For years, Bill Danaher has provided spiritual care for patients and their families during their time at St. Charles.
As one of the health system’s long-time chaplains, Danaher said he has witnessed extraordinary acts of lifegiving by St. Charles caregivers every day, most of which went largely unnoticed.
“And they would look at it like another ordinary day,” he said. “There is tremendous need, and tremendous people working here to help meet those needs.”
St. Charles’ commitment to compassionate care, he said, is deeply rooted in its humble beginnings. The hospital was founded in 1918 on the banks of the Deschutes River by five Catholic nuns who made it their mission to care for all, or care for none.
As the hospital and the community grew, the torch for compassionate care was passed to Sister Catherine Hellmann, possibly the most well-known and storied figure in St. Charles’ history.
Hellmann first arrived in Bend in 1948, and served as the hospital’s nursing supervisor for three years. After attending management school at the encouragement of her mother superior, Hellmann then returned to serve as CEO from 1969 to 1995. Hellmann was instrumental in the decision to move the hospital in the early 1970s from its cramped downtown location to it current location in east Bend.
Danaher recalls a light-hearted story that Hellmann shared with him regarding the old hospital’s fire escape plan.
“The plan was to use plywood boards and take a mattress with a patient on it, and slide them out of the hospital if it was on fire.”
One winter, when the boards were covered in snow and ice, Hellmann and another nurse decided to go for a joyride — using a bedpan to slide down the board. The fun ended quickly, says Danaher, when the nurse broke her arm.
Danaher compares the staff who worked at St. Charles during the Hellmann era to jet fighters. “They were just flying fast and low. They were here all weekend and late at night.”
Danaher said one evening Hellmann approached a staff member working late, typing away in the dark by herself.
“Sister Catherine asked: ‘What is it you can’t let go of? What are you missing in your life that you can’t live life? You better have a life outside of here, or you’ll have nothing to bring in here.’”
“Sister Catherine,” Danaher said, “was the epitome of the spirit that the founding nuns brought to this hospital — a spirit that continues today with so many people who work here, and will continue to work here long after I’m gone.”