It was a long road from St. Louis to this frontier town, but founding a hospital in San Diego became a mission for this woman of God who first received a white veil and holy habit from the Order of Mercy in 1871. At the call of Denver’s Bishop J.P. Machesion in 1882, Sister M. Michael left Missouri to build schools and hospitals for local mining towns near Durango. After seven years, Bishop Francis Mora of Monterey summoned her to California and confirmed her appointment as Mother Superior. At the request of Father Ubach she and Sister M. Alphonsus came to San Diego in 1889 and founded St. Joseph’s Dispensary the following year.
The dusty town was not welcoming, but they were directed to “build a hospital with their own means.” With determination, courage and $50 from Father Ubach the Sisters of Mercy rented the upper stories of the Grand Central Hotel at the corner of Sixth and H (now Market) and opened the dispensary with five beds. She now forged ahead to plan the first hospital for people of any race, gender, religion, social or financial status. The Sisters were eventually accepted as a community asset, and M. Michael began fundraising for her dream.
On a buggy trip with Father Ubach, the Reverend Mother chose a ten-acre location at the crest of a hill north of downtown because she could see the mission de Alcala across the valley. Within a year, she opened St. Joseph’s Sanitarium with 19 beds. The three-story building was situated at the corner of Seventh and University. Extensive grounds were beautifully laid out with trees, flowers and a broad lawn intersected by cement walks. At the rear sat a large and well-furnished two-story building for about fifty old men and invalids.
Agricultural gardens were first located across the street (now Lawrance Furniture), but later moved to Mt. Carmel (with WWI orphans). In 1924 Mercy Hospital expanded to its present location, and most of M. Michael’s original hospital was razed for progress. The relocated surgical annex (now House of Heirloom) remains.
First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & beyond, volume 5