Catholic hospitals find new ways to perpetuate their mission

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Holy Cross Hospital, 2601 W. 68th St., which was founded in 1928 by the Sisters of St. Casimir, was incorporated into Sinai Health System, a Jewish non-profit health system that operates Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2013. (Benjamin T. Parker photo)

Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park this month became the latest Catholic hospital to announce that it will join a larger health care system.
The hospital, founded by the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary in 1930, announced Oct. 4 that it had signed a non-binding letter of intent to join Rush Health, a non-sectarian system of hospitals and health care providers that includes Rush University Medical Center.

In the announcement, Little Company of Mary Hospital said that it will remain a Catholic ministry, despite becoming part of a non-sectarian health system.

“We really are a ministry of the church,” said Mary Jo Quick, Little Company of Mary’s vice president for mission and spirituality. “A ministry is defined as doing something publicly on behalf of the Gospel to bring about the reign of God and doing it in the name of the church.”

That will not change, Quick said, and will continue to be expressed in how Little Company of Mary takes care of people and in its compliance with the church’s ethical and religious directives for health care, she said.

“We have a very vibrant Catholic identity,” she said.

Being able to maintain that identity was one of the top criteria for possible partners for Little Company of Mary, Quick said, and Rush responded very positively to that.

“Rush was very enthusiastic,” she said.

As Little Company of Mary moves forward with its plans to become part of Rush, Cardinal Cupich will be informed of all developments, and written protocols for what the hospital will do and will not do will be included in the agreement.

“We are pro-life,” Quick said, “and we will maintain that.”

This isn’t the first time that a Catholic hospital has joined a non-Catholic system, said Father William Grogan, the archdiocese’s vicar for health care. The health care climate, especially under the Affordable Care Act, is pushing providers — from physicians to hospitals and nursing homes — to find efficiencies in overhead costs at the same time that many of the religious congregations that operated hospitals are shrinking and are no longer able to take responsibility for them.

At the same time, some larger Catholic health care systems are absorbing non-Catholic hospitals. Maywood-based Loyola Medicine — part of the Trinity Health system based in Michigan — announced Oct. 11 that it plans to acquire Berwyn’s MacNeal Hospital and its related operations, with the intent that MacNeal, a non-sectarian community hospital, would become a Catholic hospital and a member of Trinity Health, which now has 93 hospitals in 22 states.

In Chicago, Little Company of Mary can look to the example of Holy Cross Hospital, 2601 W. 68th St., which was founded in 1928 by the Sisters of St. Casimir. In 2013, it was incorporated into Sinai Health System, a Jewish non-profit health system that operates Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Holy Cross maintains an affiliation with the Sisters of St. Casimir, and Grogan visits the hospital to make sure staff are formed and educated on its Catholic identity and mission.

“The sisters still provide guidance and advice in terms of the Catholic identity,” said Dennis Ryan, vice president for mission effectiveness and external affairs at Holy Cross. They have representation on a committee that also includes lay Catholics and administrators from Sinai Health System.

In terms of patient experience, in addition to complying with the ethical and religious directives, the hospital has kept Catholic symbols and imagery, and there is a chapel where Mass is celebrated, Ryan said.

Quick said she expects the same will happen at Little Company of Mary.

Ryan said that Sinai’s Jewish tradition might help in the understanding of Holy Cross’ Catholic tradition.

“You have two distinct entities with different traditions, but they share a commitment to respect the dignity of every person, to serve the poor and to give the best care possible,” Ryan said. “When there are differences, the key is to work things out with an attitude of mutual respect.”

Grogan said that in terms of the mission to serve the community, including the poor, Holy Cross might be doing a better job now simply because it has more resources at its disposal. 

One thing that has improved for patients is increased access to specialists within the Sinai system, Ryan said. That’s important for a community hospital that is the only such facility in a large, economically challenged area of Chicago. It sees more ambulances arrive at its emergency room than any other hospital in Chicago, Ryan said, even though it is not a trauma center. Many of the patients it receives are suffering heart attacks and strokes — events where minutes matter.

It also has increased its capacity for helping people with mental illness, opening an adult psychiatric unit, creating a mental health crisis stabilization unit and working with Catholic Charities to establish an outpatient mental health center at the nearby St. Casimir Center.

Grogan said that many Catholic hospitals — not only those that become part of non-Catholic systems — must work to find new ways to perpetuate their mission and identity as the members of the religious congregations that started them age and are no longer able to serve on their boards, let alone provide hands-on care.

In most cases, that will mean some kind of a lay board that is formed in the mission of Catholic health care and, in turn, forms health system staff.
Quick said lay people have been involved in the mission at Little Company of Mary for years.

“There has never been a sister in my position,” she said. “It has always been a lay person, since this position was created.”

Quick, who has been at Little Company of Mary for 37 years, said many of the staff have years, if not decades, of service.

“The sisters have really ingrained in us and formed us in Catholic social teaching,” she said. “There is a ‘greater company of Mary,’ and they’ve called us that. The vowed sisters are the Little Company of Mary, but we laypeople are the greater company, and this is our mission as well.”


  • health care
  • catholic hospitals

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