Medical center celebrates its roots

Providence St. Mary Medical Center turns 130 this year.

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In this undated photo, nurses stand in front of the former brick St. Mary Hospital, the third hospital building. The current facility is the fourth building.

WALLA WALLA — Providence St. Mary Medical Center will begin a yearlong celebration of its 130th birthday on Wednesday.

Included is a public historical display, 4-6 p.m., in the Mother Joseph Room on Level 1 near the cafeteria. The display will include items on loan from Fort Walla Walla, as well as photos, ledgers, books and other items from the 1800s and early 1900s that have rarely been displayed in public.

The event will include small giveaways.

The hospital is the fourth-largest employer in Walla Walla County with 975 employees and an annual payroll of nearly $55 million, excluding benefits. The medical center spends around $7 million a year on charity care, free classes and other free and discounted services to benefit the community, officials there said in a press release.

St. Mary opened Jan. 27, 1880, as the first non-military hospital in Washington east of the Cascade Mountains. Initial hospital census was seven patients.

It was founded by Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, who arrived in Walla Walla along with Sister Catherine in the autumn of 1863. Her ministry of caring for the poor, sheltering the homeless, educating children, feeding the hungry and tending the sick would eventually encompass the entire Northwest. In her lifetime, the nun founded 29 orphanages, hospitals and schools.

St. Mary survived the Great Depression, numerous recessions, a devastating flood and burning to the ground.

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