St. Martha's Hospital, Bangalore (1886)

The History of St. Martha's Hospital

Down the Arches of the Years - 1886 to 1986 ... 1997

Click Clack Click go the wheels of the cart over the narrow, dusty roads, as yet untarred, between Pondicherry and Bangalore. It will take twelve days to cover the ground, but neither the dust, nor the loneliness, nor the dread of the unknown, can deter the valiant women, aged 18 to 26 years, who sit in this cart, absorbing the shocks of the way with serenity and calm. They have already come a long way, from Germany, France and Ireland. Now the end is in sight - Bangalore- a City enriched by its long and varied history, and in this year of 1854, the local seat of the British Raj. Education of young girls of the City was a keenly felt need, and Bishop Charbonneaux MEP had called on the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in France for assistance, during one of his rare visits to his homeland.

The Congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters was already spread over the five Continents - having been founded in 1829 by Sr. M. Euphrasia, a youthful nun of 29 years who was appalled by the aftermath of the French Revolution. A grave consequence of this bloody era in French history, apart from decimating the population, was the terrible disruption of family life. Young girls were prematurely ejected into a cruel and uncaring society, where, lonely and lost, they became victims of the evils so common in such situations. Sr. M. Euphrasia had soon opened numerous houses where these young people could find refuge, and where they were prepared to meet, with their own strength and conviction, the evils which they would encounter. She was surely a Mother Teresa of the 19th century, though the modern media were not then in existence to make her impact felt, as vividly and as speedily. Inspired by her ideals and by her motto, 'one person is of more value than a world', the 5000 Sisters who joined her during the 30 years of her intense activity, had dispersed far and wide. It was one such little group that now arrived in Bangalore on the 15th August 1854.

School for girls, homes for orphans, shelters for teenagers and young women in distress, turned what used to be a dark and deary prison on Museum Road, into a haven of peace and prosperity. Though in some of the walls of the old buildings, the rings for the convicts' shackles can still be seen, no shadow of prison life darkens the brightness shed all around, by the thousands of young pupils who from those pioneer days onwards spread the fragrance of youthful joy and gladness over this once somber site.

The decade of the years, 1870 - 1880, in Mysore Kingdom, witnessed series if calamities beginning with two years of drought, and followed by famine and plague. It is in record that a million people form the Kingdom perished in these catastrophes. The general health of the people of Bangalore touched an all-time low; illness of every kind followed on this lowered resistance, and death was a familiar visitor to many of the families in the City.

In Europe, Florence Nightingale had already won a battle against a military system which condemned to certain death, the young and valiant men who had given their lives for their country. With courage and determination, she won from the British Government the resources ad personnel she needed to bring the comfort sorely needed to the military hospital in Crimea. In France, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul pursued a similar activity for the most neglected, the rejected, and the sick in the back alleys and slums of the country's cities and towns. To whom could the people of Bangalore look?

God always weeps with His suffering people. He searches for hearts, minds and hands, willing to be used to bring them His comfort and love. Sr. Visitation Leusch, Superior of the Good Shepherd Congregation at Bangalore, was one such person. Years before, she had offered herself to Him with ardour and complete generosity - waiting on His will. She had not looked back on the affluence she had left behind, but remained steadfast in her search and care for His marginalised and abandoned ones. It was to her that He now revealed His concern for the sick and the suffering of the City, and inspired her with the idea of founding a hospital where they could find a haven in times of distress.

It was not easy to launch out on such a project. The hurdles seemed unsurmountable, and they came from many sides. Some Superiors did not understand why Good Shepherd Sisters should take on medical work which was alien to the primary objective of their Congregation. Many Sisters in the community opposed the project with the intention of remaining faithful to the work entrusted to them when coming to Bangalore. Government officials also raised many objections; 'how it is possible,' they asked 'for a single woman, not trained in medical skills, to consider starting a hospital?'. Many priests too of the diocese asked questions. But God gave Sr. Visitation a friend in Fr. Bonnetraine, a French priest, who immediately grasped her deal, - one that had touched a chord already in his own heart. These two would thenceforth be united in a common search to achieve the distant goal. The support they gave each other made them co-founders of St. Martha's Hospital which today celebrates it's 100th anniversary ( 1886 - 1986). It stands as a monument, not just top their labour and toil, and that of the many who followed their footsteps down the years, but above all, to God's concern and love for His people - of a God who will intervene to help His people as long as He finds hands and hearts, ready to be channels of that love and concern.

