Asheville in 1900 was still transition from a rough-and-tumble mountain town to the cosmopolitan place it became. G. W. Vanderbilt’s new place was only five years old, and most of the ordinary citizenry were still tied to the original mountain economy—farming, timbering, trading and so forth. Before anyone had heard—or even conceived of—the word “tourism,” Ashevilleans were still fairly suspicious of outsiders and skeptical of their intentions.
Especially so now that the area was gaining a reputation as a place to seek relief and recovery from tuberculosis, a deadly unfriendly contagious disease. Little wonder that longtime residents felt uneasy about trainloads of sick folks and their caregivers disembarking at Depot street.
But public concern notwithstanding, the trains kept on coming in, and the brand-new sanatoriums, retreats, spas, infirmaries and resorts were waiting an eager to receive the well-heeled sufferers.
Into this scene, in November of that year, stepped three nuns from the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Dublin. Their plan was to open a school, but they quickly determined that the greater need was to join in the fight against tuberculosis. But unlike Grove and the others whose patients were almost exclusively upper class, the Sisters would administer to anyone who needed care, regardless of social or economic standing. To that end, they established a clinic which quickly grew to become Saint Joseph’s hospital.
And through the intervening twelve decades have transformed the Sisters’ small outpost into a leading provider of health care for our region, employing over 100 people in eight state-of-the-art facilities, the commitment, the mission that brought that tiny circle of intrepid women to the mountains has not changed at all. Today 100 years later, they are still treating all of us—without regard to circumstance, without concern for profit—with compassion, skill, humility and generosity.
They are still gifting all of us with mercy.