with Reminiscences by Sr. Karen Helfenstein
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Manhattan, the first Catholic hospital in New York City, began in a brownstone on East 13th Street in 1849 and grew into a large main campus at West 12th Street and 7th Avenue. The campus included a 783-bed inpatient facility, outpatient practice sites, and a School of Nursing (1892–1999). St. Vincent’s remained the center for health care in the Greenwich Village community until its closure in 2010.
All employees and patients celebrated Christmas at the hospital. Sr. Karen Helfenstein, who graduated from St. Vincent’s School of Nursing in 1966 and entered the Sisters of Charity of New York in 1967, worked as a Registered Nurse for one year and returned to work as Vice President for Community Services, 1983–1990, and Senior Vice President for Mission, 1990–2000. Sr. Karen recalls the activities at the Hospital during the Christmas season:
“The memories I have are gatherings of all kinds during the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The doctors were generous in feasting their department staff. There were parties where administrators served food and gave out presents to staff and song fests among student nurses in the auditorium. As freshman we used some familiar songs and changed the words to Jingle Bells and other familiar tunes so that nursing terms and medical jargon that we were learning was inserted! I sang each Christmas at Penn Station in uniform with friends during commuter time.
We kept the spirit among us even as we fed babies in Pediatrics and newborns in nurseries at midnight on New Year’s Eve, kept IVs running, monitored patients after surgery and changed wound dressings. Often, even as students, we worked on the holidays, evenings and night shifts and weekend days, all of it; that was different for all of us. We helped each other through the experience of being apart from family during the holidays when that was our assignment. The bond we created has lasted a lifetime. I feel honored to have been a part of it all.”
The 17 photographs shown in the gallery depict the joys of the Christmas season as celebrated by the medical family of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Manhattan.
– By Mindy S. Gordon, Archivist