A site of 20 acres was donated by the Maharaja of Mysore - Chamaraja Wodeyar X on July 28, 1884. It was the eve of the feast of St. Martha, the friend of Jesus to whose house He would often go to seek rest and repose from wearying journeys. What better patron could there be for a hospital which would continue to receive Him as a guest in His suffering people? A Site and a Name! But what about the money needed t put up the buildings? Appeals were sent out to friends of the Sisters, well-wishers, and the people of the City. A good portion of the expenses was met from the wealthy Leusch family; the French Foreign Mission Fathers, and the people of Bangalore also contributed according to their means. The 'widow's mite' was as gratefully received and meticulously entered into the books, as the large donations of the wealthy. The bricks and stones of the building symbolized the toil and sweat of the ordinary people who were caught up in the vision of the founders. It would be a "peoples' hospital", and such it has remained to this day.

A small dispensary, with some bets attached, already existed in the market area nearby, known as the Pettah, and was administered by the Mysore Government. The medical staff of this dispensary gave their service e to the emerging hospital for a few years. The two were "amalgamated" in 1887, but a difference in the approach in the caring for the sick left much to be desired in this relationship. After it had existed for a year, the Sisters asked for its dissolution which was ultimately brought about in 1892. In 1893, the Government of Mysore built in Bangalore City a 700 bed hospital, now the well-known "Victoria Hospital".

St. Martha's nevertheless continued to grow, but another storm was brewing. Rather, the 'sleeping giant' of the earlier controversy was awakened. The brave founderess died suddenly in Rome on her way to the Mother House in Angers in France. Did anyone else have the vision and the determination to continue a project, so apparently foreign to the work of the Good Shepherd Congregation, and requiring money, skill and abilities of an uncommon nature? A new Superior was appointed : Sr. M. Christopher; she was a person of strong character and capabilities, but she had never been symphatetic towards the hospital project. Action was initiated to sell, hand over, or close, this 'unacceptable burden'. Once again, Providence intervened. A telegram, from the Mother General, preserved in the archives of the Archdiocese of Bangalore, tells us the happy ending of this sad episode. 'Keep the Hospital', said the telegram dated 28-9-1894, which took 24 days 2 hrs 15 mins to come! It restored calm to the rocking boat, as did the presence of Jesus on the storm-tossed boat on the Lake of Galilee.

Now there comes on the scene a tiny woman, not more than 4ft. 10ins., from the Alps in Switzerland. Of peasant stock, her experience of world affairs was limited to the chores of a country maid in a small farm. Her diminutive figure and rustic appearance did not, however, hide the intensity of the commitment and dedication which shone through her bright brown eyes. Appointed in 1895 as first Superior of the Hospital (of which, until then, the Superior was the Mother Superior of the main Convent on Museum Road) she was to remain there for 20 years. If Sr. Visitation Leusch founded the Hospital, it was Sr. M. Hyacinth Gonnet who first gave a glowing fillip to its spirit. Burning with intense love of God, the depth of which was known only after her death, and when her life was written by her spiritual guide, it showed how this tiny woman proved to be able an administrator, and a shrewd business-woman. She tenaciously held on to the dream of the founders, and guided the Hospital through the early tempestuous years, especially during and after withdrawal of the Government medical officials. Daily she consorted, as an equal, with the Maharaja, the Dewan, and various officials. As evening closed, every suffering patient became her concern, her gentle and smiling presence pouring out compassion and love; nightfall and early morning saw her on her knees, communing with her God who gave her the needed strength and perseverance.

When she died in 1920, St. Martha's was a well known landmark in the City of Bangalore, comprising male and female wards, an out-patients' department, 6 rooms for retired and sick priests and an eye-clinic, the first such in the city. Much more than the well-ordered and well-managed hospital , was the memory she left behind, that the sick was the secret of her success, for she was not a professional person; yet she 'healed' thousands.

In 1901, eight years after the opening of the (Government) Victoria Hospital, a great deal of argumentation arose in the City Municipal Board as to whether the small grant of Rs.200 per month made by the Board to the Hospital should not be withdrawn, since the Municipal funds were 'too low', and there was no justification for the continuation of the grant after the opening of the Victoria Hospital. Strident voices were raised in the Press, and by the Public, against this move. They pointed out as follows:

"The two hospitals are situated at the opposite extremities of the City area, and while the Victoria Hospital fills a long-felt want ... , the work done at the excellent Institution does not in the least overlap the good work that St. Martha's has done, and is still doing, for the suffering poor of His Highness's subjects".

