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Posted August 3, 2011

Book: Why Stay Catholic?
Author: Michael Leach
Loyola Press. Chicago, IL. 2011. Pp. 347

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Scandals in the Catholic Church won’t go away. The same uninspiring sermons keep coming. Lay people are left wondering where “the beef” in Catholicism has gone. In light of all this, it’s no wonder that so many Catholics are asking, Why Stay Catholic?

In Why Stay Catholic?, national best-selling author Michael Leach offers surprising, inspiring, and timely answers to this life-changing question, giving readers plenty of reasons to celebrate the Catholic faith here and now. In part one, he explores and explains great ideas Catholics never hear about, even from the pulpit; in part two, he introduces inspiring, often little-known Catholics who never make the news but make a big difference in people’s faith; and in part three, Leach highlights great Catholic organizations that change the world.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Catholic Hospitals

“When you leave your prayers for the bedside of a patient, your are leaving God for God. Looking after the sick is praying.” St. Vincent De Paul [1581-1660]

The first hospital I was ever in was Columbus Hospital in Chicago. Founded in 1905 by Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to be made a saint, the hospital was within a lion’s roar of the Lincoln Park Zoo. I was sixteen, and my appendix had burst. Pete Junius commandeered a jalopy (I don’t know if Pete had a license) and raced me to the hospital. They operated and wrapped up my torso like a mummy. I spent three lovely days there, looking out a window to the lakefront and appreciating the sweet encouragement of a Candy Striper name Penny, who sat by my side and held my hand. I lost my heart in Columbus Hospital.

Columbus made its bones by serving the sick and poor in ethnic neighborhoods that stretched from the lake to the near suburbs. On September 28, 2001, it was forced to close its doors because of a devastating illness striking all hospitals: the Profit Plague. Real-estate interests anticipated its death and rushed to its bedside. Today what was Columbus Hospital is an unfinished luxury-condo complex, a victim of the housing bubble.

The first New York City hospital I was in was St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village. Founded in 1849 by the Sisters of Charity, the hospital took care of anyone who was sick, especially the poor, and became the busiest hospital in Manhattan. I was twenty-nine, new to the city, and on a snowy day with drifts up to six feet had tried to leap over a curbside puddle the size of a landing strip. I didn’t make it, and landed up to my ankles in icy water. My heart flipped into tachycardia and fibrillation, pounding about two hundred irregular beats a minute. I got to the hospital, and for what seemed like an eternity lay on a gurney in a bustling hallway with other patients lined up the same way in front of me and behind me as far as I could see. I thought of the railroad yard in God with the Wind, and waited for Vivian Leigh. Nurses and doctors did take care of me and everyone else that day, as they would twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, until they, too, were forced to close their doors forever on April 30, 2010.

The hospital that treated the shivering passengers of the Titanic in 1912 and the trembling victims of the Twin Towers on 9/11, as well as mended a billion broken bones and beaten hearts, could no longer make it in an HMO world where money was king. Today all the patients who would have been going to St. Vincent’s are overflowing the emergency room of its longtime neighbor, Bellevue Hospital, to the point that it’s like an entire town trying to fit into a phone booth.

The medical crisis in the U.S. affects every hospital and every family, but one thing certain: Catholic hospitals will be a major part of the solution, as they have been since the beginning of our great nation.

The Ursuline Sisters opened the first hospital in what would become the continental United States in New Orleans in 1728. In 1823 the Sisters of Charity, under the inspiration of Mother Elizabeth Seton, the first native-born citizen to be made a saint, opened an infirmary in Baltimore. During the Civil War, when more than six hundred thousand men died andeven more were maimed, Catholic Sisters were the only trained and organized nurses in the country. The Sisters of Charity, Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of the Holy Cross were on the front lines caring for the wounded and dying. President Lincoln praised them for their heroic dedication. For almost three hundred years Catholic sisters took the lead in providing health care to soldiers, immigrants, the rich, the poor, and the middle-class. Their mission was, and is, the healing mission of Jesus.

While the numbers of religious women are declining, the Catholic Church remains one of the largest health-care providers in the United States. More than six hundred Catholic hospitals treat more than 90 million patients each year. Eleven of the nation’s forty largest systems are Catholic. The largest is Ascension Health, based in St. Louis, with sixty-seven acute-care hospitals in twenty states and the District of Columbia, sponsored by the Daughters of Charity National Health System, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Congregation of St. Joseph in Cleveland and others. A 2010 analysis from Thomson Reuters shows that Catholic and other church-owned health systems “are significantly more likely to provide higher quality performance and efficiency to the communities served than investor-owned systems.” the chosen part of Catholic hospitals is Jesus’ mission of love and healing in the world.

St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, is one of the top Catholic hospitals and systems in the country. Katie Skelton, the vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer, has been a nurse for more than thirty years, mostly in public hospitals. Coming to St. Joseph, she says was like coming home.

. . .The times are a-changing. But one thing doesn’t change: we live; we die. During that time in the middle we will probably find ourselves like the man in the picture that opens this chapter. We may be in a Catholic hospital or a public hospital or a private hospital. But if we’re fortunate, whoever cares for us, whether they know it or not, will be imbued with the spirit that motivated Mother Cabrini and Mother Seton and all the sisters that followed. Henri Nouwen sums it up:

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing . . .not healing, not curing . . .that is a friend who cares.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Ideas

Part 2: People

Part 3: Places