MARYVILLE, Mo. — Women in flowing gowns and furs and men in dark suits and tuxedoes packed the conference center at Mozingo Lake Recreation Park on Saturday evening for the 2019 SSM Health St. Francis Hospital Gala.

The event served to mark the hospital’s 125th anniversary.

St. Francis was founded in 1894, when Mother Augustine Giesen and a group of six other nuns belonging to the Benedictine Sisters of St. Francis arrived in Maryville from St. Louis.

In the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, the hospital was one of only two serving patients in the vast Platte Purchase, a large tract spreading across the northwest corner of Missouri north of St. Joseph. The other hospital was located in Fairfax.

In 1985, the Maryville congregation merged back with its parent organization, the Sisters of St. Mary, also headquartered in St. Louis.

Today, SSM Health, which remains associated with its founding Roman Catholic order, operates 24 hospitals and has affiliations with 39 other health care institutions in four states: Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri.

However, St. Francis will leave the medical non-profit on April 1, when it is to be officially acquired by Mosaic Life Care, formerly Heartland Health, a regional medical center based in St. Joseph.

According to Megan Jennings, development officer for the St. Francis Foundation, which organizes the gala, the change in management should not affect foundation activities, since the fundraising operation is structured as a separate corporate entity.

Jennings and Community Relations and Development Manager Rita Miller both said events like the gala, which each year raises tens of thousands of dollars for improved medical equipment and facilities, and the foundation’s annual May golf scramble, also held at Mozingo Lake, will continue for the foreseeable future.

Prior to the change in ownership, Miller said, a busload of SSM nuns is scheduled to arrive in Maryville on March 19, when the sisters will take part in a “final blessing” for the hospital and its patients and staff.

She said the group is expected to attend Mass at St. Gregory Barbarigo Catholic Church prior to attending a celebratory luncheon followed by a gathering in the Schneider Performing Arts Center at Maryville High School.

Proceeds from this year’s gala, Miller said, are earmarked for services designed to benefit cancer patients. Proposed facilities and programs include a meditation garden, improved cancer clinic parking and access, and possible financial assistance that would help patients cover out-of-pocket costs associated with transportation and nutrition.

Saturday’s gala included the inaugural presentation of the Spirit of St. Francis Award to longtime civic leader Robert Severson, who was recognized for embodying the hospital’s five core values of compassion, respect, excellence, stewardship and community.

The year’s gala carried an international travel theme and offered diners exotic foods from “ports of call” modeled on Greece, Japan, India, Mexico, America and the French Riviera. Attendees also had a chance to bid on gift packages, donated merchandise and memorabilia during silent and live auctions.

Live music was provided by “Reunion,” a cover band featuring professional musicians who at various times have been associated with such artists as Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Barry Manilow and Cher.

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Staff writer Anthony Brown can be reached at tbrown@maryvilledailyforum.com or by calling the newspaper at 660.562.2424.