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St. John’s Hospital and the Arrival of Healthcare in San Angelo

St. John’s Hospital and the Arrival of Healthcare in San Angelo

It’s hard to imagine a city like San Angelo, which saw the creation and transformation of multiple hospitals in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, without any access to medical care at all. Prior to modern healthcare in the Concho Valley, residents of San Angelo and the surrounding areas sought care from a surgeon at Fort Concho or traveled further north or east.

Like many Texas towns, San Angelo’s fate was changed by the arrival of the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1888.

The third-ever train to arrive in San Angelo brought three Sisters (nuns) of the Order of the Incarnate Word (a Roman Catholic religious order) who had traveled from San Antonio. Though the Order had formed several sanatoriums since arriving in Texas in 1866, the three Sisters came to San Angelo to establish schools – not hospitals.

The ever-growing need for adequate healthcare in San Angelo became the focus of the San Angelo Business Club (precursor to the modern Chamber of Commerce) in 1903, and the Club appealed to the Sisters for help. By 1909, the Club formed a committee dedicated to raising the “bonus money” needed to help construct a sanitorium in San Angelo.

During this time, the committee penned a letter to Mother Alphonse, Superior General of the Sisters, promising the needed funds after the area had received enough rain to “cheer up” local farmers and ranchers. The rain did eventually come: 400 citizens raised $15,000 (equal to $546,000 today) for a new hospital, and the Business Club confirmed funds and closed the contract with Mother Alphonse by letter.

Ten acres of land outside of San Angelo (on what is now Pulliam Street) were purchased from local rancher J. Willis Johnson. The construction contract was awarded to the Willeke Brothers of San Angelo, who laid the cornerstone of the new hospital on May 28, 1910. St. John’s Sanitarium, a new four-story hospital equipped with 30 beds and named for Bishop John A. Forest of San Antonio, opened its doors in October 1910 and was formally dedicated in November.

Because San Angelo did not yet have electricity, the first delivery of a baby and the first surgery performed at St. John’s both took place by candlelight. The initial staff included seven Sisters who had trained as nurses and 11 physicians, including Dr. Samuel L.S. Smith, former assistant surgeon at Fort Concho and San Angelo’s first doctor/surgeon/druggist.

St. John’s Infirmary Training School for Nurses was also chartered in 1910; students could attend free of charge and shared sleeping quarters with the Sisters on the fourth floor of the hospital.

The early years of St. John’s Sanitorium were not immune to the realities of living in frontier West Texas. As the only modern hospital in the area, St. John’s treated patients traveling from the communities surrounding San Angelo, as well as other neighboring states, Mexico, Canada and multiple countries in Europe.

With most local citizens engaged in farming or ranching and a noted lack of cash available in the area, many patients paid for their care in goods like eggs, livestock and seasonal vegetables; a small stable was constructed behind the hospital to house such payment. The Sisters also kindly requested that barefoot patients and visitors (many of whom arrived on foot) wash their feet and legs before entering the hospital.

St. John’s Sanitorium was the first hospital in the area to use x-ray equipment in 1918, only 23 years after the technology was introduced.

By 1930, the facility had been renamed to St. John’s Hospital. The Great Depression brought a wave of drought and difficulty to the area, and the Training School for Nurses closed in 1932. In its 22 years of operation, 42 graduates of the Training School passed state board exams and became registered nurses.

During the 1930s, an unnamed local man befriended the Sisters and staff at St. John’s and began painting large, detailed murals inside the hospital. Although his identity, occupation and connection to the Sisters is unknown, he reportedly spent three years painting pastoral European landscapes (featuring castles, bridges, rivers, lakes, cottages and forest scenes) across three floors of the hospital. The man was remembered as well-liked and trusted by the Sisters, staff and patients alike, and the murals remained a beloved feature of the original hospital building until it was demolished in 1970.

When St. John’s Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1960, over 20,000 operations had been performed and 5,000 babies had been born at the hospital. A new three-floor air-conditioned East Wing was erected, which connected to the original hospital structure via a curved hallway.

In 1968, 36 years after the closure of the Training School for Nurses, St. John’s Hospital contracted with San Angelo State College (now Angelo State University) to provide clinical nursing experience for students enrolled in the Associate of Science – Nursing degree program. A year later, the hospital also partnered with the Mental Health – Mental Retardation Center for Greater West Texas to use St. John’s facilities for patient care; this program was designed to address the growing need in West Texas for care for patients with mental illness.

The 1970s and 1980s saw rapid expansions of St. John’s facilities and services in San Angelo:

Demolition of the original hospital structure and a building expansion in 1970 doubled the square footage of the facility and added new Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and physical therapy departments. In July of 1974, eight nurses from Angelo State University’s nursing program enrolled in the new graduate nurse internship program at St. John’s.

In 1976, a medical office building known as San Angelo Medical Center opened adjacent to the hospital. Though not affiliated with St, John’s, San Angelo Medical Center served as office space for five local physicians.

As part of an ongoing effort to provide quality psychiatric care in San Angelo and West Texas, the Psychiatric Pavilion (later the Life Care Center) opened in 1978. The one-story, 24-bed private psychiatric unit was connected on the northwest side of the hospital.

During the 1980s, St. John’s expanded its services to include a modified hospice program, home health services, diabetes care programs, an ambulatory care center and the St. John’s Health School program. This series of seminar classes offered accessible education on a variety of health topics to San Angelo residents, with classes sponsored by many community organizations. St. John’s Hospital also became one of seven hospitals in the Incarnate Word Health System.

A commemorative historical marker was erected by the Texas Historical Commission at the site of the original St. John’s Hospital building in 1985, 75 years after the hospital was founded on ranchland outside of San Angelo. This marker can still be viewed today.

In October of 1991, St. John’s was purchased by Quorum Health Group and renamed Concho Valley Regional Hospital. The facility was then purchased by Shannon Medical Center in 1996 and renamed Shannon Medical Center – St. John’s Campus.

The St. John’s Campus facility celebrated 100 years of care in 2010. The centennial event featured an Open House with tours of the facility, a reunion for former physicians and employees, photo and artifact displays and remarks from clergy members and representatives of the Order of the Incarnate Word. It is estimated that over 270 Sisters of the Order of the Incarnate Word served San Angelo and the Concho Valley from 1910 to 1991.

Shannon Medical Center – St. John’s Campus currently houses outpatient dialysis, behavioral health and wound care services, along with offices for several local partner organizations. Outpatient dialysis services are managed at this location by Fresenius Kidney Care. St, John’s Campus also serves as a training center for the Howard College Health Professions program; former radiology and surgery facilities are used as realistic training settings to teach radiology technicians, respiratory therapists and surgical technicians of tomorrow.

Shannon would like to thank the administrators and staff of the Dr. Ralph R. Chase West Texas Collection at the Mayer Museum at Angelo State University for their assistance in creating this series of historical blog posts. Learn more about the West Texas Collection at