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History of St. Catherine Hospital

A Legacy of Firsts

St. Catherine Hospital is approaching its centennial.

The 100 year anniversary celebration of St. Catherine Hospital will begin in 2027.

Preparations for a notable milestone that is a mere decade away have already begun at St. Catherine Hospital, a place where patients and staff treat one another like family -- delivering healing, hope and medical advances to generations of families.

Contents of a time capsule that was buried when the cornerstone of St. Catherine Hospital was set July 31, 1927 were restored and reburied in The Grotto, a garden nook within the hospital grounds that replicates the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. The time capsule contents, which will be unearthed during anniversary festivities, include religious relics, photos, antique medical gadgets and mementos of St. Catherine Hospital's history of caring in the industrial "melting pot" of East Chicago.

Archway to the construction site for St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago, INThe beginning

For a long time, East Chicago was a city without a hospital. Settled in the early 1890's, the idea of building a hospital didn't become reality until steel-making and manufacturing created massive job opportunities, attracting immigrants from all over the world.

Heavily populated at that time, industrialists realized that injured workers would have to travel a long way to get to the nearest hospital. The Manufacturers Association of East Chicago appointed a committee to look into the prospect of building a medical facility to take care of industrial accidents.

The Manufacturers Association, led by First National Bank of East Chicago founder Col. Walter J. Riley, pledged nearly $500,000 in 1926 to spur interest in the new hospital. Soon, the blueprints broadened to build a community hospital for people of all ages, walks of life, creed and color.

Inland Steel Company donated land and the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ stepped in with a $750,000 contribution to operate the new Ancilla Domini hospital.

About the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Founded in Germany in 1851 by Katherine Kasper, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (Ancilla Domini Sisters) were instrumental in the effort to build and operate a hospital in East Chicago well before the pledges from city leaders and manufacturing companies took root.

In 1917, the sisters began negotiations with the Manufacturers Association of East Chicago, but because of unsettled conditions during World War I, industries were unable to fulfill their commitment to the project. Another attempt in 1919 was foiled by a steel strike. In 1926, the committee formed by the Manufacturers Association breathed new life into the idea of building a hospital.

Members of the Manufacturers Association

The hospital committee formed by the Manufacturers Association, under the leadership of Col, Walter J. Riley included: C.H. True, vice-president of the Superheater Company; D.P. Thompson, assistant to the president of Inland Steel Company; F.A. Lorenz, Jr., works manager of American Steel Foundries. Pledges were made by the following companies:

  • American Steel Foundries
  • Calumet Foundry and Machine Company
  • Champion Rivet Company
  • Edward Valve and Manufacturing Company
  • Gary Street Railways
  • General American Tank Car Corporation
  • Grasselli Chemical Company
  • Graver Corporation
  • Green Engineering Company
  • Harbison-Walker Refractories Company
  • Hubbard Steel Foundry Company
  • Hyman-Michaels Company
  • Inland Steel Company - operating more recently as ArcelorMittal International Lead Refining Company
  • Interstate Iron and Steel Company
  • O.F. Jordan Company
  • Linde Air Products Company
  • Metal and Thermit Corporation
  • Northern Indiana Public Service Company
  • Sinclair Refining Company
  • Shore Line Motor Coach Company -  operating as Greyhound
  • Standard Forgings Company
  • Standard Oil Company - operating as BP
  • The Superheater Company
  • Universal Portland Cement Company
  • U.S.S. Lead Refinery, Inc.
  • U.S. Reduction Company
  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company -  operating as ArcelorMittal

Committed to the cause, the sisters increased their own financial contribution which moved the building from a $750,000 hospital to one topping $1 million.

On April 21, 1927, when Col. Riley dug a spade into ground and turned the barren field into a construction site, an anonymous witness wrote: 

"It is now 25 minutes past two o'clock in the afternoon - April 21, 1927. Here in a half-circle is the small tgroup that is to see the breaking of ground for St. Catherine's Hospital at East conditions are those of a lingering winter: skies leaden, air raw and chill from winds and fogs off Lake Michigan...but the cheerlessness of the elements does not cloud the enthusiasm nor affect the high hope for the future which permeates this brief ceremony. Colonel Riley digs the spade into the ground. So, a start is made. Soon excavating machinery is to begin the job in earnest."

The hospital took a mere 49 weeks to build.

