“A place of hope” — Construction site for OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute blessed

Members of The Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis -- as well as Sister M. Mikela Meidl, FSGM, second from right, executive vice president of OSF HealthCare -- take a turn at ceremonial shoveling during groundbreaking activities Aug. 17 at the Peoria construction site of the new OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The groundbreaking for the OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute in Peoria was called “a milestone day” and “the beginning of a new era” in the treatment of the disease in central Illinois, but one speaker during ceremonies Aug. 17 began by sharing a “little secret” about the $237 million project.

“I think they’ve already started to move some dirt around here,” said Bob Sehring, chief executive officer of OSF HealthCare, drawing laughter. The Tuesday afternoon ceremonies took place next to a cavernous, 40-foot-deep crater at the center’s construction site on the campus of OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.

An architect’s rendering of the OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute.

The official groundbreaking — including a blessing of the site by Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka — culminated years of planning and months of demolition and excavation to make way for the 180,000-square-foot building. The timeline for construction depends on the success of a $100 million fundraising effort that Sehring called “the largest capital campaign in the 144-year history” of the health care ministry founded by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

“When we trust in God, the impossible becomes possible,” said Bishop Tylka prior to sprinkling holy water at the edge of the construction site. His message turned personal as he noted that his mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1989 and that his sister, Mary Lou, died of the same disease at nearly the same age last summer.

Bishop Tylka expressed confidence that “if we use what God has given to us” — including faith, knowledge, and a willingness to be innovative and creative — “what looks like a hole today will become a place of hope tomorrow.”

That enthusiasm was echoed by speakers representing groups collaborating to make the OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute a regional destination center for cancer treatment. The facility will be just the second center in Illinois offering proton beam therapy to treat patients, reducing treatment times, side effects, and disruption to the lives of patients and caregivers.

Collaborating partners include Illinois CancerCare and the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka blesses the construction site for OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute, a $237 million project on the campus of OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Assisting is Ben Wilson. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Dr. Madhuri Bajaj began her remarks by noting that Illinois CancerCare’s 15th clinic will be located in the new cancer institute. A specialist in medical oncology/hematology and internal medicine at Illinois CancerCare, she said her organization and OSF share “a vision and passion for ensuring that all patients have access to world-class comprehensive cancer services and treatment close to their home.”

“As two independent entities,” Dr. Bajaj continued, “we’re going to show how we can collaborate and commit to helping people through their cancer journeys.”

The cancer institute will benefit from scientific and technological research being done by the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

“Technology is a really powerful force,” said Rohit Bhargava, director of the Cancer Center at Illinois, but he emphasized the end is to make cancer care more humane. “We have an opportunity to combine forces and have technology take us all to the next level in cancer care.”

Dr. James McGee, a radiation oncologist who for several decades has guided oncology services at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, said the new cancer institute is a necessary “reinventing” of care and treatment for the benefit of future generations.

Turning to Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, chairperson of the boards of OSF HealthCare, Dr. McGee quoted St. Francis of Assisi as saying first do what is needed, then do what is possible, and “by continuing to do that, you will do the impossible.”

“Sister,” he concluded, “I think you are perched on the edge of getting to that third level.”

In her remarks, Sister Judith Ann noted the humble beginnings of the pioneer Sisters in her community and the growth that happened in their health care mission because they placed their trust in God.

Dr. James McGee, medical director of the OSF HealthCare oncology service line, explains the collaborative cancer-related services, technologies, and faith elements that will make the new OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute in Peoria an asset for future generations. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“Just look around and see what God has done over time,” said Sister Judith Ann, speaking near a banner depicting the future cancer institute. “It’s amazing, but not surprising to me when you realize whose work it is, and who it is that enables us to accomplish all that we do. Together we can accomplish so much good with God in our midst.”


The announcement of a “Mass of Hope” for those enduring the burden of cancer in central Illinois was made at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the OSF HealthCare Cancer Institute.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka will be the celebrant of the Mass, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

“This is a tremendous commitment and very much needed,” said Dr. McGee in announcing what is expected to become an annual Mass. Further details on the Mass will be published as they are made available.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the groundbreaking and blessing ceremony have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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