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St. Joseph’s: A Stockton Institution

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St. Joseph’s Medical Center stands today as one of Stockton’s tried-and-true institutions. For many locals, the hospital’s history and contributions to the community are taken for granted, but behind the façade stands a great historical institution. 

St. Joseph’s was the brainchild of local priest, Fr. William Bernard O’Connor. Born in Cork County, Ireland, in October 1841, O’Connor became a priest in 1868 and oversaw his first mass in Stockton at St. Mary’s on March 19, 1872. He established numerous schools and ministries across the county, and on September 19, 1898, announced his intention to build a hospital and home for old men in Stockton. 

Within months, the region’s large Catholic community had organized to fulfill O’Connor’s dream. The cornerstone was dedicated on March 19, 1899, with Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan presiding over the event. The building eventually cost $30,000, with substantial donations from J.D. Peters, Julia Weber, Basilio Laogier, John Barrett and the Catholic Ladies of Stockton. While Catholic in name and management, the non-Catholic community organized to help build the hospital, with substantial investment coming from the Methodist, Presbyterian and non-denominational communities. The home opened on December 21, 1899, and was staffed by Fr. O’Connor and a team of local nuns, nurses and doctors. Soon thereafter, in 1905, the hospital opened up a wildly successful nurses training school.

“How glad the people of Stockton seem…this great work is a charity to the care and generosity of this town. This Home is to be open to all classes of people. Irrespective of race, nationality or creed, for charity knows no creed, knows no race. It is the one that binds us together,” Archbishop of San Francisco, the Most Reverend Patrick W. Riordan, said at the time.

Fr. O’Connor passed away in 1911, and upon his death the ownership of the hospital transferred to the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, who sponsored the hospital throughout the 20th century. In 1916, a modern hospital was erected, with a two-story mission renaissance façade that still stands as the Main Building. In 1928, St. Joseph’s Hospital was accredited by the American College of Surgeons. In 1938, due to Depression-era difficulties, the St. Joseph’s Nursing School was forced to close. Late in 1952, the hospital was again accredited by the newly formed Joint Commission on Accreditation for Hospitals in 1952. 

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the hospital continued to grow, with new buildings, a major new department dedicated to Nuclear Medicine (1955), a surgical center (1959), ICU (1959), and a coronary care unit and redeveloped maternity and emergency departments (1970) opening to serve the community. Further developments in the 1970s included the introductions of crisis intervention health, CAT scans (1976), an oncology department (1978), and a quality assurance program (1979). A major innovator, St. Joseph’s was typically the first medical center in San Joaquin County and in the San Joaquin Valley to implement most new treatments for patients. 

Today, St. Joseph’s is capably managed by Dignity Health and continues to serve as the region’s largest medical center, with 355 beds, nearly 900 physicians and 2,300 employees. The hospital celebrated its 120th anniversary on March 19, 2019.

Story by: Phillip Merlo