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The Opening of St. Elizabeth Hospital

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, April 1, 1934


The Opening of St. Elizabeth Hospital

By Howard Burba


     No one thinks of saying “‘hospital” when they refer to that haven of mercy on the west bank of the Miami in Edgemont.  The words “Saint Elizabeth” have been familiar in Dayton for 56 long years.  For more than a half-century they have signified aid for the suffering, relief for the distressed and hope for those in whom the thread of life has neared the breaking point.

     The story of how a little band of good Samaritans worked tirelessly to establish a place where the sick and physically injured of this community might be given merciful care and nursing needs no retelling here.  It is a familiar chapter in the history of Dayton; it has been a vital part of Dayton life, day and night, for half a hundred years.  But the story of the formal dedication of St. Elizabeth hospital is not to be found in the written histories of your city, and each year finds more and more of those who personally recall it passing on into the shadows formed by life’s sunset.

     So on this Easter morning, with new hope in every heart and a new benediction hovering over all humanity, what could be more appropriate than to turn back for the moment to that day in mid-August 56 years ago when this noble old institution, this ministering angel to ailing, suffering mankind, first opened its doors and extended a hand of mercy to them.

     Possibly you have in mind a great gathering assembled on the west bank of the Miami where now rises as a guardian angel over an entire city the pretentious buildings of the St. Elizabeth hospital group.  But that picture must be dissolved for the moment, for it is not the St. Elizabeth hospital, insofar as buildings are concerned, that was dedicated 56 years ago. 

   Forgetting the picture you must visualize a little two-story brick dwelling on the south side of Franklin st. opposite Emmanuel church.  You must try to imagine a little remodeled dwelling in which 12 white beds had been placed, the first attempt at establishing a public hospital in this part of the Miami Valley.  It was while the sisters of St. Francis were seeking a site for the opening of a hospital that a family by the name of Zwiesler, owing this brick residence, graciously stepped forward with an offer to surrender it for such a noble cause.  Here was the original St. Elizabeth hospital, the modest little institution from which sprang the one with which you are far more familiar, the present one on the west bank of the Miami.

     In addition to those 12 immaculate beds there had been placed within the walls of the remodeled brick residence, soon to be known as a hospital, every agency known in that day to alleviate the suffering of those who might come to its doors beset with pain.

     The day of dedication had been announced for the 15th of August, 1878, and the city had laid aside for the moment its business and social schedules and joined in a fitting dedication of an institution of which it was justly proud.  We turn to the files of our local newspapers for a colorful picture of that red-letter event in local history, and many of us glean therein an inspiring story of civic progress.

     The exercises of dedication began at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of that 15th of August, 1878, starting with a procession which formed at Emmanuel church and wended its way out across the street to the little red brick building on the edge of the busy downtown district.  First came eight acolytes in their red costumes, then followed four representatives of the Catholic clergy of the city: Rev. William Carey, Rev. F. J. Goetz, Rev. Charles Hahne and Rev. Henry Stuckenberg.  Immediately following in the line were six Sisters of St. Francis, garbed in the conventional black robes of their order and following them members of the St. Elizabeth society of Catholic women.

     The procession entered the hospital, where Rev. Carey made a dedicatory prayer, after which they proceeded to the speaker’s stand in the rear of the hospital, which was surrounded by a vast concourse of people, as many as the yard would accommodate.  In the stand were President Fletcher, U. P. Goodman and Messrs. Turner, Weis, and Feight of the city council; George F. Ketchum of the board of education; Messrs. Craig, Brundrett and Jewett of the board of health; Dr. Scheibenzuber and John Schoen of the board of infirmary directors; Street Commissioner Wehner; John Wiggin, superintendent of the workhouse; City Clerk Metz and Mayor Butz. The physicians of the city were represented by Drs. Reeves, Conklin, Neal, Jewett, Treon, Scheibenzuber, Wilson, Pilate and Beck.

     On the speaker’s stand as presiding officer of the dedicatory exercises, stood good Father Hahne, of the church across the way.  Raising his hand amid a silence bespeaking the spiritual solemnity of the event, he said:

     “A wish long desired by me has been fulfilled: Dayton has a hospital.  The poor Sisters of St. Francis are the nurses.  What the sisters do, what a hospital does, we all know.  So many poor sick want the necessary nursing, consolation and help.  There are now the Sisters.  They nurse sick ones and attend their wounds.  Do you wish proof?  Visit the hospitals in Cincinnati, Columbus, or New York.  Wherever you find them you will hear them praised.  Day and night, the poor Sisters are in attendance, sacrificing everything, nursing with love and tender care.

     “The Sisters are now here, and will nurse the sick. They call themselves the Poor Sisters of St. Francis; of St. Francis because their lives are modeled after that of the saint; poor because they call nothing their own. They have to beg for what they need for themselves and their sick; they only own their dress.  They do it for the Lord’s sake and to the benefit of mankind.  They nurse all alike, without regard to creed, race, or color.  Negro, German, Irish, Jew; all receive the same tender care.

