2014 Health Care Heroes: Daughters of Charity

March 6, 2014

Health Care HeroesWinner: Community Achievement in Health Care

Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital


The Daughters of Charity can’t be faulted for swooping into Indianapolis for a brief time before moving on to another community in need of care. The order of Catholic sisters has been doing its good work here for 133 years, and is the reason St. Vincent Health is a household name throughout central Indiana.

Four Daughters of Charity came here way back in 1881, and with $50 of encouragement from Bishop Francis Silas Chatard, they started St. Vincent Hospital in an abandoned seminary on East Vermont Street downtown.

hch_DOC.jpg (IBJ Photo/Eric Learned)

The tiny hospital grew into what is now a system of 20 facilities and programs serving people in 47 counties in central and southern Indiana. With the work of their forbearers in good health and in good hands, the six Daughters of Charity who serve here today are packing up and leaving. They’re moving on to places where there is more need and will be gone by the end of the summer.

But not before being honored as Health Care Heroes. This year’s top prize in the Community Achievement category is a salute to the Daughters of Charity who are here now and the more than 300 who came before them over more than a century to make St. Vincent Hospital a place of compassion and healing.

Sister Mary Kay Tyrell, the local superior, has been here about a year and a half and is helping orchestrate the sisters’ exit, part of a strategy laid out in 2012 by the Province of St. Louise, which governs the 495 Daughters of Charity who serve most of the United States. Sister Tyrell said the provincial superiors determined after a survey that the sisters should withdraw from 13 locations around the country and move to places where the vulnerable and impoverished aren’t being served.

“The idea has always been to move on after the need was satisfied,” Sister Tyrell said.

Indianapolis is fortunate the sisters weren’t in a rush.

The following are among the roles some of the Daughters of Charity played at St. Vincent over the past 130 years.

• In March 1974, through a massive community effort headed by the Daughters of Charity and the U.S. Army Reserve, the transfer of patients from St. Vincent Hospital’s longtime home at Fall Creek Parkway and Illinois Street to its current flagship hospital at 2001 W. 86th St. was accomplished in three hours and 20 minutes.

• Twenty years ago, Indianapolis had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation, due largely to inadequate prenatal care. Local hospitals collaborated with community service agencies to come up with an incentive-based program, Beds and Britches Etc., that encourages mothers to seek medical and other services in exchange for coupons that can be redeemed for baby products, such as gently used infant and maternity clothing, cribs, car seats and other baby supplies. Sister Rosaria Raidl of the Daughters of Charity came here to manage the BABE store, where, according to the Marion County Health Department, more than 62,000 women have redeemed coupons since the program’s inception.

• Sister Mary John Tintea, perhaps the most visible of the Daughters of Charity here in recent years, was known to tool around on a scooter decorated with Indianapolis Colts blue and white, or pink ribbons for the Race for the Cure, raising money for the BABE store. But most people at St. Vincent never saw the side of Sister Mary John that has accompanied her service of God for nearly 60 years, serving as a chaplain in cardiovascular care, assisting physicians and nurses, and praying with and ministering to family members of patients facing heart surgery.

• The Daughters of Charity also played a big role over the years, Sister Tyrell said, in empowering women by employing them in various capacities throughout the hospital.

Providing comfort to the St. Vincent community has always been the chief objective of the Daughters of Charity, but for decades they also served an important administrative role. In the hospital’s first 105 years of existence, 13 Daughters of Charity served the hospital as chief administrator.

Sisters were running 55 to 60 hospitals across the country, Sister Tyrell said, when in 1986 an umbrella organization, Daughters of Charity National Health Services, was created to bring the hospitals together to benefit from central purchasing and other economies of scale. Sisters were getting older and fewer, and new sisters were less inclined to be administrators of large hospitals, Sister Tyrell said. The plan was for them to replace themselves with high-quality lay administrators.

The next step on that journey happened in 2000 when the Daughters of Charity came together with two other Catholic religious communities to form Ascension Health, the umbrella organization for St. Vincent and more than 1,900 other health care facilities across the country.

Although the Daughters of Charity are packing their bags and preparing to serve people elsewhere, they’re not turning off the lights. The lay administrators here are well equipped to continue St. Vincent’s good work, Sister Tyrell said.•


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