Catholic Health Initiatives' (CHI) commitment to care for those who are poor and underserved began long before CHI was formally founded in 1996. Our rich history includes the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
It All Began with Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic, or Dominic de Guzman, was born in the late 1100s and founded the Order of Preachers, or the Dominican Order. With tender compassion for people in need, Dominic fed the hungry and was compelled to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus. His legacy is remembered in his final words to his brothers, “Have charity, guard humility and treasure voluntary poverty.”
Perseverance in Portugal
From that same compelling mercy and compassion, Theresa de Saldanha founded the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Portugal in 1866. Moved by the critical needs of people who were poor, orphaned, uneducated and sick amidst the persecution of the Church in Portugal, Theresa and her followers were risk takers who acted quickly in the face of suffering.
The Portuguese anti-clerical revolution of 1910 forced Theresa and her sisters’ property to be confiscated and the women to be imprisoned. Upon release, they networked behind closed doors and organized their underground movement. Publicly, they lived as widows in their neighborhoods. But secretly they continued their ministry.
At the same time, the non-Portuguese members of the congregation who had been deported, gathered in Ireland and awaited the chance to journey to America where they could serve in freedom.
Sisters Cross the Pond and Beyond
In 1911, the first five immigrant sisters, led by Mother Catherine Roth, pitched a tent along the Oregon Trail in rural Ontario, Oregon. There, responding to an urgent and immediate need, the sisters received their first patients and began to raise funds to build the structure that eventually became Holy Rosary Medical Center (formerly part of CHI). In the following years, the sisters founded hospitals and a skilled nursing facility; taught in urban and rural parish elementary schools; founded and staffed rural religious education programs; served as social workers; became missionaries; and ministered to migrant worker families.
The Modern Day Congregation
Since 1911, the sisters’ service has expanded across Oregon, California, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. In 1982, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena became a co-sponsor of Catholic Health Corporation, Omaha. In 1996, they became co-sponsors of both CHI and Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco, now known as Dignity Health.
In 1997, their “ready or not” spirit was reaffirmed in a new vision statement: “We will remember that Jesus is in a hurry to heal the people, to feed the hungry, to embrace the unwelcome and to preach the word of peace.” Today, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are headquartered in Saratoga, California.
We continue to find inspiration in the mercy and compassion of all our founding congregations.