Sisters of St. Mary

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For the current Catholic women's group in Spokane, Washington, see Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church.

The Sisters of St. Mary (S.S.M.) was a former Roman Catholic religious congregation for women based in St. Louis, Missouri that founded hospitals throughout the Midwest. It was merged with another congregation which had broken off from them shortly after their founding to form the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. As of May 2013, Sister Rose Mary Dowling, FSM, is the President and thus the ecclesiastical religious superior of the Sisters of St. Mary.[1]


The congregation was founded in 1872 by Mother Mary Odilia Berger, who emigrated to St. Louis from Germany. It shared a door with St. Mary of Victories Church in downtown St. Louis.

Anna Katherine (later Mother Mary Odilia) Berger was born in Regen, Bavaria. In 1858 she joined the Poor Franciscan Sisters of Pirmasens, which later became the Poor Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, founded by the Blessed Paul Joseph Nardini, T.O.S.F.; she was sent to beg in Paris.

Once in Paris, she co-founded the Sisters Servants of the Sacred Heart with Abbé Victor Braun in 1866, but had to flee Paris when the city was besieged during the Franco-Prussian War. After living several years in Elberfeld in the Rhineland, she emigrated to St. Louis in 1872. In St. Louis she founded the Sisters of St. Mary. In 1877 the congregation borrowed $16,000 to open St. Mary's Infirmary in St. Louis. In 1878 a third of the Sisters were sent to Canton, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee during a Yellow Fever outbreak to nurse the sick. Five Sisters were to die themselves from the illness.

In 1894 Mother Mary Augustine Giesen led six Sisters to Maryville, Missouri where they formed an independent congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville and founded the first full-fledged hospital in the town.

In 1985 the two congregations merged back together, in order to form the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.

20 hospitals now are operated as SSM Health Care (SSMHC) in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.


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