Remember St. Clare's

1950s - The First Decade

1950s | 1st Anniversary | Rev. Msgr. Keane | Photos | News Clips | Headlines

Tenth Anniversary of the Opening of St. Clare’s Hospital
Public Address by Rt. Rev. Msgr. William C. Keane
Sept. 15, 1959

On this day the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the opening of St. Clare’s Hospital. Their first thought is to thank Almighty God for the blessings of the decade that has gone by having our Most. Rev. Bishop, President of the Board of Directors, offer the perfect expression of thanksgiving - the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Sisters’ second thought is to express their gratitude to those who have been closely associated with St. Clare’s during the first ten years of its existence. This they will do in their own way.

I have been asked to say a few words on this happy day. The record of ten years of achievement has been published. One better qualified than I will acknowledge the debt due those responsible for this record.

St. Clare’s Hospital did not just happen. The citizens of Schenectady did not awaken one morning to find Furman’s Woods gone and a beautiful hospital on the site. No, there were many men and women of every creed and race, from every economic and social strata who gave of their time and effort and their savings to make possible the construction of this hospital. It is of these good people that I would speak today.

Time does not permit the treatment the subject deserves. I make bold to suggest that someone be commissioned to write and publish the story of the beginnings of what is now known as St. Clare’s Hospital. Death has thinned the ranks of those who remember. Without a written history, one of the greatest and most successful united efforts of Schenectady’s citizens for the betterment of their city will be lost for future generations.

The story of St. Clare’s goes back 42 years, for it was in 1917 and again in 1918 that Bishop Cusack purchased the property fronting on Bradley Street. A small section of this property is now used for parking and a bit more for an exit to Bradley Street. In 1937 Mr. John Barry, President of Ellis Hospital, visited the director of Catholic Charities of the Albany Diocese and inquired whether the Bishop of Albany planned to build a hospital on this site in the near future. When I questioned Bishop Gibbons, he told me that he would turn over this property to any Religious Community willing to assume the responsibility for the construction of a hospital.

Acting upon the advice of the late Msgr. Joseph O’Connell of Catholic Charities in New York, I spoke with the then Mother Provincial of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Two Sisters came to Schenectady and looked over the property. The matter was taken under advisement. In the meantime, Ellis Hospital was forced to expand its facilities. When a city-wide campaign was announced, Bishop Gibbons sent a letter to be read in all the Catholic Churches of Schenectady urging the people to contribute generously to the Ellis Hospital Campaign.

In the spring of 1942 the secretary of Mr. Furman informed me that Mr. Furman was willing to sell 15 acres here in the very heart of Schenectady at a cost of $15,000 provided that a hospital was erected on the site. It so happened that Bishop Gibbons was Confirming in Schenectady that day. I talked with him after the ceremony. Within the week the Diocese of Albany advanced the money for the purchase of the Furman property. Now we had two pieces of property separated by a paper street listed on the maps as Beck Street. At our request Beck Street, 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, was put up at auction. Our representative bid it in a very low price, thus bridging the gap between the Furman Property and that purchased in 1917 and 18.

In November 1944 Bishop Gibbons called a meeting of all the priests of Schenectady. He informed them that he could no longer resist the demands of Schenectadians, most of them not Catholics, that something be done towards providing their city with a Sisters Hospital. Following a general discussion, Bishop Gibbons appointed a committee of priests to sound out public opinion and discover means of providing Schenectady with a second hospital. The most important step was to organize an effective Executive Committee to lay plans for financing this gigantic effort. On this committee, Catholics were in the minority. It was this committee that did most of the work in arranging a meeting of 300 outstanding citizens of Schenectady. This meeting was held at the Van Curler Hotel on June 18, 1945. The need for additional hospital beds and the cost was thoroughly explained.

A formal resolution having been passed to go ahead with the construction of the Sisters Hospital, the first campaign with a goal of one million two hundred thousand dollars was opened in August 1945. Pledges in the amount of one million five hundred thousand dollars were received. We felt that we had the money in hand to build St. Clare’s.

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held in the home of Bishop Gibbons in Albany, it was decided to employ York and Sawyer as Architects. The contract for general construction was awarded Irons and Reynolds. The restrictions placed on construction during the war years were still in effect. Many trips were made to Washington before permission was granted by the C.P.A. to start the building. Ground was broken on October 26, 1946. Construction started. In the meantime, prices rose sharply. The escalator clauses in the contract became effective. At one time it seemed that we might have to roof in the building, board it up and let it stand as a monument to failure. The people of Schenectady would not have this happen. They decided on a second campaign held in 1948 in which over a million dollars was pledged.

The work progressed slowly due to the fact that it was difficult, indeed, almost impossible to secure skilled artisans.(The block and bricks of which this Hospital were constructed were laid by five men.) The cornerstone was laid on June 13, 1948.

It was a happy day indeed when, on August 12, 1949, St. Clare’s Hospital was dedicated. On September 1st, the Hospital opened its doors for the care of the sick and unfortunate.

The list of those who offered counsel and leadership in the tow campaigns for St. Clare’s Hospital is long. It was not by intention to mention any names this morning. However, since the names of some gentlemen who spoke at the dinner meeting held June 18, 1945 have appeared in the press, I feel that in justice we should place in the record the names of those who were the real leaders.

Thank God, Mr. Cushing, Mr. Shaffer, Mr. English and Dr. Gazeley are with us today. Many others have gone to God.

Mr. Laurence Magner, President of the Schenectady Trust Company, was Chairman of the Executive Committee that arranged for all meetings in connection with the campaign and was Chairman of the fund-raising drive of 1945. Most of the meetings of the Executive Committee were held in his office. It was he who, with Bishop Gibbons and Sister Mamerta, Mother Aquilina became ill on the trip to Schenectady, turned over the first spadeful of dirt for the construction of this building. It was he who sat with me in St. Luke’s Parish Hall when, because of a shortage of funds, it was decided over our protests to roof over the hospital, board up the windows and let the building stand until more cash was in hand. Mr. Magner was crushed but he was not defeated. He brought together his old committee. His health was failing. It was evident that a second campaign was necessary. At this point Mr. Henry Shaffer stepped forward and agreed to be our leader in the second fund-raising campaign. Two successful campaigns for the same cause within a period of three years set a record in fund-raising. The result was a marvelous tribute to the leadership and generosity of Mr. Henry Shaffer.

Those of us who sat in on the meeting at Bishop Gibbons’ home when a list of twelve architects was sifted out, will never forget the work of Ezra Talmadge, Vice President of the G.E. Realty Corporation. Having trimmed the list to three, he went to New York and by hard work made a fee arrangement with York and Sawyer which eventually saved us $50,000.

We must not forget Mr. Roy Muir who secured such a magnificent gift from the General Electric Company. Nor must we overlook Jess Howell, Wendell Nelson and Ed Wallingford who made arrangements to solicit all General Electric employees within the plant and to have the amount pledged deducted from their pay.

Mr. Howard Wright and Mr. David TerBush have given generous contributions to both campaigns and as members of the Executive committee, worked hard in smoothing out the rough spots in the road we traveled.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the late Joe Connelly. Joe had worked on all sorts of campaigns in the city. He was everybody’s friend. He was in a position to ask other influential people to help us in our campaign. He was a great force in recruiting our campaign workers and spreading good will.

Then last but not least, Dr. William E. Gazeley who represented the medical profession on the Executive Committee and who made his home available for meetings with members of the County Medical Society to study and criticize the original sketches and plans. Dr. Gazeley was a wise and devoted advisor on many technical points.

All we can do this morning is to express our gratitude to these and all others who made possible the opening of this hospital ten years ago. May God bless them.

In our ambitious plans for expansion and development, may we never forget that without their zeal, their devotion and their sacrifices, we would not be gathered here today.

1950s | 1st Anniversary | Rev. Msgr. Keane | Photos | News Clips | Headlines