In Ireland in the early 1800s, heiress Catherine McAuley was inspired to use her fortune to help improve the circumstances of the poor, especially women and children. She was persuaded by Church authorities to establish a religious order and in 1831 Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy Ministry. Before her death, she established 12 Mercy Foundations throughout Ireland and two in England, the first convents to be built in that country since the Protestant Reformation.

Sister Frances Warde and seven Mercy sisters arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1843 and established the first U.S. Mercy congregation. By the end of the Civil War (1867), the name of Mercy was linked with the Church’s mission to care for the poor, the sick and the uneducated throughout the Northeast, down the Atlantic seaboard, in the South, the Midwest and along the West Coast.

In 1880, Sister Cecilia Carroll, RSM, and three companions traveled from Savannah, Georgia to Atlanta to minister to the sick. With just 50 cents in their collective purse, the sisters opened the Atlanta Hospital, the first medical facility in the city after the Civil War. The Atlanta Constitution expressed it eloquently on May 2, 1880:

“Atlanta has a hospital at last. It is a permanent institution which will grow in importance and usefulness as the city’s needs increase. The new institution is called the Atlanta Hospital and is controlled by the Sisters of Mercy whose beautiful ministrations to the afflicted are known to all.”

In 1900, Atlanta Hospital opened its School of Nursing and continued to train and educate nurses, more than 1,320, for 73 years.

Supported by generous donations, the Sisters nurtured the hospital in Atlanta which soon became known as Saint Joseph’s Infirmary.

Over the years, the hospital moved from a small house on Baker Street to a three-story building on Courtland Street (now the site of the Marriot Marquis Hotel) and was substantially expanded in 1953. In the early 70s, the board of trustees voted to move from the overcrowded downtown site to a spacious 32-acre campus in north Atlanta. Renamed Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, the new facility was dedicated in February 1978.