By Bill Brewer
St. Mary’s Hospital was again a center of activity on April 22 when the city of Knoxville and mayor Indya Kincannon gathered hundreds of city and Knox County officials for the annual state of the city address and luncheon.
The original hospital building, which opened in 1930 and closed in 2018, served as the backdrop for the VIP luncheon, and the Sisters of Mercy who operated the hospital for decades were recognized for their longtime service in providing health care to area residents.
And to illustrate the continuing legacy of St. Mary’s ministry in the community, the Diocese of Knoxville’s St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic and its staff were on hand to give visible evidence that the Catholic Church still is providing medical care to those most in need.
Mayor Kincannon recognized the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic staff, including Martin Vargas, executive director of the mobile clinic; Beth Ann Arrigo, the clinic’s nurse manager; Sister Mary Luke Feldpausch, RSM, clinic assistant; and Sister Joan Miriam Nelson, RSM, a clinic assistant who will be studying nursing at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Also recognized was Sister Maria Juan Anderson, RSM, executive secretary for Bishop Richard F. Stika.
“St. Mary’s holds a special spot in the hearts of so many Knoxvillians,” Mayor Kincannon said, asking attendees with a show of hands how many of them were born at the former St. Mary’s Hospital. Many hands were raised. “These memories are important, and that’s why we have carefully preserved the original (hospital) building and many of the memorials.”
“I also want to take a moment to thank the Sisters of Mercy, who dedicated St. Mary’s—on this very day 92 years ago. Their legacy continues with a mobile clinic parked here today that brings health care to underserved people across East Tennessee,” she added. “Thank you, Sisters, for all of your work, for being with us here today, and for sharing your stories with us.”
The mayor delivered her address on the grounds of the city’s new Public Safety Complex, which is on the site of the former Catholic medical center off Huron Street at Woodland Avenue in North Knoxville.
The Public Safety Complex is to open by the end of 2022 and will be the new home for the Knoxville Police and Fire departments, City Court, Pension System office, and E-911 backup operations.
Also on the former St. Mary’s Medical Center campus are Lincoln Memorial University’s nurs ing and dental colleges in the former Magdalen Clarke Tower, a $40 million private investment that will create educational opportunities for hundreds of nursing and dental students each year.
The city is planning new housing on the north end of the campus, which the city cleared to accommodate future private redevelopment. The iconic St. Mary’s Hospital building, which has been carefully protected and preserved, will anchor that redevelopment.
On the south end of the campus, the city and county will be jointly converting the 25,000-square-foot former St. Mary’s Ambulatory Surgery Center into an urgent-care and behavioral-health facility.
As part of the budget address program, the city of Knoxville put together a video of historic photos from St. Mary’s Hospital dating to its earliest days.
Mr. Vargas was appreciative of the city’s efforts to recognize the Sisters of Mercy legacy and how it extends to the work the mobile clinic now is doing across the Diocese of Knoxville.
“It was an amazing experience to be with the Sisters of Mercy at an event with the city of Knoxville honoring the legacy of St. Mary’s Hospital. St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic is a direct part of that legacy, and it is awesome that the city thought the use of that facility will be part of the story,” Mr. Vargas said.
“With the Legacy Clinic, our legacy doesn’t live behind us. It lives ahead of us. In a city like Knoxville, where St. Mary’s Hospital meant so much to the community, it’s great that the city is now part of that legacy, and it will endure,” he added.
Mr. Vargas noted that St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic is encouraged by Lincoln Memorial University’s presence on the former St. Mary’s campus, where it will operate nursing and dental colleges in the building that used to be the Magdalen Clarke Tower.
“It’s tremendous that LMU will be part of the legacy by educating the next generation of health-care providers on the site where St. Mary’s began. Education is part of the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic fabric, and it’s great to see LMU be part of that fabric on the same spot the Legacy Clinic sprang from,” he said.
The St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic continues to grow its presence in East Tennessee and soon will add the Helenwood community in Scott County to its regular stops. Helenwood will become the seventh community served, joining Washburn and Rutledge in Grainger County, Crab Orchard in Cumberland County, Athens in McMinn County, Decatur in Meigs County, and Gatlinburg in Sevier County.