In his first official duty as Bardstown’s mayor, Bill Sheckles, seated right, signs a proclamation Thursday declaring Jan. 7-14 Flaget Memorial Hospital Week. The hospital’s namesake, Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, looks on from a portrait. At left seated is Bruce Klockars, hospital president, surrounded by hospital staff. The week will be capped by a Mass 2 p.m. Jan. 14 at Saint Vincent de Paul Church on the Nazareth campus, led by the Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
On the snowy, stormy night one day before Flaget Memorial Hospital officially opened 60 years ago, the doors couldn’t stay shut any longer. Ann Cecil was in labor with a baby girl, and soon after Mary Flaget Cecil became the first baby born at Nelson County’s first hospital, Imelda Greenwell delivered twin boys.
When Dr. Keith Crume came into the room with Greenwell’s sons in her arms, he did something unusual — he introduced them.
“He came to me after they were born. He said, ‘We’re going to name this one Benedict Joseph after Bishop Flaget,’” Greenwell recalled. Benedict Joseph Flaget became Bardstown’s first bishop in 1809.
Greenwell was surprised, but said she didn’t mind the doctor naming her children for her.
“It was OK with me that he did that. Only thing that I did ask him was that he go ahead and name the other one,” she said.
The other twin was named John Sebastian, after Ann Sebastian Sullivan, the mother general of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who helped raise funds to build the hospital and operated it for years.
Meanwhile, Alice Adams, SCN, remembers a different child — the baby girl who was almost Flaget’s first birth.
Adams recalled a Polish family who lived in a home behind Anatok in Bardstown, where at least 16 nuns lived in 1951, the year the hospital opened. The wife was expecting a baby.
“We were hoping and praying that that baby was going to be the first baby born in the new hospital … but, see, no one could be a patient there in the hospital until the hospital had been blessed,” Adams said. The child was born the day before the archbishop blessed the new facility, Adams said.
With one less baby on its rolls, Flaget has still managed to usher in 15,000 babies in the 60 years since it was founded. This is thanks in part to the efforts of the Sisters of Charity, along with Msgr. James Willett and Crume, with whom the idea for the facility originated.
Frances Krumpelman, SCN, said the first campaign for the hospital failed to raise enough funds because it was conducted during World War II. But the second fundraising drive, in 1948, was a success.
“Everybody in Bardstown gave to it — wealthy and poor, Catholic and non-Catholic,” Krumpelman said. The Hill-Berton Foundation also contributed funds, she said.
Flaget was to be the region’s first hospital.
“Before the hospital was built and cars were common, if anybody needed to be transported to a hospital in Louisville, they went on a baggage car in the train,” Krumpelman said. When cars were more widespread but ambulances were scarce, they went in hearses, she added.
All that changed when the hospital officially opened Jan. 8, 1951, with nine doctors and a dentist. The sisters provided most of the hospital’s other services, including nursing and food service.
All the while, they remained committed to their primary goal: to serve the poor.
“As we honor the human dignity of all people, we want to make sure we are there for all people,” said Ben Wiederholt, Flaget’s vice president for mission integration. “That continues to be part of our legacy today — was 60 years ago, is today and forever will be.”
The people of Nelson County showed their gratitude in a variety of ways when the hospital first opened.
“In the annals it’s recorded that people in gratitude for the service they got at the hospital would send a cake. [A] priest had a good yield in his grapes and he sent bushels of grapes to the sisters,” Krumpelman said.
In 1968 the sisters handed over the hospital to an independent board of directors. A new hospital wing was added in 1974 and more services were provided through the years until at last, the entire facility was moved into a brand new hospital building on KY 245 in 2005. But Flaget has never lost sight of its original mission, Wiederholt said.
“The work that we do is not just about a building, and as we hear stories of the past and what the hospital has meant to people and to this community, and as we hear stories of people today, although it’s a different building, the sentiment is exactly the same in the sense of gratitude,” he said.
On Jan. 6, in his first official duty as mayor of Bardstown, Bill Sheckles signed a proclamation declaring Jan. 7-14 Flaget Memorial Hospital Week. The week will be capped at 2 p.m. Jan. 14 with a Mass at Saint Vincent de Paul Church on the Nazareth campus, led by the Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Following the Mass, visitors will be able to share their memories of the hospital at a reception.
“We want to have it at Nazareth because of our important relationship with the Sisters of Charity,” Flaget President Bruce Klockars said. “This is a particularly important milestone for us because we want to celebrate all the good things that have happened over the 60 years at Flaget and our work to bring service to the community.”
Cecil and Greenwell will likely be in attendance, both of them heavy with memories of their own — of how the hospital delivered many of their children and was host to some of their lives’ most beautiful moments and greatest sorrows.
“That hospital saved my life,” said Greenwell, remembering the last child she bore at Flaget, many years after the twins — a little girl who died in childbirth. After a C-section, a hysterectomy and several pints of blood, “I was on death’s door,” Greenwell recalled.
“But you know, it was so funny, they all came — they all thought I wouldn’t make it.” Then she saw Dr. John Sonne, her doctor and the hospital’s first surgeon, come into the room.
“I knew that I was not going to die,” she said. “My little girl went to heaven but I lived to raise all my children. …
“The best thing ever happened to Bardstown was that hospital — no doubt about it.”