Rosary Sisters: Focusing Their Energy on Providing Medical Services

Editor’s Note: Earlier this summer, CNEWA received two grants, including one for $925,000 from a member of the Holy Land Christians Society, to support five Catholic hospitals in Lebanon. Combined with a grant of $300,000 from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the grants cover salaries for 1,093 doctors and nurses over a 12-month period at Geitaoui Hospital in the heart of Beirut; the nearby Rosary Sisters Hospital; St. Joseph Hospital in Dora; Tel Chiha Hospital in Zahleh; and Bhannes Medical Center in Dahr el Sawan, near Beirut. The grants stabilize for now the institutions whose financial resources have run dangerously low since the collapse of Lebanon’s economy. Our feature on Rosary Sisters is part of a five-part series profiling each of these facilities.

Father Joseph Tannous, a diocesan priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Mother Marie Alphonsine established the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters in Jerusalem in 1880. With time, the congregation established convents in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Today, the congregation has 250 sisters.

For years the Rosary Sisters worked in several hospitals in Lebanon and abroad until 1986, when they acquired Haddad Hospital, located in Gemmayze, a central neighborhood in Beirut. The hospital, which consisted of one building with a capacity of 50 beds at the time, was renamed Haddad Hospital – Rosary Sisters. 

In 1990, at the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the Rosary Sisters focused their energy on expanding and improving their medical services. They first added a nutrition service and a modern radiology department. Five years later, they renovated their medical laboratory equipment and, in 1997, acquired a CT scan. The intensive care unit was modernized in 1999.

In 2000, the congregation bought the adjacent plot of land to expand what today is known simply as the Rosary Sisters Hospital. The new building was inaugurated in 2011 and brought the hospital’s capacity to 200 beds.

Rosary Sisters Hospital entrance, Lebanon.
A photo and flowers outside the main entrance to the Rosary Sisters Hospital in August 2021 commemorate a nurse who died in the Beirut port blast one year earlier. (photo: Maroun Bassil)

The new building holds the emergency room, the intensive care unit, sterilization and surgery rooms and the medical imagery and administrative services. In 2013, a new cardiac catheterization department was inaugurated. In 2015, the new building opened a maternity floor with 25 beds. 

By 2016, the hospital was completely modernized and in line with international standards. The ophthalmology department, equipped with high-end machinery, and the breast cancer unit are considered the hospital’s crowning jewels.

Today, the Rosary Sisters Hospital admits an average of 13,000 patients per year. The sisters’ philosophy is rooted in a system of care, solidarity and accessibility to all patients without distinction of nationality or religion.

However, the turbulence that Lebanon has witnessed in recent years has deeply affected health care providers, and the Rosary Sisters Hospital is no exception.

The hospital facilities are located close to the Beirut port, barely 800 meters away from the epicenter of the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded. The ignition of 2,750 tons of ill-stored ammonium nitrate on 4 August 2020, devastated Beirut and severely damaged this hospital, including the new machinery acquired in 2016.

Rosary Sisters Hospital, Lebanon, after reconstruction
Rosary Sisters Hospital after its restoration, following the Beirut port blast. (photo: Raghida Skaff)

However, thanks to the building renovations undertaken in 2016, patients and hospital staff were spared the worst. The explosion did not shatter the modern material of their glass windows, protecting them from the severe and fatal injuries that many residents in the area suffered when the shockwave pulverized old windows.

After the blast, the hospital was not operational for two months and the cost of repairs was evaluated at $12 million. Although the majority of the reconstruction has been completed, some repair work is still ongoing.

In the past three years, Lebanon has plunged into its deepest economic depression bringing the health care sector to the brink of collapse. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, decimating worker salaries. For instance, a nurse’s monthly salary in pre-crisis times was the equivalent to about $1,200; today, this same salary is worth roughly $50.

As a result, many health care personnel have emigrated from Lebanon. This brain drain has severely impacted the Rosary Sisters Hospital, which in the last two years has lost 20 percent of its personnel.

Rosary Sisters is one of the five hospitals to benefit from CNEWA’s grant for health care workers. The hospital management estimates that without this funding, they would lose likely 50 percent of its staff in the next six months.

Priest talks to a Religious Sister at the Rosary Sisters Hospital in Lebanon.
From left to right, Michel Constantin, director of CNEWA’s regional office in Beirut, Msgr. Peter I Vaccari, CNEWA president, and Sister Nicolas Akiki, general director of Rosary Sisters Hospital. (photo: Maroun Bassil)

The crisis can also be felt among patients. Given the devaluation of the currency, hospital bills have become out of reach for a large portion of the population in Lebanon. For example, a hip replacement, which costs about $6,000, equates to more than a year’s salary for most workers.

Similar to other medical centers in Lebanon, one of the biggest challenges for the Rosary Sisters Hospital today is to cover its exorbitant electricity bill. The inability of the Lebanese government to provide more than a few hours of electricity per day forces the hospital to use power generators that consume fuel, the price of which has skyrocketed since the Lebanese government lifted its fuel subsidies. The hospital spends more than $90,000 per month to ensure the 24-hour daily supply of electricity and this expenditure is draining its financial resources.

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