100 Years in Orange
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange were founded in 1912 in Eureka, California, though a decade later, the congregation moved the Motherhouse hundreds of miles south to City of Orange. In 2022, we celebrate 100 years at this site on Batavia Street. This page features stories about our heritage from the past century.
A Change in Leadership and the Beginnings of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange
In 1927, Mother Francis Lirette was elected to replace Mother Bernard Gosselin in the role of General Superior. Mother Francis had served as assistant to Mother Bernard for a number of years so she came to her new role with a good deal of experience. In addition to experience, Mother Francis had been born with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. She was not afraid to take risks.
In 1920, when the Sisters of St. Joseph first took over the ownership and management of a hospital in Eureka, it was Mother Francis who took the lead in this new ministry. Running a hospital was a steep learning curve for anyone, and Mother Francis accepted this challenge with energy and joy. Along with Mother Bernard, the decision to educate Sisters in the role of nursing had been made and was already in action. They believed that nurses should have the best and most current education possible.
The twenty acres that the Sisters had purchased in Orange in 1922 had more than ample room for the building of a sizable hospital. While Mother Bernard was not eager to take on a major building project, as soon as Mother Francis was elected, she contacted the architect that they had used in Eureka to create a plan for a large new hospital in Orange.
Mother Bernard had memories of the poverty of the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange during their early years and she did not want to take on the additional debt of building a new hospital.
Financing the construction of a hospital in Orange was a major challenge. Because the Sisters were fairly new to the area, they did not have long-standing relationships on which to rely. The city of Orange was comprised of a chiefly Protestant population, significantly Lutheran. Holy Family Church, the only Catholic church within the city, had been founded just a year before the Sisters, themselves, had arrived. For this reason, there were not eager Catholic donors lining up to help the Sisters finance a large construction project.
Mother Francis knew that the hospital in Eureka had flourished monetarily because the Sisters there had virtually done all the work. For that reason, expenses were minimal and stayed that way.
Mother Bernard and Mother Francis were at odds on the issue of a new hospital, and this caused a breach in their relationship.
The ultimate design for the hospital was an ambitious undertaking. It included a power plant and a laundry capable of serving a small city. The architecture of the new hospital– Spanish-Colonial– had intensified in California between the two World Wars. Pseudo-stucco terracotta walls were a key feature as well as red tile roofs, matching towers and spiral columns. It had a holy look.
Ultimately, with Bishop Cantwell’s support and Mother Bernard’s reluctant approval, Mother Francis approached Hibernia Bank for a significant loan and received it.
The initial budget for this project was $200,000. The hospital was completed for $650,000 in 1929 — a low point on Wall Street.
St. Joseph Hospital opened with 39 employees — 38 Sisters of St. Joseph and an engineer, Mr. Pestalosi. The Sisters worked 24/7 and held every possible position. Mr. Pestalosi did the rest.
The KKK Pays a Visit to Orange
Between 1922 and 1927, the Ku Klux Klan made some major moves in Orange County. Their motto was “Keep America for Americans” and in Orange County they principally targeted Catholics. There were a lot of German Catholics in Anaheim. St. Boniface, established in 1860, was the German parish church. Most of the Germans in Anaheim were not only Catholic, they were also educated and organized — suggesting a threat of sorts to the Ku Klux Klan. One night, a fiery cross, the trademark of the Klan, was placed on the cement walk before the main door of St. Boniface. Doors and keyholes were filled with tar, making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to enter the church building. The effect of the Klan upon Catholics was mostly psychological, causing parishioners to feel insecure and suspicious of their fellow townsmen.
In February 1924, the Klan, viewing the Sisters of St. Joseph as part of the Catholic menace, descended upon a path leading onto the Motherhouse property. They brought with them a fiery cross.
Catholics were not alone in fighting against the Klan. A prominent Protestant leader accompanied by other Protestant clergymen fought against the Klan’s mission as well. Among Catholics, it was the Knights of Columbus who were the strongest defenders of the faith. By the latter part of the 1920s, the wrath of the Klan had been put to rest, and by the time St. Joseph Hospital was opened in 1929, the community at large had developed a deep respect for the Sisters and their good works. The Sisters’ memory of the Klan’s visit to their property was stated simply in their archives: “The Klan burned a cross in our yard. They didn’t like us. They didn’t want us here and it was very hard. When they saw the good work we did, it was all right.”
