Volunteers help preserve hospital's century-old history

Volunteers help preserve hospital's century-old history

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - When you think of hospital volunteers, chances are you think of those that greet you at the door, answer phones and visit patients. There are so many other unique opportunities for hospital volunteers in Southwest Louisiana. We take you inside a medical museum of sorts at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital where volunteers keep a century old history alive.

A picture of some of the first sisters at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital led to the explosion of a passion for Bernadette Ponton: a volunteer turned founder and curator of the Heritage Center on the third floor of the hospital. "I was given an order at that time by the director of marketing to go and hang this particular picture," she said, "I took off to find a space and in turn, found this space and just kind of increased it a bit!"

A bit indeed! That picture of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is just one piece of history in this space, chocked full of medical memorabilia and the story of how this hospital came to be in 1908. "It's a hidden treasure," said volunteer coordinator, Gene Zimmermann.  "It's such a rich part of our heritage, dating back into the 1800s and it helps us understand where we've come from and where we are now."

Zimmermann helps place those with special interests and talents into the parts of the hospital that can most use it.

For Sister Maura Theriot, that has been all around the hospital, including the Heritage Center.  "We want to be here as long as we can to serve the people," she said.

Two sisters still serve at St. Pat's today, with the same mission from 1908. "Every day I pray, 'Dear Lord: help me to bring your loving, healing presence to all I meet and minister to today,'" said Sister Maura.

Milestones in care happened in these walls during Southwest Louisiana's monstrous hurricanes: Rita in 2005 and deadly Audrey in 1957. "When the patients and their families were brought to this hospital, which played a pivotal role in bringing families together, as well as mending them," said Ponton, "the doctors asked the sisters to tape, with a microphone, the stories from the patients."

Those stories helped determine if Audrey's survivors still had missing family members. The original reel is now on display at the Heritage Center, part of a special collection reverencing those who have gone before: patients, medical staff and ministers. "It's a place to wander into," said Ponton, "it's open 24/7 with meditating music and the lights are always on, so that they can come here and know the healing ministry of Jesus Christ isn't just verbage. That their loved one is being cared for, they're being reverenced, they're being respected, as so many before them."

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital, including the Heritage Center, call 431-7941.

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