The beauty of healing

New St. Joseph Hospital features work of local artists

Julie Filby

The 140-year tradition of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth providing high quality, affordable health care in Denver will soon open a new hospital bathed with natural light, balconies for fresh air and splashes of color from Colorado artists that complement its state-of-the-art technology.

The new St. Joseph Hospital—set to open Dec. 13 at 1375 E. 19th Ave.—was designed and decorated to aid in the physical and spiritual healing of patients and their families. Hospital leaders, along with the community, have watched the $623 million environmental-friendly building take shape on 13 acres adjacent to the current hospital over nearly four years.

Photos by Daniel Petty/DCR

“It has been an emotional journey because we have watched equipment moving into the new building and now we have the soul of the hospital,” Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Melissa Camardo told the Denver Catholic Register following Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s dedication and blessing of the new hospital Dec. 3.

“Excellence in health care and compassion is at the heart of our tradition and mission,” said Sister Camardo, vice president of mission integration. “We believe in serving the whole person, including spiritually. We do that by offering our faith visibly with the artwork and designing each room to provide comfort and support.”

Healing aids include seating alcoves in the hallways for patients and visitors to rest and visit, and comfortable pullout beds for visitors in each room. The décor incorporates vibrant photographs and paintings from about 80 area artists. The environment depicted in the art reflects God, Sister Camardo said, including an oil painting by John Boak that shares the sisters’ history in Colorado, a large photograph of sunlight and trees by Colorado photographer John Fielder, and 15 smaller oil paintings of outdoor scenes along the Front Range by Gina Blickenstaff.

The art be can be a soothing and calming influence for family members to reflect upon, she said.

Several statues—restored with the assistance of Gerkens Religious Supplies—were relocated from the old hospital to the new including St. Joseph, Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Each patient room has a new crucifix.

“We are an environment where prayer is not only tolerated but welcomed and sought out,” Sister Camardo said.

Archbishop Aquila dedicated the hospital’s new chapel during a special Mass, followed by a blessing of the facility from the main lobby.

“I always tell doctors and nurses to pray for their patients and hold their patients up to the Lord,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Yes, this is a Catholic chapel but it is a place for all people, no matter their faith, to find peace, pray and encounter God.”

He praised the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who first came to Denver in 1873 to help the sick and vulnerable and opened one of the city’s first hospitals in a cottage at 14th Avenue and Arapahoe Street. They later operated at hospitals at 26th Avenue and Holladay Street, and 18th Avenue and Humboldt, before breaking ground in 1961 for the iconic twin-tower structure at the current location of 1835 Franklin St.

“You are carrying on that mission of Jesus Christ in a healing ministry,” the archbishop told doctors, nurses and hospital officials among about 150 at the blessing. “Be the light of Christ and the hope of Christ.”

Internal medicine nurse Patty Dambrava, who has worked at St. Joseph for nearly 32 years, shed a few tears as she hugged her colleagues after the blessing.

“The presence of a Catholic hospital in this area makes a big difference because many of our patients are underprivileged,” she said.

The only section of the old hospital that will remain open is the newer Russell Pavilion. The rest of the old building eventually will be razed.

COMING UP: Getting ready for Synod-2018

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The headline on the March 3 story at the CRUX website was certainly arresting — “Cardinal on charges of rigged synods: ‘There was no maneuvering!’” The cardinal in question was Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and not only were his voluble comments striking, they were also a bit disconcerting. Did I simply imagine the uproar on the floor of the Synod on October 16, 2014, as bishop after bishop protested an interim report generated by Baldisseri and his colleague, Archbishop Bruno Forte, that did not reflect the discussions of the previous two weeks? Were the complaints about the suffocating Synod procedures Cardinal Baldisseri outlined prior to Synod-2015 an illusion? Didn’t thirteen cardinals write Pope Francis in the most respectful terms, suggesting alterations in those procedures to ensure the open discussion the Pope insisted he wanted?

But, hey, memory is a tricky thing, and this is the season of mercy, so let’s let bygones be bygones and concentrate now on Synod-2018, which will discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment. Those are very important topics. The Church in the United States has had some success addressing them, despite challenging cultural circumstances; so perhaps some American leaders in youth ministry and vocational discernment could be invited to Synod-2018 to enrich its discussion, on the Synod floor and off it (where is where most of the interesting conversations at these affairs take place).

Curtis Martin is the founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which is arguably the most creative campus ministry initiative in the post-Vatican II Church. FOCUS sends recent college graduates back to campuses as missionaries and has had such success in the U.S. that FOCUS missionaries are now working in Europe. There’s a lot the bishops at Synod-2018 could learn from Mr. Martin’s experience.

Then there’s Anna Halpine, president of the World Youth Alliance: a network of pro-life young people all over the world, who witness to the joy of the Gospel and the Gospel of life in an extraordinary variety of social and cultural settings. WYA has also designed and deployed innovative educational programs and women’s health centers that, building out from the Church’s teaching on the inalienable dignity of the human person, offer life-affirming alternatives to the moral emptiness of too many elementary school curricula and the death-dealing work of Planned Parenthood on campuses. Surely there’s something to be shared at the Synod from this remarkable enterprise.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa was the director of campus ministry at Texas A&M for eleven years, where St. Mary’s Catholic Center has set the gold standard in traditional campus ministry and created a model for others to emulate. Over the past twenty years, Konderla and his predecessors have fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than that school with the golden dome in northwest Indiana, while helping many Aggie men and women prepare for fruitful and faithful Catholic marriages. Bishop Konderla would make a very apt papal nominee to Synod-2018.

Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, has taken up the mantle of the late Dr. Don Briel in creating a robust, integrated Catholic Studies program on his growing campus. Shea’s goal, like Briel’s, is to form mature young men and women intellectually, spiritually, and liturgically, so that they can be, in the twenty-first century, Pope Francis’s “Church permanently in mission.” He has things to say about how to do this, and Synod-2018 should hear them.

Then there is Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, a banjo-playing, bourbon-appreciating theologian of distinction who (with his Dominican brother, Father Dominic Legge) has created the Thomistic Institute, to bring serious Catholic ideas to prestigious universities across the U.S. The Institute’s lectures and seminars fill the intellectual vacuum evident on so many campuses today — the vacuum where thought about the deep truths inscribed in the world and in us used to be. Father White is being redeployed by his community to Rome this Fall, so he’ll be a #64 bus ride away from the Vatican. The Synod fathers should meet him, and perhaps he and Cardinal Baldisseri, an accomplished pianist, could jam.  

So by all means, let’s have “no maneuvering” at Synod-2018. But let’s also have some American expertise there, for the good of the whole Church.