Catholic Hospitals Shouldn’t Drop Saints’ Names. Post-Catholic Colleges Should.

By John Zmirak Published on September 9, 2016

Perhaps the greatest sports headline in history is “Sacred Heart Beats Precious Blood.” I say “perhaps” because it might be spurious, simply too good to be true. In a perfect world, it would have run in the Boston Globe. That headline, and those proudly Christian-Catholic school names, comes to mind when we read the following bland announcement in the Indianapolis Business Journal:

One of the largest Catholic hospital systems in the Midwest is saying farewell to saints’ names at 12 of its hospital campuses in Indiana and Illinois.

In a move to create a stronger identity, Franciscan Alliance will become Franciscan Health, and will stop using the names of St. Francis, St. James, St. Anthony and other familiar saints at its hospitals, the company announced Tuesday.

That means that Franciscan St. Francis Health in Indianapolis will be known simply as Franciscan Health Indianapolis, and Franciscan St. Francis Health in Carmel will be known simply as Franciscan Health Carmel.

Likewise, the system is dropping the names of St. Anthony (at hospitals in Crown Point and Michigan City), St. Elizabeth (Crawfordsville and two Lafayette locations), St. Francis (Mooresville, in addition to Indianapolis and Carmel), St. James (Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields), and St. Margaret (Dyer and Hammond).

I am sad to see this, though I don’t know how much it signifies. “Franciscan” is still a religious name; indeed, one of the most fervently Catholic colleges in the country is the Franciscan University of Steubenville. One hopes that people still remember that Francis was a ferociously faithful saint, who didn’t just preach to the birds but to Egypt’s Sultan, warning him that his eternal salvation was in danger.

Religious names are ubiquitous in Catholic institutions — the grammar schools, high schools, colleges and hospitals that my ancestors in that faith painstakingly built up from nothing, on the pennies donated by recent immigrants, and the vows of religious brothers, sisters, and priests. (I attended Immaculate Conception School for eight years before I knew what “conception” meant.) Tens of thousands of young men and women renounced marriage, wealth, and liberty to follow the “evangelical counsels” of chastity, poverty, and obedience to which they felt called by God. That was the engine of Catholic social action for many decades, until the great vocations crisis of the 1960s, which left church institutions dependent on fees, tuition, and sadly stingy parishioners — many of whom were moving far away to the suburbs.

This vast infrastructure of non-profit, non-governmental institutions was a key part of civil society in America, an alternative to increasingly anti-Christian government-run entities, and enterprises driven largely by the profit motive. That Catholic “physical plant” is under serious challenge, however. There is little free labor from religious brothers and sisters — and the federal government is even targeting those few brave volunteers for resisting its pagan norms, as we saw in the Feds’ persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to fund abortion pills.

Catholic parents have long paid double, both taxes for education and tuition for their children, thanks to anti-Catholic “Blaine Amendments” passed in the 19th century, and the politicking of public school teachers unions that resent any competition. On the other hand, given how ruthless the federal government has proved in its use of Title IX funding to foist the “transgender” delusion on local schools, it might be a blessing that parochial schools have mostly been starved of vouchers; they might have proved a poison pill.

Catholic Hospitals Resist High-Tech Barbarism

Catholic hospitals, on the other hand, are still mostly profitable, despite their adherence to a long list of moral scruples that prevent them, in conscience, from following today’s barbarous trends in “bioethics.” Our hospitals don’t just refuse to do abortions. They won’t perform sterilizations, or in vitro procedures, or that high-tech form of castration now labeled “gender reassignment.” As my sister, a nurse, reminds me, at Catholic hospitals a pregnant woman is treated as two patients, not one — and the unborn child’s interests are taken with the same deadly seriousness as his mother’s. At secular hospitals, which sometimes perform late-term abortions, that’s not always the case.

For the moment, with this Supreme Court’s balance of power, religious hospitals still have “conscience” protections, exempting them and their personnel from performing procedures which they regard as intrinsically evil. Hospital chains that are thinking of merging with church institutions have to work around the fact that the religious hospitals will not offer the same “full range of services.” As Hebrew National Hot Dogs used to boast, they “answer to an even Higher Authority.”

Most Catholic Colleges Aren’t

There are some Catholic institutions which ought to change their names, as soon as possible: The hundreds of colleges that were founded by Catholics and still trade on that identity with donors and parents, while flouting the Church’s own rules for making and keeping an institution Catholic. Laid out by Pope John Paul II in the 1990 document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, these rules demand that the Church’s moral teachings and crucial doctrines be clearly transmitted to students; that those who teach religion make regular promises to do that; that the schools hew to the Christian tradition of liberal arts education and intellectual excellence. To my knowledge, out of the hundreds of Catholic colleges and universities in America, only a dozen or so obey Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The rest are little more than overpriced state universities, with lingering sacred names.

Among those schools is DePaul University, which won’t even permit pro-life, non-Catholic conservative Ben Shapiro to speak on campus, for fear of permitting “microaggressions” in their university’s “safe space.” I wonder if the great theologian for whom that school is named, St. Vincent de Paul, were to appear and walk the earth, if his views would be judged too extreme to be aired on that campus. Marquette University, which was named for Pere Marquette, a French missionary explorer, has fired a tenured professor for defending the Catholic Church’s teaching on natural marriage. Now we learn that Gonzaga University has hired the thuggish Melissa Click — who famously was fired from the University of Missouri for calling on “muscle” to silence a student journalist.

It really would be better for all concerned if the local bishops exercised the power they still retain under canon law and ordered schools like these to stop even pretending that they are Catholic. They should change their names as well, out of simple respect to the saints whose faith they have lost. Let Margaret Sanger University ban speakers like Ben Shapiro, and Hugh Hefner College hire teachers like Melissa Click. Likewise that saintly Protestant John Wesley deserves far better than that deranged leftist university in Middletown, Connecticut. Wesleyan U. should be rechristened for Lena Dunham.

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