Dean History: Dr. Joseph Dean and St. Mary’s Hospital- Dean - WI

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A Tour Through The Decades

Dean History: Dr. Joseph Dean and St. Mary’s Hospital

St. Mary’s Hospital and Dr. Joseph Dean

“As I made my rounds yesterday and viewed the many departments of this [hospital] building, it came home to me that we physicians have a wonderful workshop here, created by someone else for our personal benefit.… This hospital should be given the loyal support of every physician to whom its doors are opened.”

– Dr. Joseph Dean, 1926

Just after the turn of the last century, Madison’s growing population reinforced the urgent need for hospital facilities that could serve more than Madison General Hospital’s capacity of 30 patients. Local Catholics sought to bring a “Sisters’ hospital” to Madison. In addition, many citizens and physicians were concerned about the poor state of health care. In 1907, when a hospital addition for Madison General was being discussed, Dr. George Keenan hurried to one of the city newspapers to oppose the proposal, describing the hospital as “unsafe, dangerously constructed, poorly arranged, more poorly managed, giving outrageous and intolerable service.”

Hope for a Catholic hospital

The following year, Dr. Keenan contacted the Janesville Sisters of Mercy about opening a hospital in Madison. They agreed, and converted a residence at 209 E. Mifflin Street into a temporary 14-bed facility, with hopes of securing larger quarters. Their chaplain, the Reverend Henry C. Hengell, along with the Reverend Joseph Koester, who was pastor of St. James Parish, identified a two-acre site already owned by the diocese: an abandoned Catholic cemetery (the bodies had been moved to Calvary Cemetery in the 1860s and 1870s).

Dr. Keenan, Dr. Joseph Dean and other physicians succeeded in convincing the archbishop to deed the cemetery property to the Sisters of Mercy, but lack of funding to build the hospital resulted in the return of the deed and the Sisters’ return to Janesville.

New era in health care

Finally in 1910, the Sisters of St. Mary (now known as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary) of St. Louis agreed to establish a hospital in Madison. Community financial support came through, and the cornerstone for the hospital was laid on October 8, 1911. The hospital was dedicated on September 11, 1912, and the doors officially opened on September 22, 1912.

The next day’s Wisconsin State Journal reported that St Mary’s “opened its doors to forty patients …and five operations were performed that first morning.” The medical staff consisted of four physicians, including Dr. Joe, who admitted the first patient and performed the first surgery.

The tradition of the Sisters was to provide care to anyone who entered its doors, regardless of ability to pay. Early ledgers occasionally referenced the party responsible for payment of the patient’s care as “O.D.L.” or “Our Dear Lord.” Dr. Joe was among the physicians who provided such charity care.

Committed to quality

When St. Mary’s medical staff was formally organized, Dr. Joe became the hospital’s first chief of staff, serving in that capacity from 1926 to 1930. He was an integral part of the hospital until his retirement in 1938.

After working shoulder to shoulder for more than a decade with the Sisters of St. Mary since the hospital’s founding, Dr. Joe held the Sisters and the hospital in high esteem, praising them when he spoke at the dedication of the new additions to the hospital in 1926:

 “…Today marks the end of an endless amount of worries and heartaches. Heartaches on the part of the Sisters of St. Mary, whose hopes and plans and prayers have at last been realized in this new and beautiful hospital. Actuated only by an unselfish desire to serve humanity, their only reward being a spiritual one, they have labored against almost insuperable odds and today they offer to suffering humanity a hospital which this community can justly be proud. They have given us a hospital without stint, their main thought being serviceability and completeness so that no essential would be lacking in the wonderful work they are doing.

Let me speak here a word of personal appreciation for this wonderful community of women who have made the hospital possible. My admiration for them and sincere appreciation for their work has increased year by year as I have watched their efforts and the fruits of their tireless and never-ending duties. They deserve every praise and should receive nothing but the warmest admiration from every physician who avails himself of the facilities of this hospital and likewise of every patient passing though their hands.”

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