My old history: Columbus Hospital Chicago and Saint Frances Cabrini

I grew up in the midst of cornfields and went to a small town college in the midst of cornfields. Illinois has a lot of cornfields. Going to elementary and high school in a small town surrounded by farms, most kids knew me and knew I had a Japanese mom. But in college, nobody knew me and kids thought nothing of asking “what are you” and “where are you from—no, really.” Sometimes I wanted to say I was from Mars, but other times I wanted to scream, “I am a human being born in Chicago—Illinois!” Some years ago I learned there is a term for this being sick and tired of being asked about your race by strangers, it’s called “racial fatigue.”

Recently, while working on my big project digitizing old print photos—still not done and I have “digitizing fatigue”—I came across a very old photo of the Chicago lakefront hospital where I was born. I couldn’t find any lakefront hospital on Google Maps and asked my dad its whereabouts. All he remembered was that it was in Lincoln Park (not in the zoo!). Nope, no lakefront hospital but I saw a park pavilion that is in my old photo. Then I remembered I was born in Columbus Hospital. I researched it.

Columbus Hospital was founded by Italian Catholic immigrant Mother Frances Cabrini in 1905. Mother Cabrini worked in this hospital and died there in 1917. She is known in New York, Chicago, and across the U.S. and worldwide for her missions to educate and provide health care for the poor, especially immigrants and orphans. Many churches, schools, and hospitals are named after her. Mother Cabrini was the first U.S. person to be canonized as a saint (1946). After her death, her room at Columbus Hospital became a pilgrimage destination until a shrine was built for her on the grounds in 1955. My parents, not being Catholic, did not bring newborn me to pay homage to Saint Cabrini else maybe I would not have gotten that terrible sickness when I was a wee tot (apparently measles complications, prior to vaccine development). On the other hand, perhaps by nearness of her caring spirit I did survive.

In 2002 Columbus Hospital was closed and, lakefront property being in high demand, later demolished to build a luxury condo. A big miracle was that Mother Cabrini’s shrine was left alone to be refurbished and re-dedicated in 2012. I can see the very tall high rise on Google Maps, with the short national shrine attached behind it—a strange combination. Across the street from the high rise is the Lincoln Park Gazebo along the shore of the North Pond. That gazebo is in the old photo I have! It helped me find where the hospital used to be, before I remembered the name. Mother Cabrini is thought of as Chicago’s saint and is the patron saint of immigrants.

I found only a couple actual photos of Columbus Hospital, Chicago, online so am posting mine (from my dad) here in case others want to see it within its setting of late 1950s. It is taken from the east side of the North Pond, looking west to the hospital and the gazebo that’s still there.


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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