ST. FRANCIS — Donations are being requested after a fire broke out Wednesday, Sept. 9 in the surgical ward at the St. Jude Hospital in Vieux Fort on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, destroying one of the three wings of the hospital. While the official cause of the fire is yet to be determined, it is believed an electrical problem caused the wing to catch fire.

The 110-bed hospital has medical, surgical, maternity and pediatric wards, two operating rooms, recovery room, intensive care, emergency room, pharmacy, laboratory, X-ray, ultrasound and physical therapy.

According to Sister of the Sorrowful Mother Mary Mark Schilling, former plant manager for St. Jude, the surgical unit, intensive care unit, labs and laundry areas were all destroyed in the fire, and three patients were killed.

Contributions to the
St. Jude Hospital
Rehabilitation Fund

can be sent to
Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother,
P.O. Box 453, Vieux Fort,
St. Lucia, West Indies.

Critical patients receiving treatment at St. Jude before the fire began, were taken to a hospital in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, about an hour away from St. Jude. Patients with less serious conditions were taken to nearby clinics.

The hospital was built by the United States Army during World War II, where the wounded from South Africa were flown to receive medical attention. After the war, the hospital was then stripped and abandoned.

In the early 1960s, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Assisi founded in 1883 in Rome, Italy, were sent to serve on the small island, and two years later the St. Lucia government asked them to re-establish the hospital.

Sr. Mark was an engineer at that time, and eagerly took up the task of redoing the hospital.

“I went to St. Lucia and helped put the thing back together,” she explained in a phone interview with your Catholic Herald. “I’m a licensed electrician and a licensed power engineer, and a licensed high power boiler operator, and I also learned welding. I helped so that we got generators for the hospital because the power at that time could not hold the power at the hospital.”  

“I’m not sure what the government is going to do,” Sr. Mark said about the future of the hospital. “Our sisters had the hospital for over 25 years, and then the government wanted to take it over.”

Nine Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother work in pastoral care at the hospital owned by the government.

According to the St. Lucia government Web site, donations are pouring in as news of the fire spreads.

Sr. Mark, who spent 21 years on the island and now attends Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee while serving at her order’s motherhouse, believes that people of the Milwaukee Archdiocese can be just as proactive when it comes to helping out.

“I think funds, mostly,” she said about what the hospital and the people of St. Lucia need right now. “(The sisters) called me just a few hours after this thing started, so I don’t know what the government is going to do. I’m hoping they are going to request foreign help to put it back together, but we have sisters who are stationed there yet, and some had been working in the hospital.”

In addition to government funding, St, Jude relied on financial support from volunteer organizations in the U.S. and abroad.