The organization that is now SSM Health began in 1872 when Mother Mary Odilia Berger and five sisters from Germany arrived in St. Louis with just $5 to care for the needs of the most desperate in the city. Although they had known poverty before, they were confronted with the most extreme and dire of circumstances on the St. Louis riverfront.
Right away, the sisters were faced with a smallpox epidemic that eventually took the lives of more than 1,500 people. During the outbreak, the sisters showed incredible generosity and care by traveling by foot to visit their patients and operating only on donations of food, medicine and money. They gave what little they had to those in need, trusting that God would provide.
As the congregation grew, Mother Odilia and the sisters decided that they would be able to provide the best care to those in need by opening a hospital for the poor. On May 24, 1877, St. Mary’s Infirmary opened in an old three story mansion that was purchased for $16,000. Over several decades, the sisters opened hospitals and nursing schools in St. Louis and across the United States, including in Maryville, MO; Jefferson City, MO; Oklahoma City, OK; Blue Island, IL and Madison, WI. They opened these facilities as needed and closed them when the need was no longer there.
While the Sisters of St. Mary did not form SSM Health until 1986, their culture of philanthropy and care began long before then. To this day, SSM Health’s mission is this: “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing power of God.” As was also the case when Mother Odilia first came to St. Louis, the work and care of SSM Health is possible because of the generosity of those who give. Our culture of philanthropy lives on because of you and your gifts.