A written history of the oldest private Catholic hospital in Hong Kong was published at the end of 2018 to commemorate the 120th
anniversary of what is still commonly referred to nowadays as "the French Hospital," as the Church moves to honor and protect its heritage in the Chinese territory
. "Although the history of the hospital is largely unknown to the public, the name most people call it [French Hospital] today is the same name it was called from the beginning," Sister Joanne Marie Cheung, provincial superior of Hong Kong and Taiwan, points out in her one of her contributions to the book. Officially named the Hospital for Chinese Women and Babies, the venue was established in Wan Chai by the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres in 1898, four years after an outbreak of bubonic plague in the British colony. In 1848 the sisters were the first foreign congregation of religious women to arrive in Hong Kong.
Doctor Sir Alberto Maria Rodrigues (left), the first medical superintendent of St. Paul's Hospital, and nuns and a nurse look after newborn babies in 1949. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul's Hospital)
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The storied property was later renamed St. Paul's Hospital and has been run until now by the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres. The History of St. Paul's Hospital—Caring and Serving for 120 Years
was published in Chinese and English in December to pay tribute to the nuns responsible for running the venue, the care they dispensed, and the influence of the Church in Hong Kong
. Each edition runs for about 200 pages and carries commentaries by Sister Nancy Margaret Cheung, the current managing director of the hospital, and Dr. William Ho, first full-time medical superintendent of St. Paul's in 2012. Sister Cheung reviewed the history of the medical institute according to the Paulist spirit, while Dr. Ho focuses on its philosophy toward health care management and the challenges that lie ahead. The book resulted from a research project commissioned to the Centre for Catholic Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
in 2016. The text is divided into four chapters: A Hospital Comes into Being (1898-1945); Post-War Recovery (1946-1976); Rapid Development (1977-1998); and Entering the Second Centennial (1999-2018). The Le Calvaire, the second branch of the hospital, stood independently before the two were later merged. Here it is pictured circa 1908-1918. The century-old building has served as a primary school run by the St. Paul Sisters since 1927. It was named a grade II historic building in 1992. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul's Hospital)
It also carries historic photos of the hospital buildings, people and medical equipment in a section called A Glimpse of the Times, showing different time periods. As space became limited, a second branch called Le Calvarie was founded in Happy Valley in 1908. But as time passed, both hospitals became overcrowded. The Wan Chai hospital was increasingly viewed as being inappropriate for allowing patients to heal as the surrounding area transitioned from a sleepy fishing village to a bustling port. In 1918 the sisters relocated the two hospitals to Causeway Bay, where they now stand together as St. Paul's Hospital. An inauguration Mass was held on March 24 of that year. It now ranks alongside three other private Catholic hospitals that are also among the oldest in the city. They are: St. Teresa's Hospital, also run by the Sisters of St. Paul since 1940; Canossa Hospital (Caritas), established by the Canossian Sisters in 1929; and the Precious Blood Hospital (Caritas), which the Precious Blood Sisters set up in 1937. The main entrance of St. Paul's Hospital Main Wing was inscribed with the name 'French Hospital' in Chinese, as shown in the 1920 file photo. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul's Hospital)
The management of the latter two non-profit hospitals was entrusted to Caritas Hong Kong, a local branch of the Catholic Church's charity arm, in 1991 and 1997, respectively. The book also weaves in societal changes and developments in the health care sector, and the impact they had in Hong Kong. It tells of how the hospital survived World War II, as well as, more recently, the influx of pregnant mothers from mainland China. Belgium Scheut Father Patrick Taveirne, vice director of the Center for Catholic Studies, dug into archived records to ensure the historical accuracy of the commemorative text. He visited the archives of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres' headquarters in France, while other members of the research team reviewed historical records from the archives of the congregation in Hong Kong. They also interviewed more than 30 past and present members of staff and Paulist nuns, according to Father Louis Ha, director of the center.