On December 29, 2000, City on a Hill received four large buildings that once served as a major hospital in Milwaukee's central city. This unprecedented gift returned the property to its original mission more than a century ago - to serve the poor as an expression of faith.
In 1863, a brick farmhouse on this hilltop property was purchased by a group of Christians and converted into a hospital. The mission of the Lutheran Deaconesses who staffed it was to practice the tenets of their faith by caring for the medical needs of the poor. Area congregations donated medicines, beds, ice and livestock to support their effort.
Early on, the ministry faced opposition from those who considered the hospital a source of contagious disease, but supporters rallied repeatedly to expand its capacity to serve. For decades, Milwaukee Hospital, later called Lutheran Hospital, was operated as a charitable facility, with volunteer physicians and staff. Eventually the hospital garnered philanthropic support, developed other funding streams, and became a prominent medical institution.
Later, however, changes in medical technology, health care financing and neighborhood demographics led to the decline of the hospital, which eventually merged with another to become Good Samaritan Medical Center. In the mid-1990s the medical center's owner, Aurora Health Care, struggling with mounting losses, merged its services into another nearby central city hospital, leaving six large buildings vacant.
In August of 2000, a local Assemblies of God ministry and a large national organization, Convoy of Hope, conducted a community outreach event on the parking lot of the vacant hospital. 8,000 neighborhood residents attended the free event, benefiting from a job fair, health services, children's games, food distribution, haircuts, and many other activities. Impressed by the event and concerned about the deterioration of the neighborhood, the owners initiated a discussion with the board of the local Urban Ministry Center. Four months later Aurora transferred its four remaining buildings totaling 321,000 square feet to the newly incorporated non-profit organization, known today as City on a Hill.
This property in the heart of Milwaukee is now being returned to its original mission - to serve the poor in Milwaukee's central city. This time Christians are working together to meet not only the physical needs, but also the spiritual needs of impoverished families. City on a Hill's mission is to be a catalyst working to save children, reach parents and transform families in Milwaukee's central city neighborhoods. City on a Hill is contributing to transformation in the neighborhood, reconciliation in the city, and revitalization in churches.
Like the hospital's founders, City on a Hill is relying on the support of donors who contribute tens of thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet the needs in our central city. It is also partnering with other organizations with similar missions, co-located in its facility. As Jesus urged his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, the ministry's staff and volunteers are letting their light shine, like a "city on a hill."