We still owe Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent’s

As this photo, taken two weeks ago, shows, construction is not too far along on the AIDS memorial at the former St. Vincent’s Triangle. The new park on the triangle, meanwhile, was completed eight months ago. Photo by Tequila Minsky

As this photo, taken two weeks ago, shows, construction is not too far along on the AIDS memorial at the former St. Vincent’s Triangle. The new park on the triangle, meanwhile, was completed eight months ago.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY ARTHUR SCHWARTZ AND MARTIN TESSLER | Walk into the northerly or southerly entrance to the triangular park on Seventh Ave. across from the new Rudin residential incarnation of St. Vincent’s Hospital and you will be greeted by a black in-ground marker resembling a New York City manhole cover. They bear an inscription commemorating the Sisters of Charity’s founding in 1817 and, in turn, their founding of St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1849, at the site, “to care for the poor and disadvantaged” at the outbreak of the cholera epidemic.

A first-time visitor would need to gaze down, bend over and strain to read the inscription to understand the historical link of the park to the Sisters of Charity and the hospital’s service to the Village and to the larger city community.

Other commemorative markers denote how St. Vincent’s was instrumental in caring for survivors of various calamities, such as the sinking of the Titanic, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, among other disasters.

The single most far-ranging health epidemic that signaled St. Vincent’s fearless vanguard outreach to the suffering masses was the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and beyond, when the federal and state governments were barely addressing the issue with funding or clinical service.  While the AIDS crisis was the most recent epidemic in our collective memory, it was only one of a series of St. Vincent’s responses to the health needs of our neighbors over its 161-year existence, before bankruptcy ended the historic hospital’s humanitarian mission.

The park’s landscaping and design layout is highly commendable, as it is a welcoming oasis amid Community Board 2’s gross deficiency of per-capita open space, in which our district ranks at or near the bottom of Manhattan community boards.

What is severely lacking, however, is citywide recognition of the more than a century of service and dedication that St. Vincent’s and its founding Sisters of Charity had devoted to the health and welfare of Villagers and New York City. The hospital was there for all comers, with no questions asked about “What insurance do you have?” but rather, “What is ailing you?”

Never was there any self-interest issue that the sisters of Charity posed that superseded that of the public interest or the Sisters’ health mission to all in need. And this was most apparent during the AIDS crisis when St. Vincent’s and the sisters stood alone in the battle.

There is no question that the dedication of the park warrants recognition of the naming of the Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent’s Hospital as the debt we owe for more than a century and half of devotion to the needs of the “poor and disadvantaged” and all others who were treated at this institution that served all of us. This brings to mind the memorable inaugural address by President John F. Kennedy in January 1961:

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

We must recognize that these manhole resemblances fail to convey our debt to this legacy of brave and selfless service on behalf of the Village and all New York City. The park should thus be named St. Vincent’s Hospital / Sisters of Charity AIDS Memorial Park.

Schwartz is the Village’s male Democratic district leader and a candidate for Assembly in the 66th District; Tessler is co-chairperson, Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031

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