The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, just south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, is often rated as the best hospital in all of America. People worldwide receive medical care at Mayo Clinic, including people from other countries, such as Shieks from the Middle East, who fly in on their jet planes. Very few people know how the Mayo Clinic started.
Recently, I was introduced to a remarkable book entitled: “Minnesota, The Revival State, Moves of God 1860-1960” by Dale Gilmore. The preface to the book is written by Cindy Jacobs of Generals International. The book is a fascinating record of the moves of God in Minnesota over 100 years. The book starts with the record of the Red Rock Camp meetings, not unlike the better-known camp meetings of Tennessee and Kentucky. The book includes a remarkable story of the beginnings of the Mayo Clinic, part of which we will share here.
BIRTH OF THE MAYO CLINIC
A Supernatural Vision to Sister Mary Alfred Moes
“One of the remarkable stories from early Minnesota’s history is the birth of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota following a devastating F5 tornado in August of 1883…
From eyewitness and written accounts of the day, August 21, 1883 was a hot and very humid day. By late afternoon, there would be three tornadoes that formed and caused damage in southeastern Minnesota. The first tornado touched down around 3:30 p.m. that day about 10 miles south of Rochester. . .
The second touched down about 6:30 p.m. about 4 miles northwest of Hayfield Minnesota (Dodge County). This tornado was seen to be about 1 mile wide and was estimated to be an F5 tornado. It was estimated that between 10 and 40 farms were destroyed by this tornado. The massive tornado moved northeast and entered Rochester, Minnesota about 7:00 p.m. Rochester was a city of about 5,100 residents. The tornado entered the city from the southeast over Pill Hill, headed for downtown Rochester, and moved north through the city before turning east again. . .
When the residents ventured from their shelters, they found a devastated city in the fading light of sunset. Rescuers found 37 individuals had died and 200 more were injured, many seriously. At least 135 homes were destroyed and another 200 were damaged in some way. The city had no hospital and only one doctor, Dr. W.W. Mayo. Thankfully his home had been spared as had been the convent of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester. But there had been damage on the doctor’s property. An apple orchard near the doctor’s home had been devastated with all the fruit striped and most of the greenery taken off the trees. . . The immediate need in Rochester was to go through the ruins and try to find people who were still alive but trapped. Then people needed medical treatment…
In 1883 there was no hospital in Rochester. Dr. William Worrall Mayo was the lone physician in town. He had exceptional skill as a surgeon, but rarely used those skills in his practice. He said that there were maybe 6 serious surgeries in a year that would require his skills. His oldest son, William J. Mayo, had just graduated from the University of Michigan’s medical school in 1883, and the younger son, Charles H. Mayo wasn’t due to graduate from Northwestern University’s medical school until 1888. Both sons were in Rochester the night of the tornado. We are not exactly sure what they were doing in helping their father care for the injured. We do know that many were being brought to the Mayo home for care.
However, the credit for the care goes to the elder Mayo who set up an oak table as an operating table in Rochester’s town hall. All night long he plied his little surgical instruments. He was helped by women he had never seen before. They were nuns from the convent Sisters of St. Francis. One of the nuns was the head Mother, Sister Mary Alfred Moes. They were trained as teachers with no nursing experience. . .
Many of those Dr. Mayo worked on the evening were friends… Some died on the operating table with the good doctor trying to save them. But an astonishing number of the injured lived. Dr. Mayo believes he performed at least 50 surgeries that evening, maybe more. The next day the surgeons began arriving from distant cities to help save victims of the tragic tornado, and they were surprised, maybe even shocked, to see the work already done and done so very skillfully by this country doctor. Many marveled at Dr. Mayo.
When the worst was over, the dead buried and the injured recovering, the Mother Superior of the little convent sent for Dr. Mayo. Sister Mary Alfred Moes told the doctor she had had a vision of the future. It had come to her in a kind of waking dream, but so vividly and with such force that she felt compelled to reveal it.
