Town fighting to preserve memory of nuns

Following the sale of the former St John of God Hospital in Goulburn (NSW), the new management has removed gold lettering from around the facility's iconic statue of St John of God and plans to paint over original signage on an older section of the building.

The Goulburn Post reports that a local parish priest, Fr Paul McGavin, has branded the moves as "ludicrous," and another attempt to diminish the hospital's identity.

He has also renewed his claims that no-one has proprietary rights over the name 'St John of God.' Under the original contract of sale a year ago, the new owners - the Greater Southern Area Health Service (GSAHS) - were not permitted to use the St John of God name. Instead, it is known as the Bourke Street Health Centre.

THe Post says the agreement provoked a storm of protest, given the facility's long history in Goulburn.

Hospital CEO Mark Dykgraaf said the lettering around the St John of God statue, stating "St John of God Hospital," was removed in the week leading up to what was thought to be the statue's relocation to Perth. However after concerted community lobbying, the owners allowed the statue to stay put.

Despite Mr Dykgraaf's claim, a photo taken by the Post on the day that authorities announced St John would be staying, clearly shows the signage in the background. Now, only the scars of that lettering remain.

On Friday Mr Dykgraaf said the lettering would not be replaced. The St John of God name has also been removed from the hospital's main entrance doors.

The carved logos in the old section of the building will remain but will be painted over in a beige colour to obscure the sign, in line with the agreement. However there is no hurry to do this work.

Mr Dykgraaf said these signs would not be "chiselled off" and he would object very strongly to any attempts to do so because they were a significant part of the hospital's heritage, along with the statue.

"The statue will only remain for the term of the lease (three years), so it is not in perpetuity. At the end of that time it will need to be discussed. My personal view is that it should remain," Mr Dykgraaf said.

Vocal opponent of the name change and statue's removal, Bill Cooper has written to Health Minister John Hatzistergos on this matter and a range of concerns about the hospital.

In a reply received on 30 December, the Minister wrote that the carved logos would be retained, despite being eventually painted over.

He said local management had plans to establish a museum at the main entrance.

The hospital's pastoral care service had retained some crucifixes while the balance went to a newly established Catholic school in Sydney.

"The removal of the icons and crucifixes was done at the behest of the Sisters of St John of God and was part of the contract of sale," Mr Hatzistergos wrote.

Patronising act (Goulburn Post 9/1/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St John of God Goulburn
Goulburn Mulwaree Council
Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn: Taralga Parish

Council move to keep Catholic hospital memory alive (CathNews 19/8/05)

10 Jan 2006