Editor’s Note: This is the third in a multi-part blog series recognizing and honoring the women and men whose vision and hard work built the foundation upon which Fletcher Allen – soon to be The University of Vermont Medical Center – sits. The first blog post was about Mary Fletcher, and the second was about Fanny Allen.
We now consider the legacy of Bishop DeGoesbriand and the hospital named for him, which plays a large role in what will soon become The University of Vermont Medical Center.
Just three years before Fanny Allen’s death in 1819, in a town called Saint-Urbain, Finistere in Brittany, France, Louis Joseph Marie Theodore DeGoesbriand was born. When he grew up, he embraced a clerical vocation and carried out his seminary training at the famed Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1840. Father DeGoesbriand immigrated to the United States soon thereafter and held the post of pastor for seven years in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served as Vicar General from 1847 to 1853 in the Diocese of Cleveland.
On July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX called him to Burlington to serve as Vermont’s first Roman Catholic Bishop. At that time, there were only 10 Catholic churches in the state. During a European trip in 1855, he recruited priests from Ireland and France to join him in his work. By the end of his episcopate, Bishop DeGoesbriand had added 30 new parishes to the diocese and had multiplied the number of priests tenfold. He travelled extensively around Vermont ministering to its people, including many immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Italy and other countries. His personal motto was “Deus Providebit” (“God will provide”).
Bishop DeGoesbriand personally purchased a large piece of land facing the University of Vermont green at the corner of Pearl and Green Streets (now South Prospect) and established the first orphanage in Vermont. The orphanage later grew and moved to North Avenue, in the building now owned by Burlington College. Later, the bishop’s property was used by St. Joseph’s College. The year after his death in 1899, the building was torn down. The property remained empty for years.
Meanwhile, Fanny Allen Hospital, established in 1894 in a repurposed hotel, was already proving too small to handle the needs of the community. Furthermore, the growing University of Vermont Medical School needed a larger patient base for training medical students. An idea began to take shape: Bishop DeGoesbriand’s land in Burlington, with its close proximity to the medical school, would be an ideal location for a more modern hospital. Bishop Rice, the successor to Bishop Michaud, who had built Fanny Allen Hospital, saw the 1916 centenary of DeGoesbriand’s birth as a perfect opportunity to honor the founding bishop’s life with a fitting memorial: naming the new hospital for him. The new hospital, DeGoesbriand Memorial Hospital, would add to the medical services already provided by both the Fanny Allen and Mary Fletcher Hospitals.
Fundraising began, but World War I put the project on a slow track. In 1922, construction finally started, and the hospital opened in September 1924. The DeGoesbriand Memorial Hospital was initially staffed by 15 nuns who came over from Fanny Allen Hospital. Demand was high; patients were admitted before the sisters were fully settled into their new home. By October, 50 patients were being cared for at the new hospital. A nurses’ training program was added in 1927, so three schools were operating simultaneously in the area. This continued into the 1960 and 70s.
Over the years, several wings were added to the DeGoesbriand Memorial Hospital: St. Joseph’s Pavilion in 1948 and Arnold Pavilion in 1961. The institution became an integral part of full-service hospital care in Burlington and is part of our academic medical center today. Bishop DeGoesbriand surely would have been pleased!
Sarah L. Dopp has been an employee at the Fletcher Allen Laboratory for 45 years. She is the past president of the Vermont Historical Society and is the current president of the Chittenden County Historical Society. The topic for her next blog post is the University Health Center.