St. John's Mercy: the beginning of the future
January 30, 2012
The 4-foot cross that hung in the St. John's emergency room survives the May 22, 2011 tornado and becomes a symbol of healing and rebirth. Replicas of the cross were handed out after a ceremony organized by hospital officials.

Scores of people attended the "Ceremony of Recognition and Gratitude" held on the grounds of St. John's Mercy Hospital at 26th and Maiden Lane, Joplin. They came to watch a wrecking ball ceremoniously attempt to shatter the facade of an already battered hospital-owned building. While a bagpiper played, it was a poignant moment for many and the first step in a demolition process that will bring down five tornado-ravaged buildings totaling 1.2 million square feet that are on the 47-acre site.

"It’s hard to say goodbye to the building that has been St. John’s since 1968,” said Gary Pulsipher, president of St. John’s Mercy. “But like the rest of the city, we are glad to be moving ahead and looking to the future. While we will never forget what happened here, taking down the hospital is another step in the process of removing the visible signs of the tornado’s devastation from the landscape.”

The weather that came to the area with a fury on May 22, 2011, did an about-face for the ceremony producing a gloriously sunny day on Sunday (Jan. 29, 2012) rendering the heaters that hospital officials provided unnecessary. If weather sets the mood, then it was an ideal day for the presentation that followed based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, "For everything there is a season"....including "a time to tear down and a time to build up."

Highlighting the first part of the ceremony were stories of St. John's history. Terri Edens, RN led them off by describing how Sr. M. Frances Sullivan first came to Joplin in 1885 with the intention of starting a school. But after realizing what was needed more for for the miners who lived in the area, in 1892 she focused on establishing medical facilities. (Curiously in April 1902 nuns at the first permanent St. John's Hospital at 22nd and Ivy (now Connor), according to a news report, were "buffeted and blown about by the wind as they strove in vain to keep out the sheets of water thrown against the west end south of the building which stands high and unprotected." They were battling the second significant tornado out of three to hit Joplin following the one in May of 1883 and preceding the one in recent memory.) Included also were remarks by Beth Sappington. She recalled how Sister Mary Austin O'Donohoe in 1965, in what was dubbed "Austin's Folly," provided the impetus for the construction of St. John's on mined land. (It is the location of St. John's on mined land that prohibits the use of demolition charges and consequent falling debris. Instead, wrecking balls and specialized grappling equipment that reaches up to 15 stories high will take down the hospital towers during a course of several weeks.)

Ceremony moves to location

A bit of chaos ensured as vehicles lined up to take part in a cavalcade to the intersection of 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard, the site of the new Mercy Hospital Joplin campus bordering Interstate 44. Missouri State Troopers led the truck carrying the cross and the long line of vehicles leaving the demolition site. Motorists approaching in the opposite direction pulled over, many in respect to the cross and what they mistakenly may have believed to have been a funeral procession.

Bishop James Vann Johnston of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Dioceses led religious leaders in sanctifying the ground where the new hospital will be built. While in the distance large earth moving equipment awaited, officials and other visitors including children toting shovels broke ground.

The new 327-bed hospital is slated for completion in 2015. It promises to have beds for critical care, medical/surgical care, women's/children's services (labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum rooms), behavioral health and rehabilitation.

Photos of the ceremony by Vince Rosati appear below. Click on any one to start a slide show.

For "Ending and Beginning (Mercy's Laura Keep, Jan. 29, 2011) go here. It contains links to coverage of the event by several media sources. For an article about the proposed St. John's Mercy Hospital go here.

For "Everything there is a season" performed by The Byrds:

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