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Moments in Time
Hospital origins

By Gary Macy

Christians can be proud to know that they virtually invented hospitals. Christians early on began to take care of the poor and sick in their neighborhoods. By the year 251, the church in Rome supported more than 1,500 widows and needy persons, all of whom were “fed by the grace and kindness of the Lord.” Two great figures in fourth century Christianity, St. Fabiola of Rome and St. Basil of Caesarea went further and built large complexes with their personal fortunes. Basil’s “new city, the storehouse of piety,” contained hospices, training facilities for those out of work and, of course, areas to tend the sick. St. Jerome wrote of Fabiola, “Was there a naked or bedridden person who was not clothed with garments supplied by her? Were there ever any in want to whom she failed to give a quick and unhesitating supply? Even Rome was not wide enough for her pity.” And, oh yes, all for free.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego. He may be reached at macy@pwa.acusd.edu

National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 1999