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An interactive scrapbook that highlights CHA's 100+ years as a passionate voice for compassionate care.

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How CHA Began

The Catholic Health Association of the United States (originally named the Catholic Hospital Association) was founded as an organization through which facilities and their religious congregations could work together to achieve success that would not be possible working separately.

On July 19, 1914, Catholic health ministry leaders came together to respond to technological advances that were changing health care delivery in the United States. They wanted to make certain that while making plans for transforming the delivery of health care in Catholic hospitals, the ministry maintained its mission and identity; and, by doing so, ensured vital sponsorship and a vibrant future for the Catholic health ministry. Their discussions helped lay the groundwork for establishing CHA.

Officially established in 1915, CHA's original headquarters was located in Milwaukee, WI. CHA relocated its office to St. Louis in 1929, where it remains, and also continues to operate an office in Washington, DC, which opened in 1976. CHA remains dedicated to serving the nation's Catholic health care organizations and supporting the strategic directions of mission, ethics, and advocacy.

For the complete story of CHA's beginnings, read the Catholic Health World article below.

CHA's Beginnings

As published in Catholic Health World, July 15, 2004

CHA observes 90th anniversary of 'working together'

Monday, July 19, 2004, marks the 90th anniversary of a gathering at which Catholic health ministry leaders came together to respond to technological advances that were changing health care delivery in the United States. They wanted to make certain that while making plans for transforming the delivery of health care in Catholic hospitals, the ministry maintained its mission and identity; and, by doing so, ensured vital sponsorship and a vibrant future for the Catholic health ministry.

This particular event was not a recent engagement. It took place 90 years ago.

In the early twentieth century, advances in medical knowledge–such as the role of germs in causing illness—and the development of new technologies — for example the pathology laboratory — combined to produce a demand for standardization in both medical education and health care. For the first time, objective criteria could be used to rate medical schools and hospitals.

In 1914, Fr. Charles B. Moulinier, SJ (1859-1941) was regent of the Marquette University School of Medicine. Fr. Moulinier grasped the significance of the new movement for health care standardization. He was not only interested in securing an "A" rating for Marquette, but also in ensuring that the growing Catholic health ministry in the United States would not be derailed by this new movement. (Between 1884 and 1915, Catholic hospitals in the United States had nearly tripled from some 200 to almost 600.)

This standardization movement and the resulting insight from Fr. Moulinier made inevitable the formation of some association of Catholic hospitals. When Fr. Moulinier was instructed to conduct a retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet at St. Joseph's Academy in St. Paul, MN, during the summer of 1914, the story began to unfold.

It is no surprise that during the retreat Fr. Moulinier talked not only about spiritual matters but also related that spiritual life to the hospital work engaged in by many of the sisters attending. Fr. Moulinier connected the interior life of the sisters with their corporeal works.

To participate in a retreat geared to the demands of their hospital work was a first for the sisters; and Fr. Moulinier — a master of rhetoric, literature, and philosophy — was undoubtedly a charismatic teacher.

The weeklong retreat began on Monday, July 6, a pleasant summer day. The next two days were mild, perhaps even delightful, with a low temperature of 57 degrees (F) the night of Wednesday, July 8. But the next day, the weather turned warmer; and temperatures reached the mid-90s each day that weekend.

Did the retreat become a hothouse of ideas both literally and figuratively? Did the sisters experience a sense of psychological rejuvenation when the retreat ended on Monday, July 13, the day the heat wave ended? Did the return of relatively mild weather following the retreat reinforce the positive sense with which the sisters returned to their organizations?

There must have been enthusiastic reports about what Fr. Moulinier had said, because two sisters from the leadership quickly came to visit Fr. Moulinier at St. Joseph's Academy, where he had remained for rest. Mother Esperance Finn, CSJ (d. 1938), the superior and superintendent of St. Mary's Hospital, Minneapolis, and Sr. Madeleine Lyons, CSJ (d. 1935), the superior of St. John's Hospital, Fargo, ND, arrived on Thursday, July 16.

Practical administrators, the two sisters wanted Fr. Moulinier's views on how to get help staffing their hospitals with interns.

Fr. Moulinier focused on the advent of standardization programs that would result in rating hospitals. Relating the coming future to the question raised by the sisters, Fr. Moulinier pointed out that medical students would seek internships only in hospitals with the best ratings. When Fr. Moulinier outlined what he believed had to be done for Catholic hospitals to continue to be among the best in the country, the sisters asked how such transformation was to be accomplished. Fr. Moulinier is said to have replied, "By organizing and having a Catholic Hospital Association."

