Immanuel Deaconess Motherhouse and Training School
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In 1879, the Rev. Erik Alfred (E.A.) Fogelstrom came to Omaha, Nebraska to serve the Swedish population as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church. While Pastor Fogelstrom believed in his work at Immanuel, he knew it was not in his future to continue working as a parish pastor. While serving in Omaha he witnessed the work of Roman Catholic sisters and the Catholic hospital. He was inspired by the work of Theodore Fliedner and the Kaiserwerth Institution, as well as the diaconate work of the Rev. W.A. Passavant in Pittsburgh. As such, he felt God was calling him to establish similar work in Omaha for the Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America.
On October 8, 1887, Pastor Foglestrom and others organized the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Association for Works for Charity. He began raising funds for construction of a hospital and site was chosen in 1889. The association reorganized and became renamed the Evangelical Immanuel Association for Works of Mercy. “Lutheran” was removed from the title to convey that the hospital was for everyone. Fogelstrom required that there be a diaconate as well as the hospital, with deaconesses staffing it. Immanuel Church member Bothilda Swensson began deaconess training at the Mary J. Drexel Home and Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses in Philadelphia. By 1888, four more women were in training. In December 1890, the hospital was completed and these first four deaconesses began their work at the hospital.
At the 1890 Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod convention, Pastor Fogelstrom asked the synod for its support, financial and otherwise, but did not receive outright sponsorship. Committees were formed to organize a deaconess association and draft a constitution for it. By the 1891 synod meeting, the work impressed delegates who made financial commitments to construct a deaconess home. In 1892 the Immanuel Deaconess Association (IDA), was formed as a separately from the Evangelical Immanuel Association for Works of Mercy, with Foglestrom as director of the deaconess motherhouse. In 1903, the Synod accepted the new IDA and the Synod assumed control of the IDA and its institutions. In 1904, the informally used name “Immanuel Deaconess Institute” became the official name.
Deaconesses were trained for a variety of work areas in Omaha: medical work through the hospital, staffing the Bethlehem Children’s Home and the Nazareth Home for invalids and the aged, working in parishes, foreign mission fields, teaching Christian education, and teaching at the deaconess training school. Other fields added saw Augustana deaconesses serving around the country and with the China mission.
In 1962, the United Lutheran Church in America, the Finnish Evanglical Lutheran Church, the American Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church merged to create the Lutheran Church in America. The deaconesses of Omaha and the LCA deaconess community unified on January 1, 1966, to become the Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church in America.
Adapted in 2008 from the Administrative History compiled by Catherine Lundeen, Project Archivist, October 2005.