Did You Know? A History of St. William’s Living Center – Part 1

On the corner of McCornell Avenue and West Soo Street in the sleepy country town of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, sits the beautiful, sprawling campus of St. William’s Living Center. Across the street from the nursing home and assisted living facility is the church of the same name. If you drive by the campus on a Sunday morning, you’ll hear the cheerful jangle of the church bells calling the area Catholic community home for Mass.  

Many local residents consider the 5-star rated nursing home as an extension of the church, merging excellent healthcare with the strong, Christian beliefs that molded the surrounding community. But it might surprise you to learn that there was a healthcare center on the corner of McCornell and West Soo long before there was ever a Catholic church in Parkers Prairie. 

Join us for Part 1 of our series about the history of St. William’s Living Center. We begin this series at the turn of the 20th century, not with a Priest, but with a doctor.

Dr. Herbert Leibold

In the early 1900s, rural Minnesota communities received their medical care from the town doctor. These doctors would open up their own small clinics and make house calls when needed. When they moved on, they took their practices with them and made room for the next doctor to come to town.

In October of 1909, Dr. Herbert Leibold and his wife Amelia came to Parkers Prairie and he opened up a clinic in the Gagnagle building. During those early years, he made house calls by horseback. And when the snow piles grew too high for horses, he traveled by snowshoe to take care of his beloved patients. 

In 1915, Dr. Leibold built a small, square, two-story building on the corner of McCornell and West Soo. This first hospital held a clinic on the ground level and an operating room on the second floor where Dr. Leibold, who was a skilled surgeon, operated on patients. There was no elevator, so patients had to walk to the second floor on their own or be carried up using a gurney. 

Eventually, Dr. Leibold expanded the Leibold Hospital into a larger, more comfortable space and he ran the hospital until he retired in 1945. Another doctor took over the operations in 1945, but after only three years, he was forced to shut down the facility because of financial troubles. This was a huge blow to the residents of Parkers Prairie. They had come to see the hospital is an important landmark and a symbol of their prosperous small town. 

The City Votes

The city stepped in and proposed a bond referendum to save the iconic building and keep the hospital running. The bond received 166 votes in favor and 125 votes against. 

Although this was a majority vote, the bond did not pass because a state law dictated that there must be at least 62.5% in favor to approve. Supporters of the hospital were crushed at the defeat. 

The Church Steps In

On the evening of March 7, 1949, the city held its regular council meeting to discuss the failed bond vote. Mother Mary Ohmann, Reverend Mother of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, attended that meeting. The Franciscans were responsible for running several healthcare facilities in the area and she put forward a proposal to allow the nuns to run the hospital and keep it staffed. 

The prospect of having the church operate the hospital was a new one to the members of the city council. Although the Catholic population was growing at the time, the closest Catholic church was Sacred Heart in Urbank. It took some residents almost a full day of travel to get back and forth between Urbank and Parkers Prairie for Mass. 

But with few other options, the city agreed to the proposal, and on July 16, 1949, the contract was signed allowing the Franciscans to assemble a nursing staff and reopen Leipold Hospital with a new name – St. Raphael’s Hospital. 

Healthcare and Catholicism Grow In Parkers Prairie

In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at how St. Raphael’s became St. William’s and how the church grew up around this vital healthcare hub. 

St. William’s Living Center is the home with a heart in the heart of central Minnesota. Call us today to find out about the healthcare services we offer to the residents of Parkers Prairie!

Information for this post was taken from the book Beyond Measure, written by Fr. Jeff Ethen, copyright 2000 Central Minnesota Catholic Publishers