A brief History of Holy Family Clinic

Posted by Spalding Hurst

May 7, 2020

SCN Archivist Kathy Hertel-Baker shares the following write up about the history of Holy Family Clinic and Hospital in Ensley, Alabama (1941-1970), a former SCN ministry:

In 1938, the Passionists established a mission in the predominantly African American community of Ensley near Birmingham, Alabama. After several invitations from Rev. Michael Caswell, CP, to join the mission, the Sisters finally had enough resources to accept. In 1941, they assumed responsibility for a small health clinic. The clinic was the only place to obtain health care for most residents as it was practically unheard of for African Americans to gain admittance to the hospitals in Birmingham. When African Americans did receive health care, they were usually treated in the basement to avoid mixing with the white patients. Local doctors, both black and white, provided services along with SCN and lay nurses and volunteer interns. In addition to providing much needed health services, the SCNs also desired to provide African American doctors the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills to serve their community.


The clinic was soon overcrowded and in need of expansion. Options were few and building materials were scarce due to the outbreak of World War II. The Sisters, with the help of a local construction expert, devised a plan to move and join together three small houses to create a larger facility. The new structure provided a twelve bed ward, chapel, dispensary, offices, and a kitchen. The clinic also assumed a new name: ‘Holy Family Hospital.’ The demand for maternity services was so great that Sisters eventually limited the hospital to those services. Between 1946 and 1950 there were over 1500 deliveries, mostly attended by African American doctors.


After the end of World War II, the Sisters began raising funds for a new hospital. The response from both the citizens of Birmingham and other SCN institutions was impressive, with over $250,000 raised. An additional $600,000 came from the United States government through the Hill-Burton Act, which was passed in 1946 to provide grants and loans to improve the health and health care of all Americans. The new, sixty bed hospital opened in 1954. By 1963, the staff included nineteen African American doctors, seven SCNs, and 116 additional support staff.


With integration becoming more common and the passage of the Civil Rights act in 1964, the need for an African American hospital waned. In 1970, the SCNs transferred ownership of Holy Family Hospital to a local non-profit organization. However, the SCNs did not leave Ensley but continued their service to the community at Holy Family High School.

21 Comments

  1. Linda Coleman-Madison

    The Hospital building still exists, but it’s been closed several years. the elementary school is the only facility and the church started by the sisters still operating. we are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help keep the school open because of the significance of what the Sisters of Nazareth did here during the time of Jim Crow and segregation, this is historic, and we need to preserve the legacy.
    We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

    Reply
    • Eddie W Moore II

      I was Born at Holy Family Hospital.

      Reply
  2. Linda Coleman-Madison

    The hospital is closed, although the building remails. the High School closed but relocated to Titusville, they needed more space. The elementary school remains open, but we are struggling and need help. Please help us locate people associated or who have history with Holy Family to keep alive this great legacy.
    We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

    Reply
  3. Linda Coleman-Madison

    No, the hospital is now closed and not under the catholic control. It does have Alabama Historical designation so we are hopeful that the building (now in disrepair), can be repurposed. The high school (Holy Family Cristo Rey) was closed from this site and relocated. Good thing, it was growing and needed to expand. They are in Titusville in the old Center Street School. I serve on the board of the academy, and we are working to help provide scholarships for needy students and keep the legacy alive.
    We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

    Reply
  4. Linda Coleman-Madison

    As you may know, the high School was demolished, and Holy Family Cristo Rey High was relocated to Titusville in the old Center Street School and is doing well. Holy Family Academy (Elementary School remains open). It is the only Catholic school in Birmingham. All others have closed.
    We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

    Reply
  5. Linda Coleman-Madison

    I am the senator representing Holy Family, a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and recently appointed to serve on the Holy Family Academy. I hope that you will come for a site visit of the entire campus. I am working to get the entire church and school on the Alabama Historic registry. the hospital is already on the list, The last owner was a church and the building in need of repair. I believe it still has use because we need affordable senior housing in this area. I think it’s so important that we preserve our history. we are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family.
    As you may know, the high School was demolished, and Holy Family Cristo Rey High was relocated to Titusville in the old Center Street School and is doing well. Holy Family Academy (Elementary School remains open). It is the only Catholic school in Birmingham. All others have closed.
    We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

    Reply
  6. Pam B

    I was born in this hospital in 1963. I always wanted to know about the hospital. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Linda Coleman-Madison