On April 22, 1928, more than 8,000 visitors poured onto the premises to dedicate the 300-bed hospital. With its attic, basement and five main stories, St. Catherine's Hospital was described as the largest and finest hospital in Indiana. The hospital name honors three prominent women: Blessed Mary Katherine Kasper, who founded the order; Catherine Riley, mother of Col. Riley; and Mother Catherine, the Sister in charge of the Ancilla Domini hospitals in America at that time.

The possessive form in the hospital title was dropped in later years, but the history of firsts in the region has withstood the test of time.

First Year of Firsts

St. Catherine Hospital, under the guiding hand of Sister Mary Odilo, cared for more than 3,500 patients and delivered more than 300 babies. There were 55 doctors and surgeons on staff, along with three interns. It has since had many innovative "firsts" in its delivery of care.

In 1936, the hospital opened the first school of X-ray technology in Indiana and introduced the first incubator care for newborns outside of Riley Hospital in Indianapolis. In 1939, St. Catherine Hospital was first in the region to specialize in caring for patients with polio, a dreaded disease at the time.

In the 1960s, the hospital became widely known as The Heart Center for its initial open-heart procedure in the region. St.  Catherine Hospital established the region's first Cancer Registry, Sleep Disorder Center and Urology Center. Since its inception, the decades have been laced with medical achievements.

Expansion and Growth

The hospital that was first to offer round-the-clock physician coverage for medical and surgical patients through the "House Staff" program in the early 1980s, has had several expansions over the decades: The two-story, Fir Street annex was built in 1945. The Block Memorial Wing sprang up in 1959. The "E" building was remodeled in 1961. And a Professional Office Building was added in 1971. A new patient tower was built in 1987. The Family Birthing Center opened in 1997.

In 2001, St. Catherine Hospital became a member of the Community Healthcare System. Although the involvement of the Ancilla Domini Sisters in the day-to-day operations of the not-for-profit hospital ceased, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ still have a pastoral presence at St. Catherine Hospital and play a role in its Catholic traditions and its commitment to compassionate care for the poor and underserved.

Today, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ are a part of the Pastoral Center of St. Catherine Hospital and the St. Catherine Hospital Auxiliary.

Click here to watch a video produced for St. Catherine Hospital's 80th Anniversary about its unique history and legacy of achievements.

Then and Now

St. Catherine Hospital was shaped by the grit and determination of people from all walks of life. That drive and cohesive spirit to improve and grow, to set and surpass national standards is present today in our five star hospital. The tone was set years ago.

Postcard for the hospital that was originally named St. Catherine’s Hospital, East Chicago, IN

Timeline of Extraordinary Firsts

St. Catherine Hospital's timeline is long, and laced with many medical firsts in the region for outstanding patient care.

School of Nursing

School of X-Ray Technology

First in Calumet Region to care for polio patients.

Cobalt 60 radiation therapy directed for first time in the region.

Cardiac Catheter Lab
Electrocardioversions (including Chicago)

Open-heart surgery

Coronary angiography

Coronary bypass

Echocardiographic Laboratory
Stress Test Laboratory

Electronic Pacemaker Clinic
Cardiovascular Surgical Intensive Care
Cardiac Rehabilitation program

1st in Northwest Indiana to treat with a Clinac 4 Linear Accelerator

Intra-Coronary Streptokinase procedures
Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary angioplasty (PTCA)
Cardiac Catheter Lab offering electrophysiology studies

Digital subtraction angiography with cardiac capabilities

Sleep Disorder Center

Color-Flow Doppler Echocardiography
Automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD)

Mobile dornier extracorporeal shockwave lithotripter

Northwest Indiana first to offer electrophysiology studies

Intra-vascular ultrasound

Hand Center with an Emergency Department dedicated to hand injuries

Baby delivery by a midwife.
Introduction of the Families with Heart Disease Program/Advanced Lipids Testing

MRI with cardiac capabilities

CyberKnife™ Center

Advanced certification for Inpatient Diabetes Care by The Joint Commission

St. Catherine Hospital 80th Anniversary

St. Catherine Hospital celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2008 with a range of events with the theme, "Connect to Purpose."

Its legacy of caring for a diverse range of people, and their needs with purpose, continues today through a sense of family, tradition, faith and pride.

To view events St. Catherine has held over the years, click the Photo Slideshow of the flag pole dedication to the late-Donald S. Powers, a founder of Community Hospital and the Community Healthcare System; and the Erv Lewin radio spot on Col. Riley.