremendous excitement over the high-tech features of the new hospital. Going far beyond the community standard at the time, it offered the latest advances in care including state-of-the-art operating areas and a new concept in medicine called “the recovery room.” Even the kitchen offered the newest equipment—and when the former chef of Knott’s Berry Farm was hired—one newspaper called St. Jude’s patients the “best fed in the country.”

The new hospital was the result of a remarkable partnership between the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange—who dreamed of setting a new standard of care in Orange County—and a community who was eager to help make it possible. Neighboring cities, businesses and residents all found ways to raise money to make St. Jude Hospital a reality. The Assistance League held book review parties; the Cub Scouts organized a circus; the Women’s Club hosted bridge parties; and the Kiwanis created a comedy show. From Northrop Aircraft, who auctioned off lunches with Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart, to the Rotary Club’s sold-out dinner dance, there was an almost endless variety of fundraising events.

In the end, over $750,000 was raised in just six months. Enough money, that when matched by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, meant construction of the desperately needed hospital could begin.

The Best and Brightest

Within days of opening, every bed in the new hospital was filled and St. Jude’s reputation quickly grew. The best and brightest doctors began coming from all over, attracted to St. Jude’s mission of excellence and the opportunity to practice the highest quality medicine.

“St. Jude was like a magnet. This was where physicians from the nation’s top medical schools and training programs wanted to be,” explains Joseph Lawton, M.D., retired family medicine physician, who joined the staff in 1960. “What St. Jude offered was truly unique: a first-class hospital where the values of excellence and compassion were felt by everyone who walked through the doors.”

A Higher Calling

Despite the impressive technology, it was this difference of the heart that truly distinguished the new hospital. “The sisters’ values and their profound sense of fulfilling a higher calling created an atmosphere where extraordinary care became not just possible but expected,” explains William Lenahan, M.D., a retired St. Jude physician for 45 years, beginning the day the hospital opened.

The sisters could be found on every floor, from Sister Augustine supervising the surgery rooms to Sister Mary managing the brand new X-ray Department. Long before the phrase “female executive” or “continuous improvement” even existed, the sisters ensured excellence was St. Jude’s defining quality. Their faithful service to others and to God inspired St. Jude’s doctors, nurses and staff to go beyond curing illness—and touch lives.

Much Remains the Same

While much has changed in the last 60 years, some things have remained the same. St. Jude is still one of Southern California’s most technologically advanced hospitals. And the sisters’ life-affirming mission and profound sense of fulfilling a higher calling still create an atmosphere that makes extraordinary care possible.

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