In 1912, two members of the Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph of the Perpetual Adoration traveled from their motherhouse in Lafayette to select a location for a new hospital in Indianapolis. In addition to the hospital it had founded in Lafayette in 1875, the order had established another in Hammond, Indiana, in 1898. At the time,?the nuns came to Indianapolis, no hospital existed in Indianapolis south of Washington Street or east of Senate Avenue.

Saint Francis Hospital, Beech Grove, 1921 Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Sister Cunegunda, later the hospital’s first sister superior, and Sister Laboria met with Reverend Peter J. Killian, who had organized the Holy Name parish in BEECH GROVE in 1906. Killian urged the sisters to choose a location in rapidly growing Beech Grove, and, he purchased a five-acre tract of land on the corner of Troy Avenue and Sherman Drive for $1,000. The hospital began construction in 1912?and admitted its first patient on July 13, 1914. The 75-bed hospital cost $75,000 to build.

For many years, the hospital featured a unique all-nun nursing staff, as the order prohibited lay nurses. Charity and elderly cases accounted for a large proportion of patients. Through the years, a large proportion of the area’s children were born at the hospital, including actor Steve McQueen in 1930. An ever-increasing patient population soon necessitated several expansion projects. In 1931,?the hospital dedicated a new south wing, doubling the bed capacity. As part of a citywide hospital expansion plan, the hospital added a five-story north wing in 1957, increasing bed capacity to 275.

St. Francis Hospital Center, 1973 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

St. Francis pioneered several medical advances, including Indiana’s first cobalt therapy unit (1957); the first Betatron nuclear accelerator for cancer treatment in an Indiana hospital (1967); the first Coulter Senior Blood Analyzer in an Indianapolis hospital, providing complete blood analysis in 40 seconds (1969); and the first family-centered maternity department in Indianapolis (1973). In 1974, the system, of which St. Francis Hospital was a part, officially became known as Sisters of Saint Francis Health Services.

In the early 1970s,?the hospital constructed the six-story Bonzel Towers, named for Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel who founded the order, and added additional stories in 1983. By 1989,?the hospital housed 441 beds and admitted 56,000 patients per year. At this time, St. Francis acquired 106 acres at the southeast corner of Emerson Avenue and Stop 11 Road in the far southern portion of Franklin Township.?Hospital officials recognized the need “to upgrade, refine, and redesign” its model of health care delivery. In May 1991, St. Francis announced a $100 million expansion project at the Franklin Township location. St. Francis president Paul Stitzel proclaimed that the hospital had “made a commitment to developing a health care campus of the future” on the property.

Twins study at St. Francis Hospital, 1983 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

Originally planned to be built in four phases, construction of the South Campus began in May 1992. Phase one, which opened in 1995, included a primary care and family practice office complex, a specialty medical office building, and an ambulatory and diagnostic services center. The ambulatory services and diagnostics center housed an ambulatory surgical center, a women’s health center, an education center, and radiology and laboratory services. The opening of the St. Francis South Campus sparked increased economic development in the surrounding area.

The Sisters of St. Francis acquired Kendrick Memorial Hospital in Mooresville, Indiana, in January 2000. In March 2005, the St. Francis Cardiac & Vascular Care Center opened on the South Campus. The expansion came after St. Francis’ rival St. Vincent Hospital had opened its Heart Center of Indiana in 2002. At the time, hospitals were building new heart facilities to replace old ones, responding to an increasing need for cardiac procedures in an aging population. The new St. Francis facility offered the only full-service cardiac center on the city’s south side.

In 2007, Robert J. Brody, president and CEO of St. Francis Hospital, announced that the hospital would close its inpatient hospital in Beech Grove upon completion of an inpatient bed tower on the South Campus. Brody explained that maintaining two acute-care hospitals that were only seven miles apart was not cost-effective. He added that the South Campus not only provided more modern facilities that better served patient needs but also that the hospital’s patient base was moving farther and farther south.

In early 2011, St. Francis Hospitals and Health Centers became known as Franciscan Health. At this time, the healthcare network also announced its plans to expand its footprint to the north side by constructing a short-stay medical center in Carmel. Franciscan Health Carmel opened in April 2012. After the inpatient bed tower was completed on the South Campus in 2011, the Beech Grove hospital closed all inpatient and emergency services in March 2012 but left outpatient services there open. In 2012, Franciscan Health also began collaborating with the International Genomics Consortium in oncology to advance the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Franciscan Health, 2011 Credit: Tom Britt via Wikimedia Commons View Source

In October 2016, Franciscan Health announced its decision to tear down the original Beech Grove Hospital. The demolition took place in October 2017.

In addition to the Carmel, Indianapolis, and Mooresville sites, the Franciscan Health network includes 10 other hospitals in Indiana and Illinois. 

Revised June 2023

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