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5 Debts Are Our Only Wealth”: FINANCING AND MARKETING CATHOLIC HOSPITALS Debts are our only wealth. . . . We do the best possible to receive paying patients in order to live ourselves and care for [the poor]. . . . If we did not have a paying infirmary, we would have to steal in order to live . . . the poverty is so great.1 Mother St. Pierre Cinquin, CCVI December 15, 1885 As limited income led to mounting debts at Santa Rosa Infirmary, Mother St. Pierre anticipated the difficulties of keeping it functioning without having adequate resources to do so. This brief account to her French superior encapsules the anguish Catholic sisters experienced as they struggled to remain true to their missions of serving the needs of the poor while simultaneously managing the realities of business economics. Mother St. Pierre’s words had an apologetic tone as she explained why a charity-based infirmary still had to serve paying patients. Virtually all sister -administrators of hospitals ultimately would have to face and resolve this clash of spiritual motives and business realities. Some, no doubt, faced their tasks with hesitancy and trepidation. Many others, however, did so with enthusiasm and creativity. Sisters raised funds by bringing in patients, and their marketing became crucial to their success. Although fund-raising and marketing were traditionally viewed as male activities, the sisters found ways to carry them out while underscoring the strengths of their religious and gender identities. Personnel allocations typically reflected available funds, and nuns 102 “ Wall_CH5_3rd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:55 PM Page 102 had to appeal to legitimate networks of patronage to gain the financial support they needed. Ecclesiastical and lay supporters often served as intermediaries between the congregation and general public. The early enterprises of the Sisters of St. Joseph materialized primarily through their patronage relationship with the French countess who helped support them financially. In the United States, Mother Angela Gillespie sought specific networks of power with doctors and US government officials during the Civil War and afterward when the Sisters of the Holy Cross opened their first hospitals. Other superiors worked directly with prominent local citizens, tradesmen, contractors, railroad executives , and mine owners to obtain support for their activities. Teaching young women from middle- and upper-middle-class families provided nuns the opportunity to cultivate relationships with wealthy parents who could help support their enterprises. Through these contacts, sisters obtained the regular services of lawyers and bankers. Priests and bishops sometimes served as intermediaries for nuns. Some clergy, like Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, were either related to the sisters or were family friends. As communities expanded their membership, their financial dealings became more complicated, and they had to clearly delineate in their constitutions who had ultimate authority over finances. Nuns also changed their constitutions to allot greater authority to the mother superior.2 These modifications were crucial to sisters’ control over their organizations . As they acquired properties such as hospitals and schools, they did so in the convent’s name. Thus, sisters did not violate their individual vows of poverty because they did not obtain property in their own names. Rather, it belonged to the religious community as a whole. As Catholic hospitals underwent demographic, architectural, and technological change, nuns had to obtain new sources of capital. Unlike European women’s religious orders that often had wealthy members, most sisters in the United States were not from the upper classes and did not have large dowries to finance their institutions. Furthermore, latenineteenth -century Catholic hospitals typically did not have endowments , nor were many the recipients of large donations from the wealthy, the traditional supporters of other nineteenth-century voluntary hospitals . Only one feasible avenue for income was available to the sisters, and that was to generate their own capital. In effect, poverty and a dearth of donors led Catholic nursing congregations to embrace capitalism and entrepreneurship. Marketing replaced donations as the primary funding strategy.3 103 “Debts Are Our Only Wealth” Wall_CH5_3rd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:55 PM Page 103 Financing Catholic Hospitals In the early years, nuns made collection tours to raise money in towns, forts, and mining camps where Catholics typically could be found. Collections partially paid for the first building of Holy Cross Hospital, Salt Lake City, in 1875. Utah’s Father Lawrence Scanlan affirmed the sisters’ abilities as he described their collection for the hospital: Nuns were “good collectors. . . . The Sisters can collect 5 dollars to a priest’s one”4 (original emphasis). And as demonstrated...


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