Sister Anne Wasco, known as Sister Angelita, and four other nuns arrived at the Las Vegas train depot from Michigan late one hot desert night in June of 1947.
In full habits and traveling cloaks, they crowded into a two-door sedan with the priest and nun who greeted them at the depot to drive to their new home in Henderson. After the long journey, they went straight to bed.
What Sister Angelita saw the next morning when she looked out the window shocked her.
“She says – I think she wrote this in a letter to someone – ‘There’s nothing out here. There’s just tumbleweed,’” Sister Katie McGrail, 78, said Wednesday, recounting the story passed down over the decades.
“And she then went on to say, ‘If they were telling me I could go home, I would (happily) walk all the way.’”
Had Sister Angelita and the other nuns not stayed put, the history of Henderson might look quite different.
The five nuns who arrived that night and two others were charged with taking over operations of the Basic Magnesium Hospital following World War II. They succeeded in their mission: St. Rose Dominican hospitals are celebrating 75 years of caring for patients in the Las Vegas Valley.
The anniversary holds special meaning for the nuns still active in the St. Rose hospitals or recently retired.
“Well, it’s 75 years of serving the community,” said Sister Vicki Dalesandro, 83. “Because of the hospital, the town became a city because we hired more people than anybody else.”
In the early 1940s, Henderson was home to factories employing thousands of workers producing materials for the U.S. war effort. After the war, many of the workers left town, according to a St. Rose website documenting the hospital group’s history.
Basic Magnesium Hospital was put up for sale. Father Peter Moran, pastor of Henderson’s St. Peter’s Church, shared the idea of the Catholic church taking over operations of the town’s only hospital with Bishop Thomas K. Gorman, the namesake of Southern Nevada’s Catholic high school.
The bishop then wrote a letter to Mother Mary Gerald Barry, the Superior of the Adrian Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan. Talks led to the order assuming operations of the hospital, which was renamed Rose de Lima Hospital. It purchased the hospital from the U.S. government for $1 for 25 years.
The original building remains standing, with many of its rooms now used as administrative offices. More structures have been added over the decades, the rooms becoming larger, the halls wider, the ceilings higher, with a tower rising above the low-slung building. The campus continues to operate a 24-hour emergency room and a small hospital.
St. Rose has opened two additional acute-care hospitals in Southern Nevada, the Siena and San Martin campuses.
For 75 days leading up to the June 27 anniversary, St. Rose is telling its history in stories, photos, documents and videos on its social media channels.
“The tradition of St. Rose is part of the history of our community and we celebrate the legacy of humankindness left by the seven brave women who started it all,” the hospital group states.
Contact Mary Hynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.