     “The Sisters say they have found many good people in Dayton, and are very hopeful as to the future of the hospital.  I hope everyone who is able will contribute; do not refuse the Sisters when they come in the name of the poor, crippled, sick and wounded.  The hospital now is dedicated with the ceremonies of the church.  It is an established fact, and the sick now have a place where they can be taken care of.  But it is yet too small and can receive only the really sick ones.

     “Dayton now has a hospital, and I thank the trustees of St. Elizabeth society which has given $700.  But we need another $700 to pay for the repairing already made, and $500 for rent.  I hope the benefactors will continue to contribute, and again thank all those who have assisted in this whole undertaking.

     “May the hospital prosper, may it grow to the honor of God and to the benefit of mankind, and may the Lord bless all its benefactors.”

     Throughout the campaign to raise funds for the purchase of a site and building, Rev. Father Hahne had been most active.  Not alone had he made his appeal for aid to those of his own denomination, but he had gone among the citizens of his home city, regardless of their religious affiliations, and pictured to them the dire need for such an institution.  It was not long until he was actually directing the campaign, and it was natural there should have been a great happiness in his heart when he saw his tireless labors crowned with success.  But he modestly refrained from stressing the part he had played in making the new institution possible. In his own words, he had only performed a duty in line with his daily work in behalf of the people of Dayton.  He turned to Rev. William Carey and asked that he speak a few words of appreciation.  We find this good man quoted in this language in the old newspaper files:

     “Thanks be to God and to the good Father Hahne and Sisters of St. Francis, Dayton has a hospital at last.  It was an absolute need here.  God has left us a legacy—the care of the poor, afflicted and weak. ‘The poor ye have always with you.’ The Good Samaritan asked not of the wounded traveler concerning his religion or his country, but took him and cared for him. This is what we have to do as Christians, for God has commanded us to take care of the poor.  Jesus Christ has told us to feed the hungry and give drink to him who was athirst, and it is one of the marks by which He will determine his own final judgment.

     “Dayton is fortunate in securing the services of these good Sisters, and it is no disparagement to the doctors to say that much of their success depends on the nurse.  Let us never see these good Sisters with downcast eyes for lack of funds to carry on the good work in which they are engaged.  It is a glorious privilege to give, for it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Therefore, let us work; let us do our duty and all will be well; then the Sisters of St. Francis need never be crippled in their good deeds for want of funds.  We think it would have been glorious to have been at the foot of the cross, to follow the toilsome footsteps of our Savior of Calvary; to wipe away the bloody sweat from His brow.  So when we wipe away the tears of those made in His image we are wiping out the suffering from His face.  Remember His words: ‘Insomuch as ye do unto the least of these, my brethren, so do ye likewise unto Me.’

     The mayor of Dayton at the time was L. Butz, jr.  He was then serving his second term.  He was present at the dedication, but requested Father Hahne not to call upon him for an address, explaining that public speaking was far from his forte, and that he much preferred to listen to others more able along that line.  He congratulated the city upon its new acquisition, however, and pledged his administration to every possible assistance in its maintenance.

     There was living in Dayton at that time a remarkable citizen and one whom everyone cherished and revered.  Active in the social and religious life of the city, keenly interested in the welfare of humanity and devoted to every principle which promised the betterment of the community, that man, Dr. J. C. Reeve, had done much toward establishing this new institution.  When the movement was first launched he was quick to see the great good it was destined to accomplish.  Not only did he advocate the founding of St. Elizabeth hospital, he tendered his services as a member of the first medical staff to be selected—serving without pay. It was fitting that Dr. Reeve should have taken his place in the organization of the hospital aides as chief of its first medical staff.

     Dr. Reeve was, of course, present at the dedicatory exercises.  And that you may have a more intimate picture of this remarkable man, and a better understanding of his civic earnestness, let us quote from the talk he made when called upon by
Father Hahne to address the audience then present:

     “You all very well know that I practice a profession which does not lead me at all in the way of public speaking,” he said, “but being asked to say something to you today, I could not refuse since the occasion is one in every respect most gratifying to my feelings.

     “The short time which I shall engage your attention will be mostly occupied with words of earnest and hearty congratulations.

     “I congratulate first the city of Dayton. For long years past has the need of a hospital been sorely felt and the lack of one has occasioned in the hearts of many the deepest regret.  There have been times when this regret was forced upon those who were working and striving for a hospital with peculiar force.  They have seen erected the most elegant and costly jail for the reception and retention of criminals, and while knowing that it was not alone a city building, and while abstaining from harsh criticism of what is an ornament to our city, they deeply deplored that a portion of its cost could not have been applied to the erection of an institution for shelter and aid for the virtuous poor.