      Hi Pam, I am Linda Coleman-Madison, I am the senator representing Holy Family, a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and recently appointed to serve on the Holy Family Academy. thank you for your comment here. I am working to get the entire church and school on the Alabama Historic registry. the hospital is already on the list. I think it’s so important that we preserve our history.
      If I may share with you our efforts now to keep the school open which is Holy Family Academy. As you may know the high School was demolished and Holy Family Cristo Rey High relocated to Titusville in the old Center Street School and is doing well. Holy Family Academy (Elementary) is the only Catholic school in Birmingham. All others have closed.
      We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.
      205-213-8860 email pfjones2000@yahoo.com

      Reply
  7. Lillie

    I was born here in 1961! ❤️
    I was hoping to find my time of birth, and stumbled across this wonderful and informative history. Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Linda Coleman-Madison

      Please help us locate people associated or who have history with Holy Family to keep alive this great legacy. The hospital is closed, although the building remails. the High School closed but relocated to Titusville, they needed more space. The elementary school remains open, but we are struggling and need help.
      We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

      Reply
  8. Deborah Gross

    I was born at this Hospital 1960❤️🙏🏾🙌🏾

    Reply
    • Reginald Cunningham

      I was born at this hospital in 1967

      Reply
    • Brenda johnson

      Hi i work at the hospital, community hospital in the front office brenda johnson! 1970 this was put in my spirit to try an locate the people that work with me back n day! I believe it was a reason! It just fell into my SPIRIT to try to find the doctors! Like dr. Vincent, dr. Anderson, dr, moto, many many more work in the office I 4 have gone home! Keep me in form

      Reply
  9. Janice Downs, SCN

    I was in Birmingham, AL several years ago and visited the Civil Rights museum there. I was moved to tears to see in one corner a statue of an SCN (in the white nurses’ habit) and a tribute to the SCNs who cared for the African American patients in the area.

    Reply
    • Linda Coleman-Madison

      Hi Janice, I am Linda Coleman-Madison, I am the senator representing Holy Family, a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and recently appointed to serve on the Holy Family Academy. thank you for your comment here. I am working to get the entire church and school on the Alabama Historic registry. the hospital is already on the list. I think it’s so important that we preserve our history.
      If I may share with you our efforts now to keep the school open which is Holy Family Academy. As you may know the high School was demolished and Holy Family Cristo Rey High relocated to Titusville in the old Center Street School and is doing well. Holy Family Academy (Elementary) is the only Catholic school in Birmingham. All others have closed.
      We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

      Reply
    • Linda Coleman-Madison

      Hi Janice, I am Linda Coleman-Madison, I am the senator representing Holy Family, a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and recently appointed to serve on the Holy Family Academy. I hope that you will come for a site visit of the entire campus. I am working to get the entire church and school on the Alabama Historic registry. the hospital is already on the list, The last owner was a church and the building in need of repair. I believe it still has use because we need affordable senior housing in this area. I think it’s so important that we preserve our history.
      As you may know, the high School was demolished, and Holy Family Cristo Rey High was relocated to Titusville in the old Center Street School and is doing well. Holy Family Academy (Elementary School remains open). It is the only Catholic school in Birmingham. All others have closed.
      We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

      Reply
    • Mary Allendorf-Burns

      My Aunt Marion Perchard (Sister Frances Agnes, SCN), was born in Boston. She was an Obstetrics Nurse sent to Holy Family Hospital from Kentucky to work in the 1940’s. I have several photos of her taken there, with the babies. ❤️

      Reply
  10. Hilda Lobo

    Thank you for sharing the history of Holy Family hospital. It is well written. I am proud of our SCNs for their vision and dedication.

    Reply
  11. Angie Shaughnessy, SCN

    Though I had no part in this, I am proud of our Sisters who provided services to our black brothers and sisters when few services were available. Standing for equal treatment of all was more than mere lip service. They lived their lives to serve all. How blessed ar we who follow in their footsteps.

    Reply
    • Linda Coleman-Madison

      Thank you for your comments. We are still working to preserve the legacy the sisters left. The hospital has historic state designation, now, empty and in need of repairs, the new owners found it would be too much to renovate but I think it would make great senior housing. I am a member of St. Mary’s in Fairfield (the sister Passionist parish), state senator representing the area and recently asked to serve on the board of Holy Family Academy (the Elementary School). The Academy is now the only Black Catholic school in Birmingham, and we are struggling to keep it going and assist parents and students of need.
      We are trying to locate and contact people with ties to Holy Family to help with our fundraising efforts to help provide scholarships for students. You can Join Holy Family 100 and agreeing to make an annual donation of $100 (of course you may donate any amount). Please contact Mrs. Sandra Rowser, Principal at 1916 -19th St Ensley Birmingham AL 35218. Help keep the torch burning for others.

      Reply
  12. Barbara Gilmetti

    Dear Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing this history with us.

    Do you know if the hospital is still in existence?

    Reply

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