Canberra Catholics and staff of Calvary Public Hospital grieved as the compulsory acquisition of Calvary by the ACT Government took effect on 3 July.
The ACT Government took over the Catholic-run hospital from midnight, ending a five-week battle to save it from the takeover—including a failed Supreme Court challenge.
Now named North Canberra Hospital, all of the crucifixes and other religious symbols were removed and staff given unbranded uniforms to wear.
Most of the 1800 staff remain at the hospital, having switched their employer to Canberra Health Services, The Canberra Times reported.
At a farewell gathering on 1 July attended by remaining Sisters of the Little Company of Mary, the congregation that established the hospital, members of staff expressed sadness that the symbol for Christ would be removed from above the building’s entrance.
Intensive Care clinical supervisor and educator Megan Reynolds told the Canberra Catholic Voice that looking up at the cross each day upon entering the building had given staff “the courage to keep going” especially during the peak of the COVID pandemic.
“There was a lot of strength that came from that, and you don’t have to be Catholic to need that,” she said.
“Our message is we have ensured that we have fostered a culture that is holistic and inclusive here at Calvary.
“I hope we can continue with our motivation and integrity to provide the same high standards of care.
“I also hope we still see our pastoral care come around every day – they are so important, not just for patients but for staff as well.”
In his homily the day before the takeover, Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse criticised the haste with which the Christian symbols were removed from Calvary.
He said a nurse had described the feeling of seeing a cross taken down from inside the hospital as “gut-wrenching.”
Archbishop Prowse blessed the hospital for the final time on 1 July and thanked staff who had endured a “traumatic” time since the shock announcement of the takeover on 10 May.
“You are so proudly part of this place, and these few days and this next couple of months are going to be possibly a bumpy ride, but I know in the years ahead—regardless of whether crosses are coming down and the Calvary logo goes—that you will carry the genius of the Calvary insight into humanity and to healthcare wherever you go,” he said.
Speaking early on 2 July as the large blue cross over the front entrance was removed, Calvary’s ACT regional director Ross Hawkins told the Catholic Voice it was a “very sad day” but that Calvary would continue to work in the region through its smaller private hospital and other facilities.
“Calvary has acted with integrity, and while we completely disagree with what the ACT government has done, we will continue to act with integrity to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible for our people,” he said.
Mr Hawkins said the cross had been a source of solace and support for those who entered the hospital.
“It represents our strength and our journey—who we are,” he said.
“Staff and patients are dealing with all kinds of suffering, vulnerability, and loss here, and the cross is important. I see what it means to people.
“We are committed to this community, and while it is a real shame we have lost this wonderful facility, we are not going anywhere.”
Catholic chaplains mourn loss of Calvary Hospital
Fr Joshua Scott, the hospital’s Catholic chaplain from 2018-2020, told The Catholic Weekly that he had felt a “surprising” level of grief on Sunday, seeing a video of the giant cross being removed by a crane.
“Its imprint is still here, but seeing it being lowered down felt like a death, it felt like a coffin being lowered into a grave,” he said.
“The bricks and mortar there have soaked in the spirit of the sisters who founded it.
“What they instilled is that being Christ for others matters the most, that everyone who walked in those front doors mattered and deserved the best care.
“That’s the reason it was so much better than Canberra Hospital.”
The loss of Clare Holland House, a palliative hospice attached to the hospital, also felt tragic, he said.
“The moment you walked in you noticed a feeling of gentle peace about the place.”
The current Catholic chaplain Fr Alex Osborne said he expected it will be “business as normal” for him.
Although the Blessed Sacrament is no longer being kept in the chapel and the sanctuary lamp was going to be removed, he said he is on call for emergencies and planned to visit later in the week.
He said that the staff’s biggest concern for the past five weeks was that the hospital’s culture would change once it comes under government control.
“It’s a very valid concern as culture is always influenced by leadership and management, but it is determined by how people live and work,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“Even though the hospital is no longer Catholic, it doesn’t mean that our doctors and nurses can’t be Catholic.
“A Catholic ethos will only ever cease when Catholics stop living it out.
“Although the change of ownership makes this harder in some ways, we must still try our best to live out our ministry of care and healing.”
The new hospital general manager Elaine Pretorius said it will function as a separate entity from Canberra Hospital but “will sit under a single banner.”
The takeover faced a storm of opposition, including senior doctors and nurses at the hospital, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, and Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation ACT, and the Human Rights Law Alliance.
More than 40,000 people signed the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese’s petition to save the hospital.