How to Use a Barn
The Burnham property, which Mother Bernard purchased in Orange in 1922, was more than a stately Victorian home. It was a significant piece of property surrounded by orange groves, gardens and animals. It is noted that when the Sisters first arrived in Orange, there were pigs and chickens on the property — perhaps a cow and a couple of horses as well. Off to the side of the main house, was a very large barn. While the Sisters may not have kept the farm animals over a long period of time, they found numerous ways to use the cavernous barn space during the next several decades.
The original home did not have a large kitchen. The Sisters needed a big kitchen as well as three dining areas. The barn was easily converted to match these needs. Over a period of time, what was most needed was sleeping space — especially for those who were young and fit. And so, a second story of the barn was created, and that was turned into a dormitory. The formal title of this sleeping area was St. Joseph Dormitory — “S J D” for short. It was designed in a most practical way — a row of beds, side by side, separated by curtains for a bit of privacy. The curtains, however, did not separate those who snored from those who were bothered by snoring. The quarters were spare and tight, one might say grim — a couple of toilets, two sinks and two showers. Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have long prided themselves on practicality and ingenuity — making the most of whatever was handed to them.
Families who paid tuition at Holy Family School and Mater Dei High School in the 1950s most likely did not imagine that the well-educated Sisters who taught their children by day returned to the Sisters’ Motherhouse by night to sleep in a barn.
In the mid 1950s, a more expansive and up-to date kitchen was built, as well as separate dining rooms for the high school girls, postulants, novices and professed Sisters. As the use of the barn shifted from decade to decade, it served as a library for awhile and provided badly needed classroom space until a college was built.
The long-term plan was for a larger Motherhouse with more sleeping quarters, as well as a college building where the younger members could speedily complete their baccalaureate degrees. Those buildings were not completed until 1960. In 1958 and 1959, we were encouraged to ask for bricks from our families for Christmas — the cost of a brick set at an estimated $1.00. My father thought that he could get bricks for a more modest price! Just the same, my parents got the point. The Sisters had an eye to the future. They were moving forward with zealous faith, and they wanted to enlist the help of all.
The Ballroom Becomes a Chapel
Mother Bernard had done a good deal of building in Eureka before the congregation moved to Orange in 1922. In the eight years between 1912 and 1920, she had overseen the building of a large convent and an elementary school. In addition, the Sisters in Eureka had started to expand a small hospital, helping to dig out the basement themselves.
For that reason, it’s possible that when Mother Bernard first visited the Burnham mansion in 1921, the grand ballroom itself, might have become the purchase point for her. I can imagine her walking into the lofty ballroom of the Burnham estate, taking in its height, length and breadth — claiming silently and joyfully in her heart, “This will be our chapel.” Who could have imagined that a chapel came with the property!
Mother Bernard had an artistic bent. t was not challenging for her to imagine the ballroom as a sacred space. She knew what the sanctuary should look like — where the altar should be, the tabernacle, and the number of pews that would be needed.
She chose a décor, no doubt, that inspired her. On the sanctuary wall, behind the altar, a large plaster-cast image of Jesus, risen from the dead, held command. He was surrounded by clouds and angels, the angels, of course, holding bouquets of small lights which could be lit at times of celebration. Mother Bernard, as foundress, had her own niche, a place where she could pray, even at night when the rest of the house was fast asleep. This was where she brought her worries and fears, where she put her concerns into God’s hands. She may have shed tears there as well. This chapel, was for her, a very sacred space.
When it was announced in 1955, that a new and larger chapel was to be built, Mother Bernard was deeply unsettled. What was wrong with the current chapel, the old ballroom, where the Sisters gathered for Mass and prayers each day, where she had prayed each day since 1922? The abandonment of the current chapel felt disrespectful to her in every way.
In her distress, Mother Bernard wrote a letter to Archbishop McIntyre in Los Angeles pleading with him to use his authority to stop Mother Felix’s building project.
While Archbishop McIntyre wisely chose not to interfere with the inner workings of our congregation, he did take the time to write Mother Bernard a condolence letter, telling her that he sympathized with her grief. He told her that he had had a similar experience at one time, and had been consoled by the fact that some of the elements of the chapel that he revered had been passed on to a place where they could be used and respected. She didn’t write him again on this topic.
The new chapel was named Sacred Heart in deference to her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Did that console her? Possibly not. She was buried from Sacred Heart Chapel in January 1961.
Father Henry Eummelin was raised in Anaheim, a German immigrant community. St. Boniface, founded in Anaheim in 1860, was the first Catholic Church in Orange County after the founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1775.
