Cornerstone is laid for St. Mary's Hospital in Walla Walla on August 3, 1879.

  • By Michael J. Paulus Jr.
  • Posted 8/17/2010
  • Essay 9518
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On August 3, 1879, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nisqually Augustin Magliore Alexander Blanchet (1797-1887) blesses the cornerstone of St. Mary's Hospital in Walla Walla. The hospital emerged out of St. Vincent's Academy, an adjacent school established by the Sisters of Providence in 1864. The new hospital will open in 1880 with a staff of three sisters and seven patients. Within only a few years the hospital will outgrow its building and move to a new one in 1883. This building will be expanded and improved a number of times in the 1890s and 1900s. After a fire in 1915, yet another building will be constructed for the hospital. One more move will occur in 1976. In addition, regular plant expansions and improvements will be ongoing.

From Academy to Hospital

In 1864, by request of John Baptist Abraham Brouillet (1813-1884), administrator of St. Patrick’s Church in Walla Walla, Mother Joseph (1823-1902) and the Sisters of Providence established St. Vincent’s Academy in Walla Walla. The church and town had grown quickly since they had been founded in 1859, and Mother Joseph was convinced that Walla Walla would become an important place. The Catholic community in Walla Walla did increase: A third church building was finished in 1865 and planning for another began in 1870. In 1872, St. Patrick’s received its first resident priest.

In addition to teaching girls and boys, the sisters at St. Vincent’s cared for the sick and poor and the school began to function as a hospital. In 1879, with funds raised from local merchants, a bazaar, and a begging tour of the town and surrounding country, construction began on a separate three-story brick hospital building. In August the regional bishop, Augustin Magliore Alexander Blanchet, blessed the cornerstone of what would be St. Mary’s Hospital, the first non-military hospital in the territory east of the Cascades. The hospital opened in January 1880 with a staff of three sisters and seven patients under their care.

Growing Pains

More patients came or were sent by their doctors, and within a few years St. Mary’s had outgrown its facility. In 1883, the hospital building was converted into a facility for St. Vincent’s and a new hospital building was erected on the site of the first academy building. The hospital contracted with the county to care for the poor and with Northern Pacific Railroad to care for sick employees, and it began offering an early form of medial insurance -- tickets could be purchased for $10 a year that entitled holders to free medicine, care, and board. The hospital facility was expanded and improved a number of times in the 1890s and 1900s, and in 1907 a nursing school began operating out of it.

In 1915, a fire destroyed the hospital building and in 1916 a new five-story building of brick and stone opened on the site of the old building. This building survived until St. Mary’s constructed a modern medical facility in 1976. This new center has been regularly expanded and renovated over the years to keep pace with improvements and advances in medical care. The hospital and related medical facilities are now called Providence St. Mary Medical Center.


Sources: Anna Clare Duggar, Catholic Institutions of the Walla Walla Valley, 1847-1950 (MA Thesis, Seattle University, 1953);  “Our History,” Providence St. Mary Medical Center website (; Wilfred Schoenberg, A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest, 1743-1983 (Washington, D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1987); Wilfred Schoenberg, A Pictorial History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest (Portland: Knights of Columbus, 1996).

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