So, inspired by Fr. Moulinier's suggestion, Mother Esperance called a summit to take place three days later. She invited Fr. Moulinier to St. Mary's Hospital the following Sunday, July 19. She promised attendance by representatives from the other hospitals of the St. Paul Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet–St. Joseph's Hospital, St. Paul; St. Joseph's Hospital, Fargo, ND; and St. Michael's Hospital, Grand Forks, ND.

The mild weather continued in what was an unusually dry July, and it must have been a pleasant morning on Sunday, July 19, when the meeting arranged by Mother Esperance convened on the porch of a cottage on the grounds of St. Mary's Hospital.

Of the 14 sisters who joined Fr. Moulinier on that porch, only the names of four remain in the historical record. In addition to Mother Esperance and Sr. Madeleine, the group included Sr. Leo Carroll, CSJ (d. 1945), assistant superintendent of St. Mary's Hospital, Minneapolis; and Sr. Leocadia Hayes, CSJ (1857-1940), superior of St. Michael's Hospital, Grand Forks, ND.

The porch meeting resulted in the sisters' support for forming an association of Catholic hospitals. Fr. Moulinier took the idea to His Excellency Sebastian G. Messmer, Archbishop of Milwaukee, who provided an enthusiastic stamp of approval.

In early 1915, the archbishop sent a letter to hospitals in his diocese instructing the sister superior, the sister superintendent, the sister in charge of the nurses and the nursing school, and one other sister to meet at the residence of the archbishop on Wednesday, January 27. Fr. Moulinier; Louis Jermain, MD, dean of the Marquette University School of Medicine; and others addressed the sisters concerning an annual state or national conference of Catholic hospitals and an annual Catholic hospital summer school to be conducted by the Marquette University School of Medicine faculty.

At a subsequent meeting called by the archbishop on Thursday, April 8, plans were made for that conference of Catholic hospitals, which would many years later become the Catholic Health Assembly. A committee was appointed to draft a constitution for a Catholic Hospital Association, as well as a program for the convention, the theme for which was "Education in the Care of the Sick."

The first CHA convention in late June 1915 had 200 attendees—sisters, lay nurses, and lay doctors, representing 43 hospitals from 12 states.

Fr. Moulinier was elected the first president of CHA by the convention delegates. He held that position until 1928. Although he believed that a sister would have been the best choice for association president, the rules of women's religious institutes at that time prohibited sisters from serving as full-time officers of a national organization. Not until 1970 would CHA have a woman religious as its chief executive officer when the board of trustees appointed Sr. Mary Maurita Sengelaub, RSM.

Mother Esperance was elected as second vice president of CHA in 1916 at the second annual convention. She presented a paper entitled "What the Sisters Should Contribute to the Team-work," which focused on the role of sisters in relation to the doctor and the chaplain. The doctor, she declared, was the "director of our team-work," but the chaplain "holds the highest honor and worth in the team-work of a Catholic hospital" because the chaplain "stands for the patients' spiritual interests."

Sr. Madeleine spent almost all of her religious life in the service of the sick. According to her provincial obituary, Sr. Madeleine was "gifted with a fine genius for administration and an inspiring personality." She was appointed assistant superior of St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul in 1895. Five years later, Sr. Madeleine was asked to open and become the first superior of St. John's Hospital at Fargo. She later served as superior of St. Mary's Hospital, Minneapolis, and St. Joseph's Hospital, Lewiston, ID.

Sr. Leo began her service to the Catholic health ministry as a bookkeeper at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis. In 1917, she was named the first superior of Trinity Hospital, Jamestown, ND, transforming the institution from a private hospital into a Catholic one. After studying hospital administration in New York for a year, she became the superior and superintendent of St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis in 1924. Her obituary reads in part that "Sister Leo was not, however, just a good executive; she was foremost a Sister of St. Joseph, deeply aware of the profound religious character of her work. In a quiet and unostentatious way she helped the poor and needy who came under the care of the hospital; and it was her conviction that God would continue to bless the hospital as long as it continued its work of charity and zeal."

Sr. Leocadia founded St. Michael's Hospital in Grand Forks and remained its superior for eight years.

Information for this article was gathered, in part, from The History of The Catholic Hospital Association 1915-1965: Fifty Years of Progress by Robert J. Shanahan, SJ, PhD (1965); A Commitment to Healthcare: Celebrating 75 Years of the Catholic Health Association of the United States by Christopher J. Kauffman, PhD, et al (1990); and Ministry & Meaning: A Religious History of Catholic Health Care in the United States also by Kauffman (1995). Additional material has been provided by the generous assistance of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul, MN.