The city of Rochester, Minnesota, was founded in 1854 and incorporated as a town in 1858. The area had previously served as a stagecoach stop, and the new city experienced rapid growth once the railroad began making stops there in 1864. One man who settled there to make the city his home was Dr. William Mayo. He was a surgeon employed by the First Minnesota District enrollment board to examine draftees for the Union army to see which ones were fit for service.
All was well in Rochester until August 21, 1883. That day a devastating tornado almost completely destroyed the town, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. To make the tragedy worse, Rochester didn’t even have a medical facility to care for the wounded.
Nevertheless, Dr. Mayo and his two sons (William and Charlie, who were also trained physicians) went to work helping the wounded. They turned the town’s dance hall into a primary medical facility and treated all those who were brought there. The father and sons were greatly helped by the Sisters of St. Francis, the nuns from the local Franciscan order. Despite the fact that those nuns were trained as teachers rather than nurses and had little if any medical experience, they performed admirably in their new role.
Once life began to get back to something resembling normal, Mother Mary Alfred Moes, the leader of the Sisters of St. Francis, began to envision building a permanent hospital in Rochester. Her plan was for the Mayos to serve as the physicians and her nuns to serve as the nurses. The Mayos weren’t against the idea, but they felt the town was too small to build and support a hospital. Mother Mary, however, was determined, and the Sisters of St. Francis ultimately raised monetary donations totaling up to $60,000 to build the hospital. That would be well over one million dollars in today’s money.
With the Mayos in place to provide the doctoring, the nuns in place to provide the nursing, and the money in place to build a hospital, the new facility was completed in 1889. Originally, it was called Saint Mary’s Hospital, but ultimately “the clinic in the cornfield” was officially named “The Mayo Clinic” in 1914. Even today that name remains synonymous with excellence in medicine.
But how did the Mayo Clinic get its start? It got it by way of a deadly tornado that took the lives of dozens of people and injured hundreds more. Think about that. A place world renowned for healing only came into existence because a whole bunch of people died and a whole bunch more got hurt. Isn’t that as ironic as ironic gets?
Many people assume that the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” can be found somewhere in the Bible, but they are wrong. The phrase actually stems from a hymn written by William Cowper in 1774. The opening words to that hymn are:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform…
This doesn’t mean, though, that the idea of God working in mysterious ways isn’t Bible based. Here are a couple of passages that fit the bill:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways. And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9, N.K.J.V.)
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33, N.K.J.V.)
In regards to the Rochester tornado giving birth to the Mayo Clinic, I would also add in Romans 8:28, which says:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (N.K.J.V.)
Perhaps you have experienced some great tragedy in your life, a tragedy so catastrophic that it has left you thinking, “Even God can’t bring anything good out of that mess.” Dear friend, please hear me when I say that you are wrong, very wrong. God can take anything — and I do mean anything — and bring good out of it if you will only turn it over to Him and ask Him to do so. As the saying goes, “He can take broken eggs and make great omelets.” The Mayo Clinic stands as a lasting testament to this truth, and the city of Rochester, Minnesota, certainly isn’t the only place or the last time that God worked in mysterious ways to work all things for good.