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Catholic Health celebrates silver anniversary


Catholic Health celebrated 25 years of serving Western New York and made the promise to “always be there in the future.”  

Mark Sullivan, president and CEO of Catholic Health leads a chorus of “Awesome God” during a special 25th anniversary Mass of Catholic Health on Feb. 17 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Doctors, nurses and health care executives all gathered at St. Leo the Great Church in Amherst on Feb. 17 for a special Mass with Bishop Michael W. Fisher to mark the silver jubilee of the founding of what has become one of the largest health care systems in Western New York.

“Anniversaries are a time to look back, take stock of the present, and hope for the future,” said Bart Rodrigues, executive vice president and chief mission officer for Catholic Health, noting that two sponsoring entities – the Diocese of Buffalo and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph – also celebrated milestones last year. The Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity complete the founding members. 

“We stand on the shoulders of all who have been a part of this legacy entrusted to us. The future of Catholic Health is in our hands to shape according to the plan God has laid,” Rodrigues said.

In January 1996, Bishop Henry J. Mansell held a press conference to announce the bringing together of Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other health care agencies operated by religious orders, Catholic Charities and the diocese to form the Catholic Health System. The mission is to offer that touch, smile or comforting word that can help make the health care experience better. At the time, nearly 100 health-related services were provided over seven hospitals, a full array of family health centers, diagnostic facilities, homecare services, nursing and adult homes, behavioral health programs, and other affiliated services.

Mark Sullivan, president and CEO of Catholic Health, offered some perspective on what 25 years means by mentioning some of the societal advancements of the past quarter century. Netflix mailed out its first DVD the same year, and Google was founded. (He learned this from Googling it.) 

“We are unwavering,” Sullivan said. “No matter what has changed in the last 25 years, we have been true to our mission no matter what.”

He thanked those who have remained with Catholic Health for 25 years, and those from its past.

“We are standing here today, not because of the health system; we are a ministry of the Church. Our power is higher. It’s because of our faith, our mission, our dedication and our purpose are unmatched. We don’t exist to be a health care provider. We exist because we’re called to relay the love of Jesus to all,” Sullivan said.

Sister Marcia Ann Fiutko, FSSJ, general minister for the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, speaks on the history of Catholic Health. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

In his homily, Bishop Fisher congratulated all who were part of Catholic Health’s beginning and those who help to continue the mission.

“We can be proud of what has been accomplished and grateful to the many religious orders, health care professionals, and medical administrators whose commitment to the health and well being of our people goes well back, to even before the founding of our Diocese of Buffalo,” he said.

Sister Andrea Ciszewski, FSSJ; Sister Louise Gallahue, DC; Sister Peggy Gorman, RSM, members of the Catholic Health steering committee, served as candle bearers, at the Mass.

After Mass, Sullivan spoke to the press about how Catholic Health has faced the challenges of life in the Covid era.

“The past three years have been a challenge for everyone around the nation,” he said. “The thing we take the most pride in, is no matter what came at us, we adapted to that. So if it was Covid, instead of addressing it like everyone else, we opened a Covid only hospital, a Covid only nursing home. When the challenge was recruitment, we went out and hired more recruiters and had a record year of 2,800 staff and over 600 nurses, so we continue to do that. 

Bishop Michael W. Fisher leads Mass for Catholic Health’s 25th anniversary. He is joined by priests who serve in the medical community. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“It’s about adaptability,” he continued. “We’re always staying to our true north to make sure we’re really bringing the love of Jesus to all. We still remain a quality leader in home care, long-term care and acute care in the community. So, we continue to move forward. The next three years will be to continue to do the same thing. How do we adapt as Catholic Health and how do we increase our footprint to meet people where they want to receive care, where they need access to care. The vaccine effort really shined a light on the inequities of underserved communities. So, we’re trying to tackle that.”

Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.