by C. Brandon Brantley
with Lori Mainiero
Undoubtedly, anyone who has traveled Highway 165 in Monroe has taken note of the large, stately, red brick building with the imposing bell tower. What many do not realize is the significant history of the structure or the amount of love and care that flows through its hallways and rooms.
This story of love started in 1940 when Fr. Henry Frieburg, OFM, wrote to Mother Magdalene Wiedlocher, OSF, Provincial Superior of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, regarding sponsorship of a charity hospital in West Monroe. Although declined due to WWII and a shortage of sisters, the seed for a mission in the South had been sown.
On December 17, 1944, St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged & Infirmed was opened at the corner of Hart and Calypso Streets in Monroe. The new temporary home was a modest, white wood framed, four-room structure able to accommodate eight to 10 guests. The home’s purpose was “To provide shelter and skilled care in a homelike atmosphere for residents in the twilight years of life.” Even as the temporary home was just opening, the sisters were making plans for a larger, permanent facility.
The beginning of the fulfillment of this dream of the Franciscan Sisters came when Mrs. William J. Rimes donated a 20-acre site for the new facility just north of the Monroe city limits. The new $500,000 facility was designed by architect Henry H. Slaby of Milwaukee. In discussing the new fireproof facility Mr. Slaby stated, “A basically Colonial type of architecture would give a homey, southern touch to the institution. The exterior would be of red-faced brick with Indiana Limestone trim. The main entrance portico would have a traditional colonnade but of stone rather than wood. The portico would be flanked by two bays which will add dignity to the structure.”
Eight months after the ground breaking ceremony, Bishop Charles P. Greco of the Alexandria diocese officially laid and blessed the cornerstone on November 21, 1947. On November 10, 1948, the long awaited moving day arrived and the 11 guests moved into the new facility. On November 14, 1948, St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged and Infirmed was formally blessed and dedicated to the service of humanity by Bishop Greco.
The new facility featured many innovative architectural elements, as well as elements indicative of its Catholic heritage and sponsorship. The crest of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis of The Third Order is prominently displayed in a stone frieze above the front entrance. A beautiful six-foot multicolored marble and alabaster statue of St. Joseph and the Christ child adorns the main lobby, surrounded by walls and floors of imported Italian marble. The property has numerous statues and religious objects placed throughout. One of the most noticeable is a Grotto to Our Lady of Fatima in the Northeastern corner of the property. In the spring of 2014, having the desire to re-infuse the facility with period spiritual art, numerous pieces were purchased and installed throughout the home. The new art was met with numerous compliments by residents and visitors.
The Hospital Sisters of St. Francis of The Third Order maintained ownership and religious sponsorship of the facility until October 15, 1974, when the last of the sisters returned to the motherhouse in Springfield, IL. Following the withdrawal of the sisters, the facility was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria. During the years the facility was owned by the diocese, it was partially staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Help from St. Louis. These sisters served as registered nurses and patient representatives.
St. Joseph’s Home was owned and operated by the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport until 1986, when it was purchased by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word Health Care System (SCH). During the years in which it was owned by the SCH, the facility was governed by a board of Incarnate Word Sisters and outstanding citizens from the local community. Because few improvements had been made since the building’s original construction, St. Joseph’s Home was completely remodeled in 1988. The Ecumenical Chapel was later constructed with limited funds in 1990.
On November 4, 1991, the first two Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were assigned to St. Joseph’s Home. Sr. Canice Murphy and Sr. M. Lambert O’Mara were met with a lively reception of residents and staff. In 1993 a 4,000 square foot dining room was built using matching exterior brick and limestone. The interior of the dining room affords peaceful views of the property through multiple windows. A brick gazebo and park were constructed the following year and furnished with a fitness trail, chairs, benches and a cement walk leading to Bayou DeSiard. A fishing area was also erected so residents could safely enjoy bayou-side living.
St. Joseph Home celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1995 commemorating the facility as “A Haven of Love, Peace and Caring.” St. Joseph’s Assisted Living Center was officially dedicated and opened on November 12, 1988, offering 60 apartments and an array of services.
With the formation of CHRISTUS Healthcare in 1999 the facility officially became CHRISTUS St. Joseph’s Home. In 2010 the west wing of the first floor was renovated and converted to private Medicare rooms intended for short term residents who wished to receive therapy and return home. The therapy room was enlarged and renovated in 2011 to better meet the needs of the residents.
Combining a generous donation from Tony Danna with Sr. Elizabeth Cahill’s desire to make the chapel a true Catholic place of worship, an extensive renovation of the Ecumenical Chapel began in 2011. Two years later the chapel was transformed, fitted with antique altars and statuary and given a gorgeous center-focus tabernacle by Barbara Patrick. The chapel’s remaining stained glass panels were completed by various families and friends of the facility as tributes to loved ones. On September 13, 2013, Bishop Michael Duca served as principle celebrant at a Holy Mass of Rededication and Blessing of the CHRISTUS St. Joseph Home Chapel.
Sr. Elizabeth coordinates Mass to be celebrated in the chapel by local priests five days a week. The public is always welcome to attend and experience the presence of Christ surrounded by our loving residents and staff. All Sacraments are offered on an as-needed basis.
In February 2014, under the Interim Administration of Mrs. Tracy Hauver and the design auspices of C. Brandon Brantley, the dining room received an extensive remodel. Other areas of the facility are presently being renovated to reflect the ever-changing needs of those served. From its inception through today, CHRISTUS St. Joseph’s Home has been the only religiously sponsored, not-for-profit, senior care facility in North Louisiana and the only facility in Monroe to offer both assisted living and Medicare/Medicaid services. Members of all faiths are invited to stop by for a tour or information if the need for the services provided arises in your life or the life of a loved one.