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: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.