By Charles Kaupke     2/21/2017

The essence of Catholic healthcare is respect for the rights and dignity of the human person, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ the Healer. That was the central message of “A History of Catholic Healthcare,” a presentation by Mark Jablonski, vice president of Mission Integration at St. Jude Medical Center, which took place at St. Joseph Parish in Placentia on January 12. In his presentation, Jablonski spoke about the history of Catholic healthcare, which takes it origins from Jesus Himself, as much of His public ministry was focused on miracles of healing.

The history of healthcare is intimately connected to the history of the Catholic Church. Throughout the centuries many saints, including Cosmas and Damian, John of God, and Camillus de Lellis, were known for their healing ministries. A number of religious communities, including that of Saint Camillus, were founded to provide medical attention to the sick and vulnerable. In the early ninth century, Charlemagne decreed that every monastery in the Frankish empire must also run a hospital. Here in the United States, the first Catholic hospital was Charity Hospital in New Orleans, founded in 1727. Saint Damien de Veuster and Saint Marianne Cope ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai in the late nineteenth century.

Catholic healthcare in Orange County began in 1922 when the Sisters of Saint Joseph moved their motherhouse from Northern California to Santa Ana with the intention of starting a school. They eventually founded Saint Joseph Hospital in Orange in 1929. They later purchased Fullerton General Hospital, which they renovated and reopened as St. Jude’s Hospital in 1957.

Today, the St. Joseph Health system has a presence in California, Texas and New Mexico. In July 2016 they merged with Providence Health & Services to become Providence St. Joseph Health, the third-largest Catholic healthcare system in the United States. St. Joseph Health is just one example of the increasing significance of Catholic health organizations here in the United States. Thirteen percent of all hospitals in the U.S. are Catholic, and about one of every six patients is treated at a Catholic hospital.

A main point of emphasis during the presentation was that a Catholic institution like St. Joseph Health, in its unwavering commitment to providing not just care, but Catholic care, is unique among hospitals. What makes Catholic health care special? Jablonski says its “commitment to body, mind, and soul. Being present to people… who are in need. We’re incorporating the spiritual well-being of the patient. Your spiritual needs are being addressed. It’s very much based on dignity and respect. Employees understand the healing ministry of Jesus.” Jablonski believes that the fact that there are still Catholic hospitals in existence, two thousand years after Christ, is a testament to the quality of care that the Church has provided over the centuries.

This commitment to extending the healing mission of Christ allows Catholic hospitals to survive and thrive after two thousand years of Church history. While always at the cutting-edge of modern medical technology, St. Joseph and other Catholic health systems maintain as their ethical base the commandment to serve the least among us, “respecting the sanctity of human life,” Jablonski said. Such respect will ensure that Catholic health systems like St Joseph continue to provide top-level care for the next generation.

Emceeing the event was Phil Calhoun of Project LIFE, a non-profit organization that gives young people the opportunity to minister to the elderly and homebound. Like St. Joseph Health, Project LIFE is dedicated to bringing Christ’s healing ministry to the vulnerable and least among us, and, as Calhoun said, “bringing their enthusiasm and their faith to their seniors.”