By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

In a twist of faith, divine inspiration and a bit of business acumen, the legacies of two famous Catholic friends, St. Dominic and St. Francis, have joined forces to continue to provide Catholic health care for the Jackson, Mississippi area. On July 1, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady completed a transition of sponsorship from the Dominican Sisters for Dominic Health Services in Jackson.  

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St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi and its subsidiaries are now sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady and are part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.  Photo provided by FMOLHS

 

According to Dr. Richard Vath, president and CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, talks began 10 months ago when the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois “sent out requests” to Catholic health care systems nationwide seeking sponsorship to take over the Mississippi operations. The Dominican Sisters had been supporting the ministry for more than seven decades.  

“This is the Dominican Sisters only health care ministry,” explained Vath. “They are primarily in secondary education. And, they were having fewer and fewer (sisters) who were both interested and experienced in health care. So they decided rather than sell their facility, what they really wanted to do is to maintain a Catholic identity in Mississippi and specifically Jackson because they had been there 73 years.”  

Vath said there was already a longstanding relationship between FMOLHS and St. Dominic’s, with Sister Mary Dorothea Sondgeroth OP and Claude Harbarger, both former presidents of St. Dominic Health Services, having served on FMOLHS boards.  

“They’re well respected in the community,” said Vath. “And what came to us was, ‘We know these folks.’ The culture fits really, really well.  

“They’re the only Catholic health care system in Mississippi and so we said, ‘Gee whiz that’s kind of a slam dunk!’ Our whole purpose is to maintain and continue to maintain Catholic health care as an important identity.”  

St. Dominic Hospital was founded in 1946 when a group of Dominican Sisters from Springfield took over the Jackson Infirmary on Amite Street in downtown. The present location was opened in 1954 and currently has 571 beds, making it the second largest hospital in FMOLHS.  

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge has 845 beds. Other hospital locations include Gonzales, Monroe, Lafayette and Bogalusa.  

St. Dominic Health Services, Inc., is the parent company for a large group of subsidiary organizations and programs including St. Dominic Hospital, the Community Health Clinic, St. Dominic Medical Associates (physician network), New Directions for Over 55, MEA Clinics, The Club at St. Dominic’s, the School Nurse Program, St. Dominic Health Services Foundation, St. Catherine’s Village and Care-A-Van.   

“(The sponsorship) is significant for so many reasons, but most importantly St. Dominic’s is now better positioned to extend its mission to faithfully serve the Jackson community,” said Lester Diamond, president of St. Dominic Health Services. “With our companions in Baton Rouge, I am confident that we have a partner whom we know will support us and the Jackson community.”   

The move brings the number of physicians in FMOLHS to 2,500 along with more than 17,000 employees. Vath said the health system ranges from small- to medium-sized in terms of “number of hospitals, number of employees and revenue.” 

According to Vath, the melding of the two hospital systems was a natural fit, with a collective prayer referencing St. Dominic and St. Francis leading off integration meetings.

The traditional story of the strong friendship between the saints begins in 1216, when St. Dominic saw St. Francis in a vision the night before the two met at a church in Rome. According to dominicanfriars.org, St. Dominic recognized St. Francis and hastened to greet him and thus began a friendship that still inspires the orders each of the men founded. The website states “to this day Domicans and Franciscans exchange visits on each other’s founder’s feast days as a sign of unity towards a common goal.” 

“We had 35 integration teams working together over the last six months and it was like watching a family reunion, watching the sisters greet each other and sort of watching everyone who has grown to know each other over a short period of time,” Vath recalled. “Sister Dorothea came up to me and said, ‘You know, Richard, when I looked around the room I knew we had made the right decision,’ and that’s really kind of how we all felt. It was just a wonderful feeling.” 

Companions on a Journey

Lord God, we come before you in thanksgiving

for the living legacy of the Franciscan Missionaries
of Our Lady Sisters
and the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.

Their dedication
to bring the healing of Christ to those in need
inspires us now to journey together as St. Dominic’s becomes part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady
Health System ministry.

As we join hands, nurture in us a culture of
mutual respect, humility, patience, creativity
and transparency.
Like St. Francis and St. Dominic, show us how
to work together
for the common good. Allow nothing to stand in our way.

Bless this journey and guide our course.
We ask these things through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.