Daniel P. Moen, St. Francis Medical Center's president and chief executive officer, offers remarks after Communion. Mary Stadnyk photo
Daniel P. Moen, St. Francis Medical Center's president and chief executive officer, offers remarks after Communion. Mary Stadnyk photo

Nearly 150 years ago, a group of Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were given $40 to start a school in the City of Trenton. But through their work and with the advisement of others, the Sisters realized they the city had a far greater need to address – healthcare. The Sisters’ efforts resulted in the establishment of the city’s first hospital in 1874 – later known as St. Francis Medical Center – which has stood ever since as a beacon of hope and healing as it served the health care needs of the city and surrounding county’s diverse population.

In his homily for a special Mass Dec. 13, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., praised the inspiring history and impactful legacy that St. Francis Medical Center has had on generations of people living in the region. It was to be the last Mass before Dec. 21 when St. Francis will cease to operate as an acute care hospital and instead merge into the Capital Health network of health care services.

Citing the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes, the Bishop began by proclaiming: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” He acknowledged the mixed emotions experienced by many of those gathered in the medical center’s chapel. “This is a tough day. While there is sadness in our hearts as we reflect upon so many cherished memories, there is also a spirit of profound gratitude to God for all that has been accomplished here by so many, for so many,” he said.

“As Bishop of the Diocese in which St. Francis Hospital has flourished since and even before the Diocese of Trenton was established [in 1881], it is my privilege to offer this Mass in the name and on behalf of every person who has ever walked through these doors.”

Present for the Mass were hospital staff, board members, volunteers and law enforcement personnel. Also in attendance was a contingent of Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who had ministered there over the years and Judith Persichilli, a former president of the medical center who now serves as the 22nd Commissioner for the NJ Department of Health. Dr. C. James Romano, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer, gave remarks at the start of Mass while Daniel P. Moen, current president and chief executive officer offered remarks after Holy Communion.

Care and Compassion

“This is a sacred place,” said Franciscan Sister James Maureen McGuire, who served in St. Francis for 33  years as a hospital chaplain.

“It’s very family-oriented. We shared many joys and sorrows together as a staff and with our patients,” she said. She noted that she now lives in the Sisters of St. Francis motherhouse in Aston, Pa., and that it was important for her to make the trip to Trenton for the final Mass.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” Sister James Maureen said. “While there is sorrow about the hospital closing, we have to face the reality of the changing times and needs of the medical profession,” she said. Although the staff will be leaving “this building of brick and mortar, they will still take with them all that they have learned an experienced her at St. Francis Medical Center.”

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell recalled when he was admitted as a patient to St. Francis Medical Center on the very first day he arrived to serve as Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese in 2010.

“I was admitted only two hours after my arrival here for an infection that would some years later result in the amputation of my left leg,” he said.

“The kindness and care I was shown here will be etched in my memory forever,” he said. “I am quite sure literally thousands of patients have shared those sentiments over the past almost 150 years.”

The Bishop acknowledged that while healthcare as a profession and hospitals as institutions have changed many times over the years, “including here, the care and compassion of this community have not, beginning with those remarkable first Sisters of St. Francis and their collaborators.

“It is that legacy that will serve as the foundation of this next chapter in the history of health care in our region as we place our cherished St. Francis Medical Center in the capable hands of Capital Health,” the Bishop said. He stressed St. Francis’ staunch outreach to the poor and said that prayers will be offered for “those who will give birth to the future of compassionate health care in our region.

“Do not forget the poor,” he urged the Capital Health officials.

Next Chapter

Future plans for the delivery of health care in the city includes Capital Health’s commitment to the continued operation of an Emergency Department in East Trenton without disruption once the transaction is complete, according to a joint press release posted by St. Francis Medical Center and Capital Health. It states: “The Emergency Department, Outpatient Internal Medicine Clinic, and C.A.R.E.S program will be at the current St. Francis Medical Center site (which will be renamed Capital Health – East Trenton) for at least the near term, as will the Schools of Nursing and Radiologic Technology.

“Long term, Capital Health will develop a new Emergency Department and outpatient site(s) at, or near, the current St. Francis site. Capital Health also plans to add an OB/GYN and prenatal care office in the area of St. Francis to meet this important need. Capital Health Regional Medical Center, also in Trenton, will become the new location for many other services currently provided at St. Francis including cardiac surgery. Capital Health is planning extensive capital projects at Capital Health Regional Medical Center. This expansion will help us preserve essential services provided by St. Francis and will meet the needs of current patients from both organizations, as well as future patients.”

The closing of St. Francis’ cherished story as a Catholic hospital was physically reinforced during the final Mass when, after the reception of Holy Communion, the Eucharist was not reposed in the tabernacle but placed in a pyx to be taken to an area parish.

Bishop O’Connell also announced that much of the statuary and furnishings in the chapel will be given to parishes in the Diocese including Our Lady of the Angels, Trenton, where there are plans to create a chapel at one of its two worship sites. The tabernacle will be going to St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi that’s in the foyer to the main entrance of the hospital will be placed on the grounds of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton.

“Our final Mass has ended,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Go in peace.”

(Click here to read the full press release from the hospital.)