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Saint Francis Hospital celebrates monumental year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Officials at Saint Francis Hospital are celebrating the facility's 100th anniversary in conjunction with the chosen name of the new pope.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is from Argentina, this month became the first pope from the Americas and the first pontiff to choose the name Pope Francis.

"I think it's great," said Steve Dexter, the hospital's president and chief executive officer. "I'm excited. I'm also Catholic. I think he will do a good job. That he picked the name Francis was just the icing on the cake."

Dan Lauffer, chief operating officer, said the name choice has renewed interest in learning about Saint Francis.

Sister Virginia Yeager, vice president of mission and pastoral care at the hospital, is impressed with the lifestyle of the new pope and his concern for the poor.

"Saint Francis was a man who had everything at one point in life," she said. "Through life experiences he encountered God and found himself called to a simpler lifestyle. He cared for the poor. He had a vision of God telling him to rebuild his church. At first he thought structurally but it was actually renewing the life of the church."

Meanwhile, she notes the faith-based hospital has maintained a caring attitude for patients throughout the decades.

The hospital got its start in 1913 when an old home at 333 Laidley St. was purchased by Bishop Patrick J. Donahue. It was converted into a 25-bed facility that was initially run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration from Williamsville, N.Y.

Throughout the years, the facility has undergone new construction and expansion, acquired modern equipment on an ongoing basis, and changed hands a few times. Go to for details about history, growth and services at the hospital.

While changes have been dramatic, officials say some things have remained the same.

Yeager points to a sense of caring that has continued through the years at the Christian-based hospital.

"It's more than a job," she said. "It's a healing ministry. It's a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus."

Lauffer added, "After 100 years, we are in the same location. We are in a different building at the same location with the same mission statement."

The written statement says the mission of the hospital "is to provide a broad continuum of quality health care services to enhance the well being of the people of Charleston and surrounding communities.

"Drawing its inspiration from Christ's healing love, this mission compels us to continuously evaluate and improve the excellence of our care, the quality of our services and the cost-effectiveness of those services. Our mission requires that we be in the forefront of envisioning new and better ways to address the ever-changing health care needs of the people we serve."

While the hospital was founded on Christian values, it was never a totally Catholic facility, Yeager said. The staff has always included caring people of various faiths, she said.

"Attention to the spiritual care of patients and families has always been a hallmark," she said.

Patients are always seen by a family patient representative and offered the care of one of the hospital chaplains.

Officials note they have seen a sense of caring go beyond medical attention. After emergency room officials treated a homeless man suffering from extremely cold feet, a physician asked the patient his shoe size. When it was discovered they wore the same size, the doctor removed his shoes and gave them to the man. The doctor has chosen to remain anonymous.

Officials are aware of employees who have bought food for families or gone to the mall to buy clothes for patients with nothing to wear home from the hospital.

While they realize these acts of kindness could happen anywhere, they are touched that they occurred there.

Plans are in the works for various events at the hospital.

A "Zumbathon" is scheduled outdoors on the grounds for 10 a.m. to noon May 11 with proceeds to go to the hospital foundation. Registration is $10 in advance or $12 the day of the event. Registration begins 9 a.m. Call hospital spokeswoman Paige Johnson at 304-766-3707, or Sara Cloer at 304-347-6206.

Within the next few weeks "story boards" are to be displayed to show the hospital's history.

Chris Powell, of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition," will be on hand Oct. 4 to hand out awards to employees who have worked to reduce their weight and cholesterol.

Plans are also being made to do something special for National Hospital Day on May 12, said Johnson, the hospital spokeswoman.

She notes the hospital has a large photo taken on Mother's Day of May 12, 1929 that included moms with children born at Saint Francis.

With Mother's Day falling on May 12 this year, a third historical moment can be linked with the hospital's anniversary and the name of a new pope.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.



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