Posted By Conferance of Reigious India Bulletin On September 17, 2009

“A poor family is expecting you,” Jesuit Bishop Bernard Sullivan of Patna told some visiting Medical Mission nuns who joined him around a Christmas crib in 1939. The nuns responded by opening Holy Family Hospital in a building the bishop provided that same week. “Since then, we have never looked back,” the hospital’s current administrator, Sister Juliana D’Cunha, told UCA News in late March while recalling the American bishop’s “prophetic words.”

The nuns opened the hospital with 130 beds in Patna Sahib, an ancient town near Patna, the Bihar state capital 1,015 kilometers east of New Delhi. Blessed Teresa of Kolkata attended a short course in nursing at the hospital in 1949, before she began her work among the poor.

Medical Mission Sister D’Cunha said the hospital was Bihar’s first Catholic health-care center. Now, she added, it can “rightly claim” to be “the best health-care system” in the region.

In 1958, the nuns built the present 300-bed hospital on a sprawling campus in Kurji, a Patna suburb on the western bank of the Ganges.

Over the years, the hospital has become synonymous with curative and preventive health-care services, community-development and social-welfare programs, and training “that fosters the full development of people,” Sister D’Cunha claimed.

It started training nurses in 1967, the administrator said, and has since produced hundreds of nurses and auxiliary nurses who work in various parts of the world. “We feel we have largely accomplished our goal” of training them to deal with and find remedies for health and social hazards villagers face, she added.

Sister Mary Elise, who heads the health commission of her indigenous Sacred Heart Congregation, is among the 2,000 nurses the hospital trained so far. In her view, about 500 Religious women trained as nurses at the hospital have become “the fulcrum” of the Church’s rural health ministry in Bihar.

In 1971, the hospital added a school to train medical laboratory technicians. The Medical Council of India recognizes the intern and residency programs it has started for doctors. It also conducts master’s degree courses for doctors in pediatrics, gynecology and medicine under the Directorate of National Board.

Impressed with these achievements, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently urged the hospital to start a medical school. He promised administrative and logistic help when he came to open its dialysis unit in November 2007.

Sister D’Cunha termed the prospect of opening a medical school “a whopping financial proposition” for them. However, “we could do whatever is possible, as we have ample infrastructure for it,” she added.

In 2000, the Medical Mission nuns invited the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to jointly manage the hospital. The administrator said it was the first such venture among women Religious congregations in India. The move has helped enhance their mission of healing, she added.

Nazareth Sister Roshini Pereira, the hospital’s deputy administrator, said partnership has been “both an exciting experience and novel experiment for our nuns and leadership.” Sister Pereira, too, considers the move “a trend-setter.”

Several patients told UCA News that they find the Catholic hospital affordable and reliable. One of them, Hoshil Tiwary, a Hindu, said the hospital treated his gallbladder ailment for half the amount he spent earlier in a private nursing home for the same treatment. The Church hospital charged only the actual costs incurred, he added.

What impressed Tiwary most, however, was the hospital staff’s “intrinsically loving and human” concern and care, which he said helped lessen his physical and mental pain.

Badri Narayan Prasad, a Hindu contractor, has a similarly positive view about the hospital. “It costs us less but gives us more in terms of care and concern,” he said.

Another patient, Father Ignatius Osta, went to the hospital in January for his heart ailment. The priest of Bettiah diocese, in Bihar, found the hospital attracts people from all over the state. He commended the nuns for respecting and serving the sick with their human, material and spiritual resources.

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