INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – The year was 1913. Suffragettes were marching in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, demanding the right to vote. Newly elected President Woodrow Wilson tackled tariff and trade woes, the 16th Amendment was ratified empowering Congress to levy a federal income tax, Harvard’s football team went 9-0 to win the NCAA title and Henry Ford jumpstarted the first moving assembly line.
That same year, a vision was becoming a reality in the fledgling town of Beech Grove, Indiana. The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration were leading the charge to build a hospital to serve the needy and sick. The pivotal moment in construction came on July 16 when the cornerstone was placed.
Shortly before a blessing led by Archdiocese Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Chartrand, and including the Sisters and community leaders, a copper container – roughly the size of a shoe box – was carefully placed into 500-pound slab of Hoosier limestone. Then it was permanently sealed, bearing on its outside the words "St. Francis Hospital 1913 A.D."
Flash forward to 2019. In the administrative board room at Franciscan Health Indianapolis, a board meeting was about to get under way. Following the convening prayer and before tackling agenda items, President and CEO Dr. James Callaghan invited the group to travel back in time nearly 106 years. A tarnished somewhat greenish box was on a nearby table.
Sister Jane Marie Klein, chair of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, was joined by her fellow Sisters uncovered the lid of the time capsule. "Well, let's see what we have in here, shall we?" she said.
They gently removed each item one at a time and slices of that long-ago summer day were revealed: A tightly wound proclamation written in Latin. A not-so-shiny penny and a 1905 dime. Biennial report from St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette. A prayer card bearing the title "Prayer to St. Anthony For The Things Lost Or Stolen" – another with handwritten cursive notes and petitions.
There was a remnant of a palm leaf, presumably from the previous Palm Sunday of that year. A small intricately carved crucifix. A document written in German. A back page of a local newspaper with ads boasting $3 partial dental plates, Borden’s Malted Milk, Coca-Cola (“Drink the drink the Nation drinks!”).
Page 3 of the July 17 Indianapolis Star carried a story with the headline “Laying Stone of Beech Grove Hospital.” It was accompanied by a photograph of Bishop Chartrand, priests and a construction worker during the cornerstone ceremony. The article also listed the price tag for the hospital whose completion was one year away.
Observed Sr. Jane Marie as she read the story's subhead aloud: “Total cost to be $200,000. My, that that sounds like quite a bargain to me when you think about the price to build a hospital these days!" she said, smiling and drawing laughter from the surrounding observers.
Since early 2012 – when Beech Grove inpatient and other clinical operations were closed and consolidated at the expanded Indianapolis campus – Franciscan Health had been looking at suitable options for the reuse of the facilities and property. None were found.
The journey of the cornerstone to the Franciscan boardroom began in late 2016 when the decision was made to raze most of the buildings. During the demolition, the limestone-encased time capsule was removed and stored by Tonn and Blank Construction.
And at high noon, February 26, 2019, tangible remnants of a vision that became a reality so long ago were rediscovered.
Photos & Captions
Photo 1: Construction of Beech Grove's former St. Francis Hospital began in 1913 and was completed the following year. Spearheaded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, the hospital provided a full range of medical care to the community, particularly the needy.
Photo 2: This was the cornerstone that was placed on July 16, 1913, and a time capsule was placed inside of it.
Photo 3: The capsule was carefully removed from the cornerstone and it awaits opening by the Sisters and Franciscan Health leadership at a recent hospital leadership meeting.
Photo 4: From left, Sr. Marcene Franz, Sr. Jane Marie Klein, Sr. Petra Nielsen, and Sr. Margaret Mary Mitchel examine the contents of the 106-year-old container.
Photo 5: Among the contents were the Biennial report from St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette and a hand-carved crucifix.
Photo 6: Prayer cards and remnants of a palm leaf.
Photo 7: Sr. Jane Marie reads a newspaper headline announcing the cost of St. Francis Hospital and mused, "Total cost to be $200,000. My, that that sounds like quite a bargain to me when you think about the price to build a hospital these days!"
Photo 8: The Sisters take a closer look at the relics and document their findings.
By Joe Stuteville
Media Relations Manager