The year was 1888. Lewiston/Auburn was emerging as one of the state’s leading manufacturing centers. The shoe and textile industries were flourishing. The migration of the French Canadians, mostly from Quebec Province was huge, at times reaching to 100 to 150 arriving each day at the Grand Trunk Railroad Station on Lincoln Street. The population had increased to 35,000 but there was no hospital.
This changed in June 1888 when the Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe purchased a house on Sabattus Street along with 36 acres of land, all owned by Sarah J. Golder. The Golder house became a 30-bed hospital with an addition that lodged the sisters and 40 orphans. This hospital, the first in Lewiston/Auburn and the first Catholic hospital in Maine became known variously as the Sister’s Hospital, the French Hospital, or the Catholic Hospital. The cost for a stay was $5.00 per week for a bed in the ward or $10.00 to $12.00 per week for a private room.
The sisters were determined to convey that the hospital was open to people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. This is evidenced in the name of the first patient admitted, Nellie Hackett, herself not of French Canadian heritage.
By 1898 the Medical Staff is organized with Dr. Alonzo Garcelon as its first president, the Society Dames Patronesses (Auxiliary) was formed along with the Men’s Hospital Association (Patrons).
The City of Lewiston responded to a small pox epidemic in 1899 by establishing a “Pest House” in which patients were quarantined. Records show that the sisters gave 162 days of nursing care there in the “Pest House.”
The need for a larger hospital became clear and in 1902 a separate hospital was built providing 150 beds and 25 bassinets. The cost of the construction was $100,000.
In 1908 the name officially became L’Hopital Generale Ste. Marie – St. Mary’s General Hospital.
Also in 1908, St. Mary’s School of Nursing was established. By 1925, a house on the corner of Golder and Sabattus Streets was remodeled and became the Nurses’ Residence.
Realizing that there was a need to care for the poor, sick, and infirm elderly, the sisters built the Marcotte Nursing Home in 1928 with a donation of $120,000 from F. X. Marcotte, one of the early French Canadian business owners. One wing of this building was devoted to the care of the elderly with 200 beds available; the southern wing, called St. Joseph’s Orphanage, was home to 250 girls. Most of the girls were not orphans but rather children whose both parents needed to work the long shifts in the mills. The sisters were actually providing the much needed child care for these immigrants. The young girls could stay at the “orphanage” until they were 18 years old with elementary schooling provided by the sisters right on site.
The astounding growth in the care of the sick, the elderly and the children through the work of the Sisters of Charity of Ste. Hyacinthe in Lewiston is a testimony to the vision of their foundress, Ste. Marguerite d’Youville.