Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Catholic Hospital

Msgr. Albacete's column this week at is on the difference of the Catholic hospital:  "What Defines a Catholic Hospital?"  It comes down to presence and hospitality. This difference risks to be lost as Catholic hospitals are bought up by mega-health systems.
I visited my doctor at one such hospital in the Bronx. It used to be called “Our Lady of Victory” Hospital. It was a small, community-oriented hospital, open to the amazing diversity of people in its neighborhood. I remember the statue of Our Lady outside the main entrance as if welcoming the varied sons and daughters into their common home to share, even in the midst of their sickness and pain, the victory of Her Son. The statue is, of course, gone, and the chapel with the Blessed Sacrament is now a meditation room. I asked my doctor’s secretary, a “New York Puerto Rican” whether she has worked there before “Our Lady of Victory” Hospital became part of the Montefiori health care empire, and she said she had. Then I asked whether she noticed any difference now from the way it was then, and she said: “Things are more efficient now, but something is missing, a warmth, a human warmth associated with Our Lady” (I don’t think she had read Dante’s reference to the “caldo…” in his Hymn to the Virgin!).
The threat to identity is not only due to financial strains.  Speaking of another Catholic hospital, Albacete points out that we ignore history and miracles and in particular the Eucharist, which is neglected just where He should be most prominent.
First of all this hospital is the place of the miracle, accepted by the Holy See, that led to the canonization of the first American born saint: St. Elizabeth Seton. On the hallway that leads from the lobby to the elevators there is a big portrait of Mother Seton, at the entrance of the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. Still I have not been able to find a single person in the hospital who knows this particular and important event in the history of the U.S. The Eucharist is not celebrated in the chapel of the hospital. Instead is celebrated in a nursing home connected to the hospital and at a regular parish down the street, in the same block of the hospital complex.

When I asked one of the sisters who used to run the hospital why no Mass was celebrated at the hospital, she answered: “Because not too many people would be able to attend the Mass, and those who wanted to go could go to the nursing home or to the parish.” I tried to explain to her that the celebration of the Eucharist has nothing to do with number of people that attend. If only one person, one patient could go it’s worthwhile; in fact, if no one goes, Mass is still a miracle at the source of all miracles, including the one that led to Mother Seton’s canonization. Our relation with the Eucharist is the first stage of what makes us human and therefore of the warmth that defines a true Catholic hospital.
What is true for the Catholic hospital is true for the Catholic school is true for the Catholic social agency.  In the large network of state-funded Irish orphanages of decades ago, evidently the Catholic presence was lost, and institutions became horrors. 

I was struck by what Fr. Carron said some time ago about missionary efforts by AVSI, that even when more funds are available, they would never set up a mission without the presence of those believers who carry this awareness with them.

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