The validity of this defense was fully demonstrated by the figures for both the inpatients and the outpatients treated at St. Martha's Hospital, which had, in fact, continued to grow steadily, year after year, during the preceding 8 years that had passed after the opening of the Victoria Hospital in 1893. The Municipal Board finally resolved that:

"Since the Institution was doing such excellent work, the grant of Rs.200 per month be continued; but as the Municipal finances are at a low ebb, if the Government refuses to pay, the Municipality would pay the grant of Rs.200 per month from its own funds".

During the decades of the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties, the Hospital continued and consolidated its services. Sisters with vision and commitment to build on the early foundations. A Nursing School was started in 1933. That the Hospital continued to retain its urge of loving concern for its patients has been recorded in various documents of the period. Sir Mirza Ismail, Dewan of Mysore, on the occasion of the opening of the O.P.D. in 1929, had this to say:

"This Hospital founded in 1886 is, I believe, the oldest in Bangalore, and it remained the chief medical Institution of the City till the opening of the Victoria Hospital in 1893 ... it is no exaggeration to say that Bangalore could not do without St. Martha's. It has been made popular by comfort and kindness and complete efficiency. A patient is sure of sympathy and cheerful encouragement as well as expert care, and when he goes out, he is not only a cured man, but a better man, having breathed the tonic air of quiet and completely self-sacrifice. An Institution managed by such devoted workers deserves all sympathy .. Clearly, the poor are their best patients .. God pays for them ..."

Mr. Mahadeva Rao, Second Member of the Council, deputizing for the Dewan, Sir Mirza, at the Golden Jubilee celebration in 1936, said:

"For seven years, the Hospital was staffed and managed by the Government, while the nursing was done by the Sisters. This combination of skill and service enabled the Hospital to attain, almost from the start, a reputation and popularity which it has fully maintained ..."

By the late fifties, St. Martha's had entered a period of relative peace and tranquillity which permitted it to peruse its goal, leisurely and quietly. A Maternity and Paediatric Ward were added in response to a demand for these services, an X-ray plant was a step forward to a new era, a Dental department and a much-needed Blood Bank. The peace was, however, but the lull before another storm. The seed so pregnant with potential had not yet fully blossomed. It was to be shaken to its very roots in order to bring forth fruit in greater abundance, the harvest of love to the ever-increasing population of the City. What the future would be, was hidden. The Sisters were aware, that a new and greater challenge was being offered to them when the Indian Catholic Bishops requested them to allow the Hospital to be used for St. John's Medical College, which was about to be opened in the City. "Why St. Martha's" the Sisters asked; "Why Good Shepherd Sisters?". It is not our work. Sisters devoted to medical work would be ideal. No. We are not prepared"! But how inscrutable are the ways of God! In 1962, the then Provincial of India, Sr. Aloysius, signed with His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, an agreement binding our destiny to that of the Medical College for 20 years. Although a woman of vision, and an organizer, Sr. Aloysius was a stranger to the medical field, but committed to good, whatever good could be done. She saw beyond where ordinary eyes could see, and by her wisdom and noble ideas, led the Sisters forward to achieve what appeared to be the impossible. She was a guiding and inspiring force throughout the 20 year period of affiliation the Hospital with the College, and strangely enough, her life ended just one year after the last unit of the College was withdrawn to the new 750-bed Hospital built on the College Campus. A coincidence? or an indication, once again, of God's providential designs for this remarkable Institution? It has today the satisfaction of having provided vital clinical training to about 800 medical graduated 550 men and 250 women including 150 Religious Sisters from a large number of Congregations.

These decades of the 60's and 70's witnessed a complete metamorphosis in St. Martha's landscape. Green open spaces, flowering trees, shady and secluded pathways were replaced by stone, glass and steel. Buildings expanded horizontally and vertically, symbolizing perhaps the era's conquest of 'outer space' and the population expansion of the City of Bangalore!

The Surgical Block to accommodate 200 patients was opened in 1967. Five operating theaters were needed to meet the daily demands for surgery. The O.P.D. expanded its facilities to offer 16 different specialties; the maternity ward was found inadequate for the increasing demands on its services; a 2-storey block was constructed. Specialized needs of the neo-natal required diverse services for them; the