The history of Our Lady of Health Hospital is intertwined with the history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Thanjavur, bifurcated from the Padroado Diocese of Mylapore (Chennai) which was established in 1606. The new Diocese came into existence from 13th November, 1952 with Sacred Heart Church in Thanjavur as its Cathedral and Rt. Rev. R. A. Sundaram as the first bishop from 4th February, 1953. Under his able leadership the diocese developed in the spiritual, educational, social and health spheres.
As we look at the annals of the Diocese of Thanjavur, Rt. Rev. R. A. Sundaram was well known for his vision and enterprises. The district headquarters, Thanjavur town lacked proper medical facilities in those days. The bishop felt the urgent need for a good hospital to provide quality medication to the poor and the needy. So he bought a piece of land at Arulananda Nagar in the outskirts of Thanjavur and constructed a building which would become the cradle for many babies to be born.
To manage this hospital, he invited the sisters of the Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (SMMI) who had been serving in Tranquebar with dedication and missionary spirit. SMMI sisters are known for their expertise in health ministry and also for their deep love for the poor and the sick. Rev. Sr. Lucienne (1961-1962) was the first superior to lead the health ministry. The hospital was started on 5th April 1961 just as a maternity clinic and it was named ‘Our Lady of Health Maternity clinic’. It was opened by the Honorable Minister Lourdammal Simon, the then Minister for Local Administration. It had a humble beginning for the great things to follow in the years to come. The noble profession of nursing care was handled both professionally and compassionately by the Sisters.
Rt. Rev. R. A. Sundaram had special interest in the welfare of the hospital and encouraged the Sisters to fulfill his dream of helping the needy sick people. Though it was started as a maternity clinic, later on medical patients were also treated. The people of the town had patronized Our Lady of Health Hospital and because of the interest and enthusiasm shown by the Rt. Rev. R. A. Sundaram, it was popularly known as ‘Andavar Hospital’ which would mean ‘Bishop’s Hospital’. Through the years, the hospital stood as one of the best hospitals in the town for the quality service and medical care. It was known as the charity hospital in the town where the health of the patients was the first priority. The medical care and the selfless service of the Sisters and the staff and above all the blessings of Our Lady of Good Health bring happy memories of this great medical ministry.
Our Lady of Health Hospital as we see it today had grown like a banyan tree with many buildings, departments and facilities. Infrastructures have been provided in course of time through the vision and planning of the bishops and SMMI Sisters.
As the need for treating the patients grow apart from the maternity section, the out-patient department came into existence. Along with the resident doctor, many doctors were invited to treat patients of different ailments. Thus what was started as a ‘Maternity Clinic’ became a ‘General Hospital’ in 1964 and from then onwards there was no turning back. People from the town and the surrounding villages had placed their confidence in the hospital and the fame spread far and wide. Though the hospital served all sections of the people irrespective of caste, creed and economic status it should be mentioned that the hospital was haven for the poor and the middle class. This hospital provided health care at an unimaginable low cost besides treating the patients with patience and dignity.
Realizing the need to provide better facility for the patients, the building was extended. It was blessed by Rt. Rev. R. A. Sundaram and opened by Very Rev. Sr. Therese Luc, Superior General of SMMI congregation on 18 October, 1977.
Bishop R. A Sundaram, a visionary saw his dream fulfilled as the hospital received enormous patronage from people and had earned the goodwill of the people. He encouraged, guided and cherished the selfless service of the SMMI Sisters, the doctors and the staff who worked in the hospital.
Since charity was the primary motive than money, the bishops who followed also made it a point to walk in the footsteps of bishop Sundaram. They spent everything for the development of the hospital by way of providing infrastructures, facilities and for the maintenance. With this same spirit of service, this non-profited organization continues to serve to the needy and the poor all these years.
It should be mentioned that Dr. Gopala Krishnan, an eye specialist started his practice in Our Lady of Health Hospital admitting his patients in the hospital and he was housed in Bishop’s quarters at Pookara Street. He served in this hospital for many years with commitment and then started his own clinic. His sons, following the footsteps of their father serve in this hospital with the same dedication.
Bishop Packiam Arokiasamy was instrumental in giving momentum to the work begun by his predecessor. He encouraged the SMMI sisters to continue the noble medical mission and showed his appreciation of their service.
Bishop Devadass Ambrose, a man of vision had taken it as his mission to improve the hospital not only to give better service to the sick but also to make it a training center for the nursing school and college which he would eventually start in Thanjavur. In the history of the hospital Bishop Devadass Ambrose made an indelible mark with his special attention for the hospital and its development. In his time, the hospital has risen to great heights with the construction of magnificent buildings and the provision of necessary facilities.
The bishop, Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose dreamed to uplift the living standard of the poor girls of the locality by starting Our Lady of Health School and College of Nursing who could study, get employment and become self reliant.
With dedicated staff and management the students are having their best education in nursing. It should be noted that this college stands as one of the top listed colleges in Tamil Nadu for nursing.
From the very beginning of the existence of Our Lady of Health Hospital, the pioneer SMMIs along with the hospital work used to go for village visits, meeting the individuals in the families, provided medical care for the sick through mobile clinics, conducting Mother and Child Health Programme, Health Education, Value Education, initiated Small Savings Scheme, etc. Through these social and health activities, a rapport was built between the people and the Sisters.
It is amazing to know that there was no bus conveyance to Arulananda Nagar from the Bus-station in those days. It was so very difficult for the sick especially the mothers in Labor-pain to reach this hospital. The sisters along with the people courageously took the bold step to approach the Government officials to have the bus facilities to Arulananda Nagar. Thank God, the petition was readily granted. Then onwards, the flow of the patients was increased to the hospital.
By divine providence and through the eminent leadership and animation of the following superiors the hospital is kept growing steadily even today.
Our Lady of Health Hospital stands as a witness of collaboration of the diocese of Thanjavur and the SMMI congregation in the health ministry. Each Bishop of this diocese had appreciated and recognized the selfless service of the Sisters of SMMI Congregation and had given them a free hand to develop the hospital. Each administrator of the hospital had contributed a great deal of zeal and hard work in this process. The team spirit and hard work of doctors, staff and sisters in caring and providing quality health care to the patients helped to achieve the NABH standard-entry level in the year 2017. When emotions run high in administering hospitals, Our Lady of Health hospital quietly sails through the times as a success story of mutual respect and freedom for the service of the sick poor.
Our Lady of Health Hospital is the heartbeat of the diocese of Thanjavur. Now with the addition of the nursing school and college the urgency for more development has become inevitable. Hence, Bishop Devadass Ambrose has the plans for a leap in the development of the hospital with many more departments. It will coincide with the training needs of the nursing school and college students.
The success story of healing ministry at Thanjavur in the name of ‘Our Lady of Health Hospital’ had a humble beginning with 16 beds but now it has the capacity of 200 beds to accommodate the patients. What was started as a small clinic has become a fully grown banyan tree. It branches and roots by taking many forms like nursing school and college, and it is further ready to expand as per the needs of the time. The vision of the successive bishops and the dedication of the SMMI Sisters and the staff initiated this great health mission. It continues to grow under the leadership of the present Bishop Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose and is marching towards further growth and expansion. As we look at our health ministry we are happy about the past success and at the same time we look to the future which needs more attention and hard work and we are prepared for this challenge.
“Yours O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours: yours is the kingdom, O Lord and you are exalted as head above all”. (1Chronicles 29:11)