The link between caring for the sick as a result of one’s religious
beliefs can be traced back to the time of Jesus, who modeled healing and
compassion for those on the margins of society throughout his public ministry
and set in motion an example for his followers to emulate. In West Texas,
people of faith had participated in ministries of healing for some time.
When the Sisters of St. Joseph’s officially assumed operation of
Plains Hospital in 1939, a formalized connection was established and later
reinforced when the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist
Church took over at Lubbock Memorial Hospital in 1954.
“I am so proud of my community in coming to West Texas,” said
Sr. Mary Therese Sweeney of St. Joseph Health Ministry and former chair
of the Covenant Health governing board in Lubbock. “We came there
in 1939, and the Dust Bowl had not moved on. So we were not moving to
the land of milk and honey. I am so proud of us for not looking for a
place that was just wealth and ease.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph, based in Orange, California, arrived in West
Texas when there was a small Catholic population but big need for a faith-based
ministry. The price of the Plains Hospital was $38,000, but when insurance,
a lien and other fees were included, the cost was actually $57,901.26,
a great deal of money in the aftermath of the Depression.
“We were able to accomplish getting the money by a number of techniques,”
Sr. Mary Therese said. “I want to call it finagling. Working with
Bishop Robert Lucey in Amarillo. Sometimes it was stalling, waiting a
little bit to pay because if the Sisters of St. Joseph were working in
the hospital, then the income from their work would help pay for the hospital.”
Through time and tenderness, the Sisters became not only established in
Lubbock, but also connected to the community’s leaders and decision makers.
“In the early days, it was sometimes difficult to get Sisters to
go to Lubbock because of the distance,” said Sr. Suzanne Sassus.
“It took a long time and some thought they wouldn’t get to
see their families or get back. But those who did go loved the people
of Lubbock and created many dear relationships through the years.”
One of the most beloved was Sr. Maureen Van der Zee, who served a short
stint in Lubbock and then returned in 1960 as administrator of St. Mary
of the Plains, a position she held for 23 years. Sr. Maureen passed away
in 2002 but not before leaving an indelible imprint on the region’s
health-care landscape as well as a generation of people.
“She was a strong administrator,” said Sr. Marian Schubert.
“It was hard for her to separate herself from being the CEO. That
came out of her deep love of the people, which was a reflection of her
love of God and her commitment to the service and the ministry in Lubbock.”
Sr. Maureen also played an important part in the success of the Texas Tech
School of Medicine with St. Mary serving as its original teaching hospital.
When the school opened, classes met at St. Mary until facilities were
constructed to accommodate medical students.
She is credited with leading St. Mary’s 1968 fundraising efforts
that allowed the hospital to move from a 10-bed facility on 19th Street
(near University Avenue) to 145 beds at its current Covenant Children’s
location on 24th Street. Formal dedication of the $1.25 million project
took place in December 1970.
“Faith and Healing – Celebrating Covenant Health’s Century
of Caring” will be available for purchase in early 2018.