Her vision was of a great hospital rising out of the cornfields around Rochester–the little country town, with its one doctor. To that hospital, she had been told in her vision, would come patients from every part of the world and from every nation. And she had seen the name ‘Mayo’ respected the world over for surgical achievements.
Dr. W.W. Mayo’s initial reaction was ‘But I am nearly 60 years old. How can I achieve such fame? How can I build such a hospital? And how would the world know of it if we did?’
The Mother Superior answered ‘You have sons. They will be surgeons, great surgeons. The world will find a path to your door.’ After some conversation, Sister Alfred asked, “If we raise the money, will you and your sons build and staff the hospital?”
There were at least two things that were bothering Dr. W.W. Mayo at the time of this conversation. One of them was that in the 1880’s hospitals were not held in much favor by the public. They were regarded as places where people went to die. At best they were charity asylums for the sick poor who had no place to go and no one to look after them. People rarely got better and came home after being in a hospital. . .
Another obstacle to the success of a hospital that Dr. Mayo noted was that he was Episcopalian, and the sisters were Catholic, which might cause a problem. Mother Alfred’s immediate response was: ‘The cause of suffering humanity knows no religion or sex; the charity of the Sisters of St. Francis is as broad as their religion.’
Mother Alfred asked Doctor Mayo to draw up plans for the building and during the next years, the doctor and his sons traveled widely looking for the best in the hospitals of the day. Soon Dr. Mayo gave the Sisters of Saint Francis convent a 20-acre parcel of land on which to build a hospital. In that orchard of dismembered apple trees, a brick building was erected. Mother Superior Alfred and others from the convent had raised $16,500 for the building, and $2,200 for the heating plant. In 1887, a 3-story, 27-bed hospital named St. Mary’s opened in Rochester.
History has proven the vision of Mother Superior Mary Alfred Moes to be completely accurate. People do come now from all over the world to the “Hospital in the cornfields” of Rochester. And the name ‘Mayo’ has become synonymous with excellent medical care” (Gilmore, 2020).
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
There are many lessons to be learned from this remarkable story of the Mayo Clinic. Let us note just 5 of those lessons.
1. Out of the Ashes Came a Vision
The beginnings came about as a result of the devastating tornado that struck Rochester, MN. It was a case of “out of the ashes,” so to speak. From it all was birthed a vision of a hospital that would become world-famous.
2. A Catholic Nun was the Catalyst
The part played by Sister Mary Alfred Moes, the Mother Superior of a little convent, was central to the Mayo Clinic’s beginnings. God specifically used this woman. He has often used women to ignite a vision, and He surely used her to ignite the vision of the Mayo Clinic.
3. Big Visions Usually Begin Small
If you were to visit the present-day Mayo Clinic, you would see many buildings that now make up the Mayo Clinic. But it all started in a city that had one doctor and no hospital. Most big visions begin in small and humble ways and grow.
4. The Vision was Generational
Dr. Mayo’s two sons acutally developed the vision, both of whom were doctors. Acts 2:17 talks about old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions. Often the dreams of the past generation are carried out by a subsequent generation.
5. The Place of Visions and Prophecy
It is well to remember the place of a prophetic word by Sister Mary Alfred Moes in all of this. God can and does use prophetic words and visions to speak and call forth a significant ministry. We need to be listening for God speaking in supernatural ways.
A CLOSING WORD
Habakkuk 2:2-3a (NKJV) records the Lord saying,
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time.”
Dr. C. Peter Wagner once said to Cindy Jacobs, “Any history not written about is not remembered” (Gilmore, 2020).
That’s a word for all of us. Let us record the visions that God has given. I am so appreciative that Dale Gilmore has done just that in recording the moves of God in Minnesota.
Copies of Dale Gilmore’s book “Minnesota: The Revival State” are available on:
An ebook will soon be available on Amazon.
GILMORE, D. (2020). MINNESOTA: The revival state. S.l.: LULU COM.