Embracing the Call to Serve: Our First 10 Years in Washington Parish

Mar 15, 2024 | About Us

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In 2014, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System embarked on a journey to extend its mission to Washington Parish.

What followed has been a decade of growth and unwavering commitment to serving a rural community with high-quality healthcare at Our Lady of the Angels Health.

Answering the Call

After being asked to help manage what was then known as LSU Bogalusa Medical Center, which was facing closure, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sisters and FMOLHS focused on discernment.

“Discernment is a process of sitting down, discussing and making sure we’re really listening,” Sr. Barbara Arceneaux, FMOL, says. “May we turn our hearts and turn our lives to really listen to the Lord.”

That discernment guided the Sisters’ decision that ultimately led them to say yes to the work in Bogalusa and keep the hospital open. Employing nearly 500 people, Our Lady of the Angels is one of the top three employers in the parish.

“We always go where we are most needed,” Sr. Martha Ann Abshire, FMOL, says. “They would have lost their hospital.” Our health system was already working to keep smaller, vulnerable hospitals from closing, and our health system’s investments have helped Our Lady of the Angels keep its accreditation.

The Sisters embraced the opportunity to provide healthcare in Washington Parish, aligning with their mission of providing care where it’s needed most.

“We, the Sisters, embraced the call to open the mission in Bogalusa with great joy,” says Sr. Uyen Vu, FMOL. At the same time the Sisters were mindful of the challenges, especially ensuring the sustainability of healthcare services in a rural area.

“Serving the community in Bogalusa reminds me of the determination of the first Sisters who went to Pineville, Louisiana, also a rural community, and then on to Monroe to open the first Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady healthcare ministry in 1913,” Sr. Uyen says.

Choosing the Name Our Lady of the Angels

With a deep sense of reverence, the Sisters invoked the intercession of Our Lady of the Angels, believing in her guidance as they embarked on their mission in Bogalusa.

A statue of Our Lady stands at the FMOL Generalate in Paris, and she is surrounded by angels.

 “We don’t know the origin of it, but she is our patroness, Our Lady of the Angels,” Sr. Martha Ann says. “We thought to invoke our Lady, especially our Lady of the Angels in this beautiful small community that needed her intercession with the big boss.”

Our Lady of the Angels is also the name of a worship site where St. Francis and the first Franciscans gathered for meetings and prayers, and it’s where St. Francis died. It’s a holy site located in Assisi within a small Catholic church in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.

“With the name Our Lady of the Angels, it really helped bring to life St. Francis and his ministry,” says Sr. Barbara. “Our Lady of the Angels really spoke to the life and story of St. Francis because his whole life was really refreshed and iterated in the Angels.”

Remembering the 2014 Celebration

The dedication ceremony on March 17, 2014, filled the community with hope and excitement, marking the beginning of a journey for Bogalusa.

“I remember how much the community came out and how much they were so excited,” Sr. Martha Ann remembers.

Sr. Barbara says she felt as if she were walking in the footsteps of St. Francis by extending the healing ministry to Bogalusa. “That was a transforming day for me,” she says.

St. Patrick’s Feast Day

“It was fitting that the facility was officially opened on St. Patrick’s Feast Day in honor of the well-known Irish saint,” Sr. Uyen says. “Many Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sisters who have served in Louisiana are Irish, and St. Patrick is an inspiration and dear to many Sisters.”

After the ceremony, the Sisters toured the hospital. “We were greeted with love and gratitude from our team members,” Sr. Uyen recalls. “I still remember Patsy, Tren and other team members who were so excited when the facility opened. It was a joyous celebration.”

Progress and Growth Over a Decade

Maintaining the hospital was an important first step, but the Sisters and the health system didn’t stop there. Since 2014, they have invested $327 million in the local workforce and more than $24 million in facilities updates and diagnostic equipment.   

“Look what has happened since then,” Sr. Martha Ann says. “We enlarged the emergency room and repainted all of the buildings.” The community continues to have a hospital close to home, and they don’t have to go elsewhere.

“We care for the community as a whole,” Sr. Martha Ann says. “We don’t just care for one segment of the community.”

Imagining a world without Our Lady of the Angels, Sr. Barbara thinks about not only the loss of healthcare access and jobs.

“They also would have lost the beauty of the care, and the dynamics and love that are shown within our team members,” she says. “I can’t imagine Bogalusa without Our Lady of the Angels Hospital.”

Hopes for the Future

The Sisters envision further expansion of healthcare services in Washington Parish, ensuring that every member of the community has access to quality care.

“In the next 10 years, I pray for the ministry to be sustained and expanded,” Sr. Uyen says. “Most of all I pray that the Sisters working with the health system can continue to bring the Spirit of Healing to all those we are privileged to serve.”

Sr. Martha Ann emphasizes our connection to each other.

“In my heart as a Franciscan sister, I am totally dedicated to our ministry,” she says. “And one thing that we must always remember is that we truly are brothers and sisters.”

Staying faithful to the mission across our health system is most important, even if a decision may not serve the bottom line financially, Sr. Martha Ann says.

Our Lady of the Angels Hospital is proud to carry on a long-standing tradition of healthcare for residents of Washington Parish and surrounding areas with a large array of outpatient and inpatient services.

“We are excited to continue extending the healing ministry of Jesus to the people,” Sr. Barbara says. “It’s a challenging and beautiful mission. We are Our Lady of the Angels.”

Our Lady of the Angels Health and our health system remain committed to serving the Washington Parish community. Learn more about the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sisters who sponsor our health system.

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