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7 Power Sharing: BUSINESS NEGOTIATIONS IN CATHOLIC HOSPITALS [These] devoted creatures in the Catholic Church [could be seen] leaning over the bed of the suffering, wiping away the sweat of death from the pale forehead of the dying man, soothing his declining moments . . . alleviating his sufferings in life . . . all these acts performed for no earthly reward, but through love of humanity. . . . 1 Bishop Lawrence Scanlan October 12, 1876 As Bishop Scanlan described the Sisters of the Holy Cross after they opened Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City, he reflected the clergy’s typical perceptions of sister-nurses. Such idealized sentimentality was characteristic of the clerical need for the “cult of true womanhood.”2 However, Catholic sisters who stood at the threshold of establishing and operating hospitals in the growing competitive market of the late nineteenth century challenged prescribed gender roles. Much more was required of them than mere acquiescence to self-sacrificial feminine service . One of the defining characteristics of the Catholic hospital in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the way religious, economic, and social boundaries altered the authority within Catholic hospitals run by women religious. Nuns maintained a unique hierarchy over their hos148 Wall_CH7_3rd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:58 PM Page 148 pitals’ administrative and nursing affairs, but at the same time they had to use certain diplomatic strategies when working with medical and episcopal authorities. They also had to deal with the romanticized images assigned to them that emphasized their feminine spirituality while obscuring their technical and professional skills. This chapter will focus mainly on sister-administrators, or superiors. The average sister did not have the individual authority that the mother superior had because each gave up individual power to the congregation’s good as a whole. In this chapter, power is treated in its material forms but also as a means of fashioning identities and behaviors. Nuns’ actions reflect a complex relationship between power and manners. While superiors often negotiated through tensions by confrontation and resistance, at other times they openly embraced assigned roles of meekness and deferential service. This removed the visible trappings of power and influence and reduced their threat to the bastions of male power. Ironically, it also enabled sisters to move with skill and purpose in fulfilling their service missions. Relations with Physicians Although sister-administrators appointed the hospital’s physicians and exercised inherent power within that role, nevertheless they had to remain cognizant of their identities as females and religious servants. They could not afford to openly challenge the prerequisite authority of the doctors. Indeed, nuns were very aware of their need for public association with physicians, whose social prestige was already accepted and on whom sisters relied for patients. In turn, the doctors, many of whom were Protestant , remained keenly aware of their indebtedness to the sisters for their employment within the Catholic hospitals. Thus, when conflicts arose, both sides were more likely to compromise than to engage in lengthy or contentious struggles.3 From the beginning, nuns deferred to physicians in medical matters. The first advertisement by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word for Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio promised physicians that they would “have the entire control over [patients] in the Hospital; and his prescriptions with regard to food, nursing, and medicines, will be strictly followed .”4 The 1867 constitution prescribed that, in working with the doctor , sister-nurses “will take care not to control his prescriptions or find fault with his manner of acting.”5 In their annual reports, nuns always credited physicians’ roles in the hospital’s success. A report from Santa 149 Power Sharing: Business Negotiations in Catholic Hospitals Wall_CH7_3rd.qxd 4/11/2005 2:58 PM Page 149 Rosa Infirmary was typical: “We could not have a hospital without our doctors. ALL HAIL TO OUR DEVOTED DOCTORS!“6 Sisters also generally respected physicians’ professional freedom. One doctor recalled that, at Santa Rosa Infirmary, whether they were engaging in new surgical techniques or trying out suggestions by other surgeons, “our efforts never met discouragement or insurmountable opposition from the officials at Santa Rosa.” Had the physicians encountered outright refusal or even words of caution at every turn, they believed their effectiveness as surgeons would have deteriorated. He described the ideal relationship between a physician and hospital as “one which not only allows freedom to innovate, but freedom not to do so, the option of rejecting change if its institution represents no improvement. To our lasting benefit and that...


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MARC Record
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