Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

October 1, 2020

Archivist Kathy Hertel-Baker shares the following information on Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.:

Georgetown University opened in 1789, the first Catholic and first Jesuit institution of higher learning in the new nation. Georgetown University was founded by John Carroll, Bishop of Baltimore and first Bishop in the United States. The new University was located in what is now Washington, DC. Georgetown University expanded and in 1893 a thirty-three bed hospital staffed by Sisters of St. Francis was a component of its School of Medicine. A nurses’ training facility, also staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis, was opened in 1903. The hospital and nursing school flourished and benefited from its location in the nation’s capital. In 1946, the Franciscan Sisters withdrew from their ministry at Georgetown. Reverend Paul McNally, S.J., Director of the Hospital, and Dean of the Medical School, asked the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to come take over operation of the hospital.  

Mother Ann Sebastian’s circular letter of December 7, 1946 described the new venture for SCNs in health care: 

The Jesuits at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C expect to open a new 400-bed hospital adjoining Georgetown University School of Medicine sometime in early summer. These two buildings will be the first two units in a great Catholic Medical Center, and we have been asked to operate the hospital. As Georgetown University School of Medicine offers unusual advantages for our sisters in every department of the nursing field, such an opening would be a fine thing for the Community. Despite our present anxiety in trying to fill current needs, we have determined to practice Mother Catherine’s reliance on Divine Providence in opening new missions with only a handful of sisters, and we have written the Jesuits that we would accept Georgetown Hospital. 

The opening of the Georgetown University Medical Center

Mother Ann Sebastian assigned sisters to staff the new hospital and appointed Sister Mary Antonella Staubach as administrator. In her letter of acceptance to Mother and the Council, Sister wrote: 

So Georgetown is my India! [The new SCN foreign mission] When I read your beautiful letter, Mother, there was nothing left to do but to bow my head in humble submission to the Will of God …. There are two factors that serve to make this cross lighter, the first is that it is the Will of God, and the second that you have provided such wonderful sisters to serve with me. 

In addition to the administrator, nineteen sisters were assigned to the staff of Georgetown Hospital and its School of Nursing. The Sisters’ early days at the hospital were filled with practical matters such as interviews with prospective employees, purchase of hospital equipment, and selection of furniture. The elevator and tile-floor workers spent long hours completing their jobs as the hospital could not be opened until essential areas of construction had been completed. 

On June 18, 1947 the SCNs moved into the seventh floor, designated as the convent for the new hospital. Furnishing the convent took many weeks. A month after the sisters occupied the seventh floor, Sister Mary Antonella wrote to Mother Ann Sebastian: “The seventh floor is far from settled and looks as though the Sisters have just moved into their home.”  

A patient being transferred to the new Georgetown University Hospital

On July 31, 1947 at the 7:30 a.m. Mass, the newly-constructed Georgetown University Hospital was blessed by Most Rev. John M. McNamara, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington. In his homily he defined the purpose of the hospital: 

This Mass has been offered for a particular purpose and to emphasize that Jesus Christ Our Lord is to be a permanent guest in this hospital ­ maybe I should put it – be a permanent patient in this hospital. Since it is our obligation, and the obligation of those who have the destiny of this hospital in their hands, to see Jesus Christ Our Lord in every patient who comes here for treatment. 

An SCN pins a cap on a Georgetown University Hospital Candy Striper

Dignitaries arrived almost daily to tour the new hospital, causing Sister Mary Antonella to write Mother Ann Sebastian: 

We have entertained and entertained until I feel as though I have met everybody in Washington. Today, Father Paul McNally, S.J., gave me a list of distinguished guests for next week including Harry S. Truman, President of the United States. 

Among other distinguished guests were personnel from the U.S. Army and Navy including Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy. International guests included seven Chinese generals, who were also doctors. The 1948 annual report included the following statistics for Georgetown University Hospital: Total Patients 9,632; Daily Census 222; Days of Average Stay 8.4. Such numbers confirmed the obvious need for the hospital and its acceptance by the people of Washington D.C. Georgetown University Hospital was known for excellence in healthcare and the new facility was welcomed as an indispensable part of the Georgetown University Medical Center complex.  

In November 1960, Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of then President-elect John F. Kennedy, went into labor with and was rushed to Georgetown University Hospital. After a difficult birth, both mother and child rested comfortably under the skilled care of SCN nurses. Mrs. Kennedy was so pleased with her treatment by the Sisters that she sent them a personal thank you note and a monetary gift to show her gratitude. The Sisters used the gift to purchase a set of dishes for the Georgetown convent. 

The letter First Lady Jackie Kennedy sent to the SCNs

Mother Lucille Russell and her Council withdrew the SCNs from Georgetown University Hospital in 1963 due to a shortage of nurses and other medical personnel in SCN hospitals. At the expiration of their contract in 1963, after sixteen years of dedicated professional leadership, the Sisters left Georgetown Hospital. 

(Featured image at the top of the story shows the Georgetown University Hospital Staff with the Medical Center Director.)

2 Comments

  1. catherine gale cooper-wright

    Hi Catherine The Poet Lillyponds n.e :Happy Holidays ,Merry Christmas I am without home at this merry time and separated from my early birth Diamond Jack-Cooper who was born in Maryland hospital and taken away from me right after birth to your Georgetown Hospital in 1995 babygirl (Cooper-Wright) I was denied transferr along.I purchased a family home in 2003 in Lillyponds/Riverterrace owning and living in 16 1/2yrs I work as LPN Nurse last Armydistaff/Knollwood Military Retirment Home began getting blackmail demand letters for $10k,threats to loose Nursing License,Job and home dead animals,feces,blood flooded toilets/sinks busted pipes.I will find out my Poetry etc (intellectual property)Plagarism someone started a birth injury law suit not me/farther ??we being chased .I will find out the farther is Lyndon A jack sr we are platonic 19yrs he visit x1 month see her I am there last time he I alone he is (Nake) later Police forced entry No Warrant family estrange older sisters Cherry/Willam Patterson,Lois/Theo Ashton,Carrol/Cliff Davis 4 brothers all thought dead had funerals not so John D,Cain,Stanley,Steve Cooper the home begins Paranormal activity I am forced social security disability $1,500 month earned put in find out I am disposable checks not coming now cards not comming forced into Unique Nursing Home 901 first st., n.w. 20019.How is Diamond doing well positive out look for life no physical abnormalities and stay on good academics (Honor Roll) private school after separated she now has a baby.My ex-husband Andre S. Wright eloped/divorced in the 80’s have no reason /right to sue she was born in 1995.I am of right sound mind good judegment walking and doing all personal care for myself “A rasinIn The SUN” do you guys help with housing “Color Purple”The ex in Laws Steve Wright (Alchol/Drug/Mental Health Counselor,Director) Shirley Wright (ATF/Photographer) I find my self giftless this Holiday Season ??Cult/Gang oldest daughter Kendra Katherine Cooper ?stockholmes,brainwashing,mindcontrollong I am of right sound mind good judgement walking and doing all personal care for my self I knew guy George yarks Johnson in 80’s after ex-husband not aware a frame up meeting on my life Help reunite my family contact me email,mail,calls no privacy ??intercepted/forwarded.Thanks Catherine room #307b

    Reply
  2. Luke

    Thank you for sharing this bit of history. It is amazing what we, as a community, had accomplished over time.
    Stories like this really lift my spirit!

    Reply

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