In 1887, St. Joseph’s Church in Santa Ana was established, and Father Henry Eummelin was appointed pastor there in 1913. Influenced by the history and growth of St. Boniface, Father Eummelin wanted to start a school of his own. There was no building, but there was a small empty house near the church. Father Eummelin saw this as his starter school. In 1914, he engaged two faith-filled blood sisters, Anna Marie O’Campo (16) and Veronica O’Campo (12) as his first teachers. The O’Campo girls, who were fluent in both English and Spanish, were eager to help.
The German immigrant farmers in Brawley, close to the Mexican border, were not unknown to the German Catholics in Anaheim. By 1915, the pastor in Brawley, Father Burelbach, had contracted with Mother Bernard to send Sisters from Eureka to start a school in Brawley. Mother Bernard was quick to get her Sisters involved. When Father Burelbach learned that his friend, Father Eummelin was trying to start a school, too, he passed on the good news about these Sisters to him. Soon, four Sisters of St. Joseph came south to Santa Ana to help grow the school.
After Anna Marie O’Campo began to work alongside the Sisters of St. Joseph, she wanted to join them, and she entered the community in Eureka in 1917. Her sister, Veronica, followed her with the same intention in 1919. While Sister Anna Marie made her final vows in 1925, her sister, Veronica, seriously ill with bone cancer, made her final vows on her deathbed in Eureka in 1924. The doctor who tended her told the Sisters that Veronica would likely be in in excruciating pain until her death. One of the boys who was in St. Bernard’s school-yard on the day Sister Veronica died, is quoted as saying, “I knew that when that Sister stopped screaming, that she must have died.”
Once Father Eummelin came to know the Sisters of St. Joseph, he informally adopted our congregation as “his own” and, unbid, began to explore property near Santa Ana that might appeal to Mother Bernard. It was Father Eummelin who first laid eyes on the 20-acre Burnham site. And it was he who first brokered the deal with the realtor and placed a down payment of $500 to hold the property until the Sisters could check it out and make a decision.
Monsignor Henry Eumellin died in 1933 at the age of 50. He is buried next to Mother Bernard’s grave at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.
Sister Anna Marie O’Campo, Veronica’s sister, died in 1981 at the age of 83. She, too, is buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange among her fellow sisters.
Sister Veronica O’Campo died at the age off 22. She is buried in Eureka.
Opening Day at the Burnham Estate
It was the twenty-first of March, 1922, the first day of Spring. God could not have created a more beautiful day. The sky was a crisp, clear blue. The smell of orange blossoms wafted through the air, and tiny flower buds had begun to break forth on the trees that were the closest to the house. Actually, one couldn’t really call it a house — it looked very much like a mansion from the street. In fact, this beautiful home on Batavia, was the largest and most elegant Victorian home in the area. Today, March 21st, 1922, was opening day for the new home and headquarters of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Orange.
It was an exciting day for all involved. Of course, Mother Bernard, as well as her assistant, Mother Francis, and the book keeper of the congregation, Arthur Lirette, had seen the property before, because this was a big purchase. A loan of $90,000 had been obtained from the Hibernia bank in San Francisco to finance the 20-acre purchase. This big decision was both a geographical boost and a financial risk.
Mother Bernard had been pondering this potential move for some time. While she loved the redwoods, and viewed them as the eighth wonder of the world, her heart and soul, as well as her zealous instincts told her that at some point the Congregation would need to expand beyond Humboldt County. In reality, she had just finished building a convent in Eureka that was large enough for all the new members. She’d built a school right alongside it and this school was thriving. When the virulent 1918 Flu Epidemic began to wind down, the Sisters began to partner with a couple of local doctors to enlarge and lay claim to a small hospital in town.
Mother Bernard was a key decision-maker about moving the headquarters of the Congregation 676 miles south — from Humboldt County to the City of Orange. In 1922, this bold move could have been best described by one word: “futuring.”
Mother Bernard had been concerned about the isolation of the congregation in Eureka. While there was an ultra-long railway that now joined the bay area to Humboldt County, the easiest route to the north was still by ship. The use of cars was more common, and slowly, highways were being constructed. Still, there was not a Golden Gate bridge; nor was there promise of a bridge to come.
Mother Bernard viewed Eureka as both beautiful and remote. Remote was not going to work for how she envisioned the congregation of the future.
Mother Bernard meant to teach us, her daughters, something important by this bold move:
1) Don’t be afraid to risk, and
2) Don’t be afraid to move.
Write this quote of Mother Bernard’s down and keep it near to you. She didn’t write a good deal to us, so each of her words is precious:
“God will give you something special to do
that he won’t ask of someone else,
so pay attention.”