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: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.