Our History - Ascension Wisconsin

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Our History

Humble Beginnings

In 1879, three Franciscan Sisters arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a mission to provide nursing care to the community. Out of a small house on 4th and Walnut Streets, they began operating their health care ministry. At the same time, a group of Felician Sisters was also providing ministry and health care services to families throughout Wisconsin. Little did either group realize that their missions would link together and evolve over the next century into one of the region's largest and most respected health care organizations.

Thirty-five miles to the south in Racine in 1882, Franciscan Sisters rounded up 10 beds and converted the old Blake House on Campbell and 16th Streets into a hospital.

As the areas expanded, so did the need for health care. In 1884, St. Joseph Hospital opened at 4th and Reservoir Streets. A rapidly growing patient population spurred the construction of a number of new hospitals over the next few decades including a new location for St. Joseph at 50th and Chambers Streets, St. Michael Hospital on Villard Avenue, and the Felicians' St. Francis Hospital at 16th and Euclid Streets. These new facilities dramatically increased patient capacity and provided the opportunity to expand a number of important programs to meet the growing need for health services.

In 1983, Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, started by the Misericordia Sisters, became part of the Wheaton Franciscan system. A year later, the Wheaton and Felician systems each began providing home health services, which are now offered under the name of Wheaton Franciscan Home Health and Hospice.

Covenant Healthcare

The Felician and Wheaton Franciscan Sisters deepened their partnership with the formation of an integrated delivery system in Milwaukee known as Covenant Healthcare in 1993. Hospitals included St. Joseph, Elmbrook Memorial, St. Michael and St. Francis.

The following decade brought more changes, including transitional care facilities with Franciscan Woods, which opened on the Elmbrook Memorial campus in 1993, and The Terrace at St. Francis, which opened on the St. Francis campus in 1994.

In 2003, a comprehensive outpatient center opened in Wauwatosa. One year later, the state's only specialty heart hospital, the Wisconsin Heart Hospital, also opened in Wauwatosa. 

All Saints Healthcare

In 1991, the two major hospitals in Racine – St. Mary's and St. Luke's – affiliated to become All Saints Healthcare System. St. Luke's, initially operating in a rented house in 1872, moved to a 20-bed hospital building in 1876. All Saints Medical Group was formed in 1994 with the consolidation of the Racine and Kurten Medical Groups into All Saints Healthcare.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

In July 2006, ever striving to fulfill their Mission and meet the changing needs of the times, Wheaton Franciscan Services brought together its two Wisconsin regions – Covenant Healthcare and All Saints Healthcare – to be known commonly throughout Southeast Wisconsin as Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group.

Since that time, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare opened a new hospital in Franklin in 2008 and Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital on the second floor in 2009 in partnership with physicians. The Wheaton Franciscan Healthy Lifestyle Village in Brown Deer also opened in 2009. In 2013, Wheaton Franciscan expanded services on our Bluemound Campus and renamed the site Midwest Spine and Orthopedic Hospital and Wisconsin Heart Hospital. The hospital closed on July 8, 2016, with its heart and orthopedic services transferring to Wheaton Franciscan - Elmbrook Memorial Campus and other locations.

In October 2015, the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters announced their decision to transfer Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare to new owners and sponsors. As of March 1, 2016, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare's Southeast Wisconsin operations and related corporate services became part of Ascension Wisconsin.

As Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare continues to live out the Mission of its founding Sisters, it looks to its rich past to guide its future.

As a Catholic health care system, we follow the Ethical and Religious Directives established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The History of the Felician & Wheaton Franciscan Sisters

Watch these videos to learn more about the history of the Felician and Wheaton Franciscan Sisters.