On the second floor of the Abraham Presidential Library is an unexpected site. A lovely stained glass offers the history of St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. Long before the hospital was one of the largest health care providers in the Land of Lincoln, a group of nuns arrived from Germany to care for the sick. The glass rendition is a copy of the original stained glass that was created in 1934 by the T.C. Esser Company. The glass was reproduced by Brooks Art Glass and presented to the Library by Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of Regular St. Francis. The glass was presented on July 15, 2006.
The hospital sisters 20 of them arrived in Alton from Germany on November 6, 1875. They were greeted by Bishop Peter Baltes who sent the sister’s on to Springfield. Bishop Baltes was a priest for a little over 32 years.
Once the sisters arrived in Springfield on November 11th they were greeted by Father Gerhard Leve, Pastor of Sts Peter and Paul church. Father Leve and Bishop Baltes obtained the Jacob Loose Residence on south 7th Street and this became the very first sisters’ home and served as the first St. John’s hospital. The glass reflects these historic times and there is one frame that shows a sister helping a patient in his home. The information describing the glass states, “…his wife offers food as compensation for the health care service.”
One of the patients that the sister’s took care of was Mary Todd Lincoln just prior to her death on July 16, 1882. After President Lincoln’s death, Mary Todd Lincoln had traveled to Europe with her 18-year-old son Tad. When they returned Tad died of pneumonia and pleurisy in 1871. With the death of her husband followed by the death of her son, Mary became increasingly dependent on medications such as laudanum and chloral hydrate for a variety of physical and emotional ailments. The medicine caused Mary to have erratic behavior and her oldest son Robert Todd Lincoln had her tried for insanity. Mary lost and for a brief period until she proved she was competent was confined in 1875 at an asylum in Batavia, Illinois. After her release, Mary retired to Europe to live out her life in some semblance of peace. Illness eventually forced her to return to the United States where she died July, 1882, having spent much of her last year in seclusion at her sister Elizabeth’s home. Mary is entombed, along with her husband, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. A guide from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum did say that at the end of her life Mary Todd Lincoln had made up with Robert and during that last year she was able to meet her grand children and be at peace.
The hospital sister’s are part of the historical fabric of Springfield, Illinois and their history intertwines with that of the Lincoln family. Along with the stained glass, the Hospital Sisters also donated a bronze statue titled “Healing Presence” of the sisters caring for Mary Todd Lincoln in her final days. The bronze was created by Jeremy Wolf of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.