     “Thoughtful men have pondered and wondered as they worked on the spires of some 50 churches rising around our city, and reflected that in every one of those churches the parable of the Good Samaritan was read several times each year; yet that there was no place to take care of the honest working man injured in his daily task.  Every citizen with that just price for the city which is his home, cannot but recognize that this great reproach and open slander is at length removed by the establishment of the institution this day dedicated.    

     “I congratulate next the church under whose auspices and by whose efforts this institution has been founded.  It is a church which claims our attention and consideration in the highest degree in several important respects.  In age it surpasses other human institutions.  Beginning back at the time when history and fable mingle together its existence has continued unbroken while change and decay have touched and swept away everything else.  Cities have grown up from hamlets, enjoyed long periods of glorious prosperity, and have dwindled to insignificance during her lifetime; the boundaries of kingdoms and empires have swept backward and forward over wide areas, dynasties have arisen and fallen, territories have been wrecked, the worship at the altar has been from the same ritual and by the priests of the same church.  Her domain spreads from Greenland and Labrador to Patagonia and from east to west around the world.

    “But widespread as she is her efforts do not cease; old as she is no symptoms of decrepitude have manifested themselves.  She is as active as ever; her missionaries are as devoted and self-sacrificing as ever.  She is building churches, schools, and hospitals, on every side of us, and it is safe to say that today her numbers exceed the numbers of all the Christian churches together.

      “But it is in these greater characteristics of the Catholic church that concerns us here.  It is her activity, her untiring energy in regard to institutions for the amelioration of human misery. In the hospital there comes the Sister with her counsel and efficient aid.  In no other respect is the Catholic church different more from other churches than the extent to which and the success with which she enlists women in her service and marshals their religious devotion for the service of humanity.

     “The Sisters have renounced the world, its hopes and its aims, its pleasures and its profit, they have severed the dearest ties known to humanity and have taken upon themselves a life of self denial and severe labor.

     “I also congratulate the medical profession.  For years past the profession has felt deeply the want of such an institution.  Now that they see the long wished-for, much needed institution in existence, they congratulate themselves as they congratulate you.

     “The relationship of physician to hospitals has been a very intimate one.  But very few people know the great amount of work that is done by them gratuitously.  In the city of London, for instance, Middlesex hospital, with 300 beds, had over 2000 patients in its wards in a year. All this service was done by the medical staff without any recompense.

    “However, the in-patients represent but a small amount of the medical attendance or of the good a hospital does.  At each hospital several of the staff are on duty a part of each day prescribing for those patients who are able to come.

     “I will take time for a moment to correct very erroneous impressions widely prevalent in regard to the treatment of the patients in a hospital. It is that they receive a very different sort of attention from that usually given in the home, but they really receive a greater amount of care and more skillful treatment.  Ask the Sisters who live under the most solemn vows and perform their services as a religious duty if they recognize any difference in individuals of humanity.  No, do not ask them.  Go and visit their hospital and see for yourself.

     “I am prepared to maintain that the poorest patient in a hospital under the care of the Sisters has better nursing than the sick of the best house in Dayton.  As human nature is constituted the emotions exercise a powerful disturbing influence upon the conduct and often bend reason from the course she would pursue.  When affection is frightened at the threatened loss of her idols things are done, and foreborne to be done, which were important, mayhap essential to their preservation.  Thus nothing in human life surpasses a mother’s love; its devotion is recited in prose; its tenderness sung in poetry; yet a mother is not always the best nurse and for the very reason of her love.  Especially is this the case when the child has reached an age that a mental control is needed as well as bodily care.  One of the most eminent physicians for nervous diseases in this country declares that such cases should be placed under the control of a professional nurse.  There is not a physician in the city who does not have more than one occasion to wish that a professional nurse could take the place of anxious and injudicious friends.  This, I hope, will help you to understand why a hospital is so much more effective in restoring our poor sick to blooming health than any care we could give them in our own homes.

     “And now, my fellow citizens, we have a large hospital in our midst; furnish it with funds and you have a guarantee from the hands it is in that effort will not be wanting to make its administration beneficial to all sufferers.  Let it then have the generous support it deserves from you, and thousands will bless the day that St. Elizabeth hospital was founded.”

     The address by the eminent physician concluded, the Fourth Regiment band provided an appropriate musical number and, hand again raised in a blessing and a benediction, Father Hahne brought the exercise to a close.

     St. Elizabeth hospital, with its twelve immaculate beds, had been dedicated to a lasting and a noble cause.  Those who saw it that day found joy in their hearts; those who had worked so loyally and faithfully to make it a reality, felt their reward in the service they knew it would perform.  But in the heart of good Father Hahne there was a happiness lips could not express.  And who knows but in his mind was a picture of the newer and greater institution that was to grow from this little parent stem—the noble and imposing haven for the ill and distressed now so familiar in its setting on the west bank of the Miami.