St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center reflects on 140 years of caring

by Luke Eggleston
Sun Staff Writer

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center is celebrating more than its 140th anniversary this year. The center is celebrating 14 decades of providing the sick and the injured with “passionate healers.”

On May 6, the hospital recognized its history and its care-giving community with a restatement of its mission: “We are passionate healers dedicated to honoring the sacred in our sisters and brothers.”

The roots of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center are very humble.

When the facility was established on May 6, 1869, the Franciscan sisters had little to call their own beyond their faith. Yet they bought a building that had been a saloon and a dance hall and transformed it into a place of healing.

From its origin as a former saloon offering 15 beds to the sick and the infirm, the hospital has grown to a facility consisting of several buildings covering a city block in Syracuse.

The May 6 event, at which a plaque featuring the new mission statement was unveiled, was designed to celebrate the facility’s Franciscan roots.

Along with a restatement of its mission, the center re-established its “core values,” which consist of “stewardship, compassion, reverence, excellence and integrity.”

“Today was very special. It was not only the celebration of St. Joseph’s 140th anniversary, but it was a restatement of our mission. Over 140 years, the mission of St. Joseph’s has not changed, as was portrayed in the presentation today. We were able to condense it into a mission statement that we believe people will be able to remember and tying that together with our 140th year with the sisters,” said St. Joseph’s President Theodore Pasinski.

The founders of the hospital were Sisters Mary Dominica Cummings, Mary Mechtilidies Goggin, Mary Veronica Gosse, Mary Johanna Kaiser and Mary Hyacintha Eagan. Now the hospital employs nearly 1,200 people.

“Those sisters were pioneer caregivers in every sense of the word,” said Pasinski. “The sisters were determined to care for those who needed them most. It is amazing to me to realize that this center has existed uninterrupted for 140 years.”

Pasinski credited the sisters with introducing a kind of rudimentary “911 system.”

“Our founding sisters were inventive,” Pasinski said. “By hanging a bell in front of the hospital, they pioneered the 911 call system. They gathered the young boys of the surrounding neighborhoods and explained that the first one to fetch them a doctor at the  sound of their bell would receive a quarter. The system was extremely effective with a squad of eager, young runners continuously stationed outside the hospital doors.”
Ten years after its establishment, the hospital staff scripted a charter announcing that it would admit and provide treatment for all patients without regard to their religion, nationality or race.

Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, marveled at the hospital’s legacy.

“I think in the early days, when we were not blessed with as many social services and even hospitals, the sisters with little money and little know-how about medicine, found a way to care for the people who needed healing,” she said. “Consequently, they just kept taking one step after another, risking whatever it was and literally begging on the streets for money and materials so that they could continue to take care of the sick.”
Along with the plaque celebrating the hospital’s mission, an exhibit featuring numerous historical photos was on display for the event. St. Joseph’s has been the site of numerous “firsts” in Central New York including its training school for nurses, the first ambulance and the first site to perform open-heart surgery.

In addition to celebrating the hospital’s modest origins, the event also served to honor its various components. Representatives from the hospital included not only physicians and nurses, but also Franciscan sisters, maintenance workers and food service workers. Pasinski noted that the event was unique during his 30 years as a hospital administrator.

“This one is special because of our restatement of the mission that over 1,000 employees were part of the development of that. Obviously a lot of employees were involved with today’s ceremony. That, to me, over my career here has made it very special,” he said.

Pasinski noted that the event also offered the hospital an opportunity to honor its staff as a whole.

“Team building is a critical component of any organization. This contributed not only to the success of what we’re doing today, but it did develop a spirit in the organization and a spirit of the 140th anniversary. All of that contributed as a result of the teamwork and the team spirit,” Pasinski said.

Sister Patricia stressed that the hospital’s mission would not be possible without its staff of lay people.

“We couldn’t do that by ourselves anymore. We have become co-workers with all of these wonderful lay people who now are part and parcel of the staff and part of the leadership. I represent the religious congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, which is the religious sponsor,” Sister Patricia said. “We have a part of guarding and protecting the religious mission as it goes on here, while other people have the know-how to take care of the clinical parts of the management and the financial stewardship and so on.”

One of the facility’s most famous administrators was Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, who is under consideration by the Vatican to become the Syracuse Diocese’s first saint. Mother Marianne ministered at St. Joseph’ from 1870 to 1877 before leaving for Hawaii where she ministered to the leper colony on the island of Molokai. Mother Marianne was instrumental in making St. Joseph’s the first teaching hospital in Syracuse.
At the May 6 event, the hospital paid homage to Mother Marianne. Sister Kathleen Osbelt, OSF, portrayed Mother Marianne. She wore the traditional habit of the Franciscan sisters, which was worn during Mother Marianne’s era and interacted with representatives from various departments.

“I’m hearing something that I heard many, many years ago — passionate healers,” said Sister Kathleen as Mother Marianne. Sister Kathleen compared the healers to Jesus and St. Francis, patron of her order. She also stressed the charter’s statement regarding care for each person, noting that St. Francis served “all of God’s creation.”

“All of us are dedicated to our work and feel it is important to the entire facility,” said Ed Sochia, the director of facilities.

The other department representatives were nurse AnneMarie Czyz, Dr. Christopher LaBounty, Ann Mann of nutritional services, Michael Chaffee of grounds maintenance, Marie Grabowski of the hospital’s auxiliary and spiritual care director Sister Jacqueline Spiridilozzi, OSF.

“Each one of you is able to see God. [You are] passionate healers, dedicated to honoring the sacred,” said Sister Kathleen as Mother Marianne.

The highlight of the event was a video narrated by Sister Patricia, which gave the viewer a tour featuring representatives from the facility’s various departments. The video returned to the theme of passionate caregiving. The video and the entire presentation was the result of a collective effort of the hospital as a whole.

“Well as I understand it, there were a number of small group sessions in which over 1,000 people participated talking about what they do from the various perspectives of the departments that they represented. The goal was that everyone would recognize that they are passionate healers,”  Sister Patricia said. “It wasn’t just the medical staff or nurses, but whatever department you were in, you contributed to the healing process of people who come here. As they gathered all that information, there was a central committee that synthesized the input, ran some drafts past people, and finally came out with this very wonderful statement.”

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