Where Babies Came From: Misericordia Hospital

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Families used to be large and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital was small and far away. So where were all those local babies born?

In 1913, as the neighbourhood grew, Archbishop Prendergast recognized a need and prevailed on the Sisters of Mercy to open a Catholic hospital in West Philadelphia at 54th and Cedar. Reverend Mother (Patricia Waldron) commissioned architect Edwin F. Durang to design an elegant six-story building “flanked by four diagonal wings, the whole forming a St. Andrew’s cross. ” Nursing sisters began training at other Mercy hospitals and also locally at the College of Pharmacy (today’s University of the Sciences) and the Polyclinic Hospital (formerly 20th and South). Our parish was one of several to help with fundraisers.

Misericordia  Hospital was finished and dedicated on June 9, 1918, by Bishop McCort, assisted by our then pastor, Monsignor Crane. The Philadelphia Inquirer announced that “preceding the dedicatory exercises, will be a big parade of the various West Philadelphia parishes,” and “Red Cross units from West Philadelphia parishes will be in line, attired in uniform.”  Later, a “fully equipped motor ambulance” would be presented by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish American Fraternal organization.

Local parishes continued their support through the early years: some of the attractions at a 1921 Lawn Fete included baby clothes and a baby beauty contest; a lamp and lampshade booth; ice cream; a doll table; and a performance by our St. Francis de Sales Boys’ Military Band.

In the beginning, the hospital was prepared “to take care of sick and wounded soldiers and sailors of the United States and nurse them back to health.” The First World War was just  ending as the hospital opened, but the great Influenza epidemic of 1918 was about to begin.

And then there were the babies. Generations of them. Father Hand and his twin brother were both born at Misericordia. Jeannie Jordan and Beth Ellerby were also born there, and Jeannie notes that her father used to feel that after the births of his seven children, he’d paid enough to have a personal stake in the place! Many other local families likely felt the same.

Today, families are smaller, but Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, as it is now known, still serves the region: its “commitment to West Philadelphia is as strong as ever and is an expression of our core values which are rooted in our history, define our present, and direct our future.”

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