Along a curvy tree-lined road, high up on a hill just outside of Eureka, a group of men robed in brown habits quietly carry on the work started by their brothers 75 years ago. The Franciscan Missionary Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus came to this area in 1927 and established St. Joseph's Hill on property once owned by the Sisters of Mercy. Three-quarters of a century later, the brothers are fewer these days, but their commitment "to caring for the aged and the infirm" remains strong. They now operate three facilities-St. Joseph's Hill, Price Memorial (also in Eureka) and the Arthur Merkle-Clara Knip-prath home in Clifton, Illinois.The men and women whom the brothers care for in these facilities are physically or mentally disabled in some way. Most of them are elderly, the victims of strokes, coronaries, heart attacks and the like. But there are a handful of younger residents, too.The work isn't easy, admits Brother John Spila, OSF, administrator at Price Memorial. But it is rewarding."I like helping people who are in need," he said on what keeps him going. Brother Bernardo Trosa, administrator at St. Joseph's Hill, echoed that sentiment."I've never regretted one day of my work with the brothers," he said. "I wake up every day ready to face the bright challenge . . . always ready to serve the Lord."They have not all been happy days, but they have all been memorable," he added with a warm smile.The Franciscan Brothers' tie to the Franklin county area was born primarily out of the creation of a supporting organization, the Society of Joseph, of which many local businessmen are members. The group was started in 1952 as a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to helping the brothers with their work through financial donations and fund-raising efforts.Another older group, the Society of Josephines, also provides support to the brothers. The group was founded in 1936 as a way for women to be involved in the brothers' work.Both Societies help provide the necessary funding to keep the brothers going. Additional financial support is provided by the brothers themselves, who make personal donations to the mission, as well as private benefactors. Medicaid also is available at Price Memorial.Brothers' BeginningLooking at the stately St. Joseph's Hill or the modern Price Memorial, it's hard to imagine the Franciscan Missionary Brothers began their work here in a rundown, abandoned convent. When the brothers acquired the St. Joseph's property from the Sisters of Mercy, the stone structure had a leaking roof, fallen plaster, broken windows and sagging floors. There was no heating, water, plumbing, electrical wiring or telephone service.The brothers "set forth with prayerful energy" to clean up the facility. In the brothers' diamond jubilee booklet, it's noted that, "Corncribs and horse barns were refurbished and made into wards for the waiting list of patients. And then, the patients poured in."Within a few months of opening St. Joseph's Hill, the brothers had to turn away as many as ten patients a week for lack of space. The four-story structure that is now St. Joseph's Hill Infirmary was opened in 1948, the year Brother Bernardo joined the ministry. At that time the facility was home to some 128 men, he recalled, noting patients were grouped into three categories-mentally deficient, skilled care and ambulatory. They were afflicted with chronic diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, gangrene, heart problems, nervous conditions and paralysis."We were known for taking in residents that other nursing homes at the time couldn't," said Brother Bernardo.From the beginning, St. Joseph's Hill was an all-male facility, said Brother Bernardo, and it remains that way today. Fewer than two dozen residents live at the infirmary. Their rooms are all on the first floor.The second and third floors are currently closed, said Brother Bernardo, although ideas on how to use that space better are being considered. The fourth floor, which was added in the early '70s, is where the administrative offices are located. And kitchen and laundry services are housed in the basement.Price Memorial AddedPrice Memorial was built in 1981 on land that was donated to the brothers by Mrs. Berthold Price. This second facility was added, in part, because St. Joseph's Hill was not set up properly for female residents, said Bro-ther Bernardo."We tried women here (at St. Joseph's) for a while," he commented. "We set up a division for them on one of the upper floors. But there were so few of them, they became lonely and so we transferred them to Price."Price was designed in a wheel pattern with four different wards or spokes branching off from an outdoor courtyard. The layout is very unusual, said Sandy Kombrink, R.N., associate administrator, but it serves an important purpose."The courtyard area is totally enclosed by the rest of the building," she said, "so residents who get confused easily can get outside on their own whenever they want, but they can't get away."Price Memorial is home to about 65 men and women, with a capacity for 120. Residents at Price are more dependent on skilled care than at St. Joseph's Hill, said Kombrink, where the men are more independent.Brother John Spila has been administrator at Price since it opened in 1981. He spends his days interacting with the residents and observing their conditions."I'm in the dining room with them when they have breakfast, lunch or dinner," he said. "I'm there to make sure all their needs are being met."Both St. Joseph's Hill and Price Memorial are licensed by the Missouri Division of Aging and are inspected regularly. The nursing homes also are members of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, as well as the Missouri Healthcare Association and the American Healthcare Association. Both facilities have fire-detection and prevention systems, as well as resident security systems.The facilities are members of the Missouri Association of Homes for the Aging and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.Brothers Don't Shy Away From New IllnessWhen men and women in this area and around the country were first being diagnosed with AIDS, the Franciscan Missionary Brothers took steps to find out more about the new disease and then approached their board of directors about accepting these patients into their facilities."Through the auspices of Brother John (Spila), we both attended a national meeting of health offices in Bethesda, Maryland, dealing with this insidious disease," Brother Bernardo said. "The board was reluctant at first," he admitted, but noted they later agreed. "We always listen very closely to our board." The brothers presented a video program on AIDS to indoctrinate their employees on the disease. They also shared the program with the mayor of Eureka and local members of the healthcare field, as well as all the residents of their facilities and their families or guardians."And we didn't loose one resident because of it," said Brother Bernardo. "We did lose one employee, but she didn't want to quit. It was her husband who wanted her to."Brothers Are Fewer,
But HopefulIn the early years of St. Joseph's Hill, the brothers numbered around 20. In the 1950s, the count was 50 or so, said Brother Bernardo, and that included students, novices and the professed.Today the brothers are fewer. Numbers again are down to around 21 or 22, he said. "We are a little depleted," Brother Bernardo commented.Regardless, many of the men are confident their order will carry on and their nursing home facilities will continue."I'm very optimistic about the future," said Brother John with a smile. "We are always recruiting."