Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick? Roman Catholic Sisters and the Development of Catholic Hospitals in New York City

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick? Roman Catholic Sisters and the Development of Catholic Hospitals in New York City

Article excerpt

Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick? Roman Catholic Sisters and the Development of Catholic Hospitals in New York City. By Bernadette McCauley. [Medicine, Science and Religion in Historical Context.] (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2005. Pp. xiv, 146. $45.00.)

In 1849 the Sisters of Charity opened St.Vincent's Hospital, the first Catholic hospital in New York City. It was the third in the city and the first to be established by a religious congregation of women. In Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick?, Bernadette McCauley analyzes the prominent role of religious women in the development of Catholic hospitals in New York City in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.These sisters served as administrators, nurses, supervisors, heads of departments, and board members. Today, Catholic hospitals are the largest single group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, and facilities in the United States, making McCauley's history particularly important.1 She not only examines how and why hospital development and nursing were so important to sisters but also what made Catholic hospitals distinctive from their secular counterparts. In this regard, she argues that hospital work and spiritual pursuits were inseparable. Indeed, Catholics claimed their hospitals were different because religious women cared for them in a special way.

Using primary historical documents from the sisters' and archdiocesan archives and secondary sources in the histories of women, religion, medicine, and nursing, McCauley weaves together a fascinating story of the sisters' foundations, their lives in the United States, the nursing care they provided, their financial activities, and the modernization of their hospitals in the early twentieth century. In so doing, her main thesis is that it was Catholic sisters, rather than priests and bishops, who placed their church as central to the hospital landscape in New York City. At the same time, sisters created institutions that were distinctive not only from secular facilities but also from each other. Ethnic connections were central: the Sisters of Charity established St.Vincent's Hospital, where Irish patients predominated; the Dominican Sisters, originally from Germany, founded St. Catherine's in Brooklyn; an Italian immigrant sister established Columbus Hospital in Manhattan for the Italian population; and sisters from Quebec developed Misericordia Hospital. …

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