| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

‘Spiritually Centered, Holistic Care’

Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham Marks 125 Years

On Jan. 4, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at the Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham chapel, marking the beginning of the hospital’s year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers and friends here at Ascension St. Vincent’s, it is my great joy and honor to be here today with the leadership, professional medical and support staff, associates, and generous volunteers here at Ascension St. Vincent’s Hospital on the occasion of your 125th anniversary of service in the greater Birmingham metropolitan area. Ascension St. Vincent’s Hospital has been part of the public and Catholic institutional memory of Birmingham. To be sure, it has played a significant role in the health and welfare of the citizens of this community. Through its professional expertise, it brought hope to a new growing city in the deep South.

St. Paul Church in downtown Birmingham was built in 1893. Shortly after that, St. Vincent’s was founded by the Daughters of Charity as a ministry dedicated to “spiritually centered, holistic care designed to sustain and improve the health of the community as well as its citizens.” It has, over the course of years, been recognized for its excellence and achievement in many sectors. It has been and is a leader today in health care delivery by being stable yet resilient to the needs of the time. Its agility has enabled the health care community to be robust and agile as it faces ever new challenges.  

As an historical note, it was the hospital that Father Coyle, the pastor of St. Paul’s in 1921, who was murdered while sitting on the rectory porch after presiding at a marriage, was brought for his final moments, highlighting the tensions between race and religion at the time. The city population had grown from about 38,000 in 1900 to 179,000 in 1920. While the city has hovered in population around the 200,000 mark, today the greater metro area has more like 1.2 million inhabitants. Over the years, St. Vincent’s has remained as a principal anchor for health care delivery. Its name and brand are recognizable as a steadfast and reliable partner in the community.

So, today, at the beginning of 2023, at the 125th anniversary, we rejoice with your accomplishments. At the heart of what you do is the very healing of Christ. We can do nothing without Christ! That witness is focused on the care that you continue to offer as you achieve newer efficiencies of service.

Today, the Church recalls St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a convert to the Catholic faith and a pioneer in Catholic education. She sought the eradication of ignorance through the formation of the mind. It was her passion! Here, at St. Vincent’s we seek the eradication of disease and pain, so that those in our charge can live healthy, wholesome lives. Our Gospel today is at the center of our efforts of evangelization. And it begins with John the Baptist type characters who begin with the one word: “Behold” – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  While that may seem a bit more formalistic, today we would simply say “Look! Look! There’s Christ the healer. There’s Christ the teacher. There’s Christ the Savior. There’s Christ the Good Shepherd. There’s Christ our Light who guides us out of the darkness of pain and suffering into His own marvelous and amazing light.”

I congratulate you again on this major achievement! As you look forward, with all the new challenges and headwinds you have to face, I accompany you with my own prayers so that we can see, behind the illnesses, pain, disease, anxiety, and frustration of those we serve, the face of Christ radiating back at us. Utilizing your extraordinary gifts and talents given by God is a further blessing. They are entrusted to us to be used wisely and for the benefit of all. Finally, the existence of Ascension St. Vincent’s here in our communities in Central Alabama is a further reminder that we stand for life, for the wholeness, and the achievement of the dream of God for every person.  

Somehow, I have the feeling that what we look like today is far different than what St. Vincent’s looked like 125 years ago. I suspect, that in another 125 years, we will be different again to meet the needs of new generations while we have been faithful and steadfast in the vision and mission of the founders to make this a place where the healing power of Christ, through the giftedness of health care professionals, utilizing the scientific advances made every year, can provide for the better health and wellbeing of everyone we serve throughout the greater Birmingham and central Alabama community. May God bless and prosper your work!

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