History

why-heartlandMore Than 100 Years of Caring for Kids

Since its original construction in 1889, our facility in Nevada, Mo., has been dedicated to caring for children. Originally built by the Christian Church as a university, Franciscan nuns purchased the building sight unseen for $10,000 in 1892.

A Labor of Love

The sisters arrived in Nevada on Sept. 3, 1893, and opened a day school when a man named Hogan was unable to care for his children due to the death of his wife. Hogan approached the sisters to take in his children. These were the first of many children raised at what was soon to become St. Francis Orphanage.

Those who could afford to pay for their children to stay paid $5 a month, but there were some years when the sisters did not receive a single dollar.

In 1901, Sister M. John Hau was unanimously voted the Mother Superior. She received the same honor each succeeding year until her death in 1948. Mother John, only 26 years old when she came to America, spent her life devoted to the honor and glory of her Master and the welfare of humanity.

Orphanage Reemerges from Ashes

In 1915, a fire burned St. Francis Orphanage to the ground. Mother John met the loss of her beloved convent with the same staunch courage that typified her life. With tears streaming down her face as she watched the facility burn, her only feeling was gratitude that God had spared the children from death and injury. When asked about rebuilding, without hesitation she replied, “Yes, we will rebuild, and we will keep all of the children.”

When it was discovered that there was not enough money from their insurance claim to rebuild, the sisters took it upon themselves to salvage the remains, washing more than 350,000 bricks by hand to use in the reconstruction.

The citizens of Nevada opened their arms and hearts to the sisters and the children. Community leaders pulled together to help provide for the needs of the orphans and secured temporary housing.

On June 18, 1916, the cornerstone for the new building was laid. Exactly one year later, the new convent and chapel were dedicated.

A new plan was put into place in 1952. St. Francis Orphanage soon became St. Francis Academy, a boarding school and high school for girls.

Heartland Continues Legacy of Devotion to Youth

The facility began serving behavioral health needs in 1982, when Heartland Behavioral Health Services first opened its doors as a psychiatric facility. Improvements to the 1916 structure were completed in 1962 and 1986.

As the sisters prepared to leave their historical piece of Vernon County in 1982, one of the nuns offered her thoughts on modern families. She felt modern parents were too permissive in allowing their children to make their own decisions. “The need for boarding schools where young people may find individual attention, supervision and love is greater today than before due to more working mothers and broken homes.”

The St. Francis Sisters are now happily relocated on an 82-acre wooded site in Independence, Mo., but the halls of Heartland hold their presence and their dedication to needy youth.

As the history of this building continues to be written every day, its mission is perhaps best described by words found in an old brochure. Heartland’s staff feels these words are as true today as the day they were written:

“We want our students to learn to stand erect on their own feet, to acquire true ideals, a balanced outlook on life and a true sense of spiritual values. These things form the basis of the lives they lead, the work they do and what they become. It’s in the very air and spirit of the place, and it takes root and grows in their hearts. They carry it away with them when they leave and think and talk and act differently the rest of their lives because of it.”