Catholic-sponsored health care started in Wichita Falls in 1935 with the Sisters opened Bethania Hospital on 11th Street and moved into a convent across the street. Over the years, the hospital competed with Wichita General Hospital, located three blocks down Grace Street until in 1997, the two hospitals merged to form URHCS.
One of the sisters joined the Board of Directors for the combined operation and the Sisters maintained direction of pastoral care for the 11th Street Campus, as Bethania is now known.
Due to various circumstances, including the hopsital’s performance of tubal ligations, the Sisters decided it was time to move on. In the coming weeks, the Catholic identity of the hosipital will be stripped away. Except for the “landmark” cross on top of the building, the hospital will become secular. The hospital intends to maintain pastoral care and grow it into an interdenominational effort. The hospital’s chapel, original to the 1935 section of the building, will be converted to an interdenominational structure. The chapel is the only public chapel in Wichita Falls to maintain a traditional high altar after renovations in the 1960s to the other Catholic chapels and parishes in the city. While no plans have been formalized, it is assumed that this will be removed as part of the transition. (UPDATE 1/2012: The chapel was completely renovated and gutted. From the pictures, it appears as comforting as the Rothko Chapel in Houston.)
URCHS will work with the Sisters to create a “herritage center” or “mini-museum” to honor the legacy of the Sisters and their impact on Wichita Falls healthcare. For all of the religious items removed, the hospital will work with the Diocese of Fort Worth to ensure they are handled with all due reverence and care.
My involvement with the pastoral care of the hospital has been quite minimal. I am friends with Fr. Donlon, chaplain of the hospital and the usual celebrant of the 12 Noon Mass at Sacred Heart Parish. Before moving to Austin, I was also an altar server and lector for the chapel’s Sunday morning services.
I’ll be in Wichita Falls in mid-July so I plan on visiting, praying in and taking pictures of the chapel for probably the last time I’ll be able to before the transition.