The Founding of the Great Bend Dominicans
In 1230, the Dominican Friars established Holy Cross Convent in Ratisbon, Bavaria. This stronghold of religious observance is the community in which the Great Bend Dominicans find their roots.
Dominican Sisters Logo America, land of immigrants, beckoned to Holy Cross for teaching nuns as early as 1827, but it was not until 1853 that the first four volunteers finally set sail for New York City. The community, which flourished immediately, become known as the Holy Cross sisters of Brooklyn, New York. Numerous schools, hospitals, and orphanages were opened by the immigrant sisters who had come to America to minister to the immigrant German-speaking children. Though these women were called Sisters, they in fact were nuns, members of the Dominican Second Order. With each new ministry and/or institution the sisters recognized the difficulty of really ministering fully and at the same time remaining cloistered. It was because of the vision of another Dominican, Mother Antonina Fischer, that the community changed its cloistered status in 1898, and adopted the Third Order Constitution. This was not well received by all the Sisters, and Mother Antonina suffered greatly as she moved the Sisters toward a new lifestyle.
As soon as Mother Antonina finished her term as Prioress, she sought a chance to be the missionary she wanted to be. She was so like St. Dominic who wanted to help the people of his time. She wanted to "instruct the poor children in the Catholic Religion, besides teaching the ordinary subjects,...and to have our great Order of Saint Dominic spread." She chose Kansas as the recipient of her vision.
By spring of 1902, Mother Antonina had gathered a volunteer group who were willing to take a step in faith and go to unseen territory. The pioneer sisters left New York City, April 16, 1902, arriving in Great Bend April 23. Realizing the gift the sisters were to the young city, Great Bend begged the sisters to open a hospital.
None of the pioneer Sisters had any hospital experience; a letter was sent to Brooklyn asking Holy Cross Convent for a Sister Nurse. Sister Loretta Feinler left St. Catherine Hospital on Long Island to open St. Rose Hospital in an old, eight-room college dormitory building. That was the beginning of a long history of healthcare for the Great Bend Dominicans.
The schools in which the Dominican Sisters taught were never the property of the sisters; the schools belonged to the parishes. The contrary was true of the hospitals; St. Rose Hospital in Great Bend (now St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center , St. Rose Campus), St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, and St. Joseph Hospital in Larned always belonged to the Dominicans. Even though separately incorporated in 1968, they were still the property of the sisters. As hospitals became more and more like big business enterprises, it became difficult to operate, offer extended service to the indigent, and continue the ministry of healing intended by Christ. The commitment, however, remained and continues strong.
The most recent way the Sisters have tried to imitate the visionary spirit of their founders, St. Dominic and Mother Antonina, is to dream with others how to continue and flourish the healing ministry of Jesus. After months of serious study, the administration of the three hospitals in conjunction with the Sisters, joined in a partnership with Catholic Health Corporation (CHC) of Omaha in 1985, in order to provide better service and use of resources. CHC provided good leadership during the eighties and into the nineties. But it became apparent that a larger consolidation of assets and leadership could produce greater benefits and continue the healing ministry to better advantage. Hence, CHC began dialogue with other Catholic healthcare systems in the early nineties. Sister Peggy Ann Martin, of the Great Bend Dominicans, was one of twelve members of a steering council that merged several healthcare systems owned by religious communities to form Catholic Health Initiatives of Denver, CO (CHI), in April 1996. This national corporation has as its mission to ensure that the healing ministry of Jesus continues. The Dominican Sisters of Great Bend are one of the religious communities sponsoring CHI.
As the sisters are faithful to their traditional ministries, and to their charism as Dominicans, they continue to be alert to emerging ministries which meet the needs of God's people at the approach of a new millennium. St. Dominic continues to inspire, to be the guiding star, for all Dominican ministers inspired by his charism. The Dominican women on the plains will continue to preach Good News. In 2002, the Dominican women on the Plains celebrated 100 years of service to God's people.