For seventy years, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital has extended the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to so many throughout Central Louisiana. It’s a seventy-year story still being written, with the best yet to come.
As we celebrate our 70th year, it’s important for us to pause and reflect on how our ministry began in Central Louisiana. The Vision for CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital can be traced as far as 1916 when Bishop Cornelius Van De Ven of Natchitoches and his successor, Rev. Daniel F. Desmond, asked Mother M. Teresa to build a hospital in Alexandria.
But for one reason or another, the hospital never materialized until 1946 when the Bishop of Alexandria, Rev. Charles B. Greco, asked Mother M. Elizabeth O’Neill to reconsider the matter. In fact, Bishop Greco was so committed to the cause, he pledged $200,000 from his local parishioners. That’s how needed our hospital was to this community. Mother O’Neill and her council were so moved by the gesture, they agreed. A groundbreaking ceremony for the hospital was planned on the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini that same year.
As names were tossed around for the future hospital, Bishop Greco thought honoring Mother Cabrini was the most obvious choice. When he was a child, he met her and was inspired by her pioneering spirit. After all, she was the first canonized citizen of the United States. He couldn’t think of a more appropriate person for his diocese to honor as the first major Catholic institution in the area.
At the end of 1946, an architectural firm was selected. At the request of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word—Houston, architects Goleman and Rolfe began building St. Frances Cabrini Hospital—the first of many hospital buildings designed for the Sisters. Their concept for the hospital was considered to be modern and earned the firm an award of merit from the American Institute of Architects. After three years of careful planning and construction, the cornerstone was laid and blessed on October 21, 1949. The $3 million, 126-bed hospital was dedicated on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1950. The open house was such an exciting and welcomed addition to the community that over 7,000 people came to the event, pushing the celebration into the late hours of the night.
On the heels of an overwhelming open house turnout, the hospital officially opened its doors April 1, 1950 with its first admitted patient, Mr. W. J. Bordelon. That evening, around 11:30pm, Sally Phillips was the first baby delivered at the hospital to Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Phillips. By the end of the second day, April 2, more than 56 patients had been admitted and a variety of surgeries performed.
A little more than a decade later, the growing community demanded an expansion in 1965. As a result, just a few years of construction added a six-story addition, increasing the hospitals capacity to 254 beds in 1969. Since that time, St. Frances Cabrini Hospital has expanded not only physically, but technologically as well.
On March 21, 1975, a milestone was reached as Central Louisiana’s first open-heart surgery was performed at Cabrini, offering residents a trustworthy resource in critical moments. The equipment that made open-heart surgery possible was purchased with a donation from the Coughlin-Saunders Foundation, an organization that, 70 years later, is still very invested in the successful advancement of healthcare throughout Central Louisiana.
The Coughlin-Saunders Foundation also helped establish Cabrini’s cardiac rehab program with the purchase of much-needed equipment. As a result, many other donors began gifting the hospital with monetary support. Therefore, the Cabrini Foundation was established in 1983 to help garner relationships with passionate supporters and fund needed programs to help advance medicine into the 21st century.
As a result of so much community support, Cabrini has always been on the forefront of needed investments. The hospital was the first in the area to open and Intensive Care Unit; a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for premature or critically ill infants; and the first to employ around-the-clock intensivist coverage. Likewise, Cabrini was the first in the region to implement robotic technology, a major advancement at the time for rural America.
In 1999, the Sister of Charity Health System and the Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word Health System consolidated, renaming the hospital CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital. CHRSITUS is the Latin word for Christ.
CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital’s mission is alive and well in 2020. The Sisters would most-assuredly be proud of how far the hospital has advanced since that opening day in 1950. Today, Cabrini is a fully accredited, 295-bed hospital, employing almost 2,000 associates with nearly 350 on the medical staff. It is one of the largest employers in the region and a positive economic force for Central Louisiana.
The hospital’s scope of service continues to grow with the addition of three community clinics serving all, regardless of their ability to pay. For 39 years, we’ve been a proud Children’s Miracle Network hospital, funding critically important programs for children throughout the regions. And, Cabrini’s 17 school-based health centers provide medical care and health education to more than 12,000 students.
Cabrini is also a rural referral center in Central Louisiana, receiving numerous transfers from more than 14 rural hospitals monthly. And our assets and investments as an organization have allowed us to expand services outside the hospital as we manage a freestanding acute care hospital in Natchitoches and a beloved rural hospital in Mamou.
From our surgery center to our diagnostics specialty center to our athletic clubs to promoting healthy living and the man CHRISTUS physician group practices throughout our region, we’ve come a long way in 70 short years of providing quality health care access to so many. We think Bishop Greco would be proud of how CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital has honored the pioneering legacy of Mother Cabrini.
Today, we remain dedicated to our mission, our community, and to the advancement of medical technology and care throughout Central Louisiana. We stand devoted to our core values, and to the conviction that a cross on the outside means a difference on the inside. We are honored to serve, and we thank all who have made, and continue to make, our service possible.