EDITORIAL — St. Mary’s closes with a light touch

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It was more than the lives saved, the pain salved, the health bolstered — although that would have plenty enough reason to treasure the 89 years of St. Mary Hospital’s existence in this community. The hospital, opened in 1930, ceased operations July 18.

But the journey to closing the hospital, which was arranged by owners Christus Health, brought to the forefront the memories of revered doctors, nurses, nuns and staff. They reminded Port Arthur people of where their loved ones were born, treated or — sadly — comforted as they slipped away from the pain of this world to the solace of the next.

That’s why we treasured the memories related to us in recent weeks by patients and employees of the hospital, who contributed nine decades to the still unfolding story of Port Arthur.

That’s why we valued how hospital administrators tried to lighten the last weeks of the hospital’s existence by serving St. Mary’s burgers to employees and the public. A table of nurses in the cafeteria told us about the cooks, including “Edna,” known for her burger creations. They remembered when Dr Pepper cost but a dime in the machine. A retired surgeon told us about the “happy hour cart” that was rolled out prior to board meetings.

There were other, meaningful reminisces, as well. A nurse told us how she was the first black nurse to graduate the nursing program, which operated through 1957. She stayed 34 years, and became the assistant director of nursing.

Hospital officials said they’d try to fit as many of the 120 or so employees as possible into available positions in the Christus Health system. Others would be aided, they said, many with severance package. It’s never easy to close an important community institution.

It was meaningful, too, that the hospital system has tried to preserve memories of the hospital by creating a commemorative, 135-page book — it will be offered for $10 — with proceeds benefiting Children’s Miracle Network. Those books will be on sale from 9–noon and 2–4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Christus St. Mary Outpatient Center Mid-County, 8801 Ninth Ave.

Likewise, the hospital is trying to accommodate private requests for specific articles from the hospital. Those requests have climbed into the hundreds for a host of items, and hospital staff is making the certain but painstaking steps of determining how they might meet those many requests, if possible.

St. Mary Hospital and Christus Health officials have done an exemplary job of tending to the community’s emotional needs both in recognizing the local attachment that Port Arthur has for the hospital and in delivering, as best they could, a light touch in closing their doors. For that, too, they deserve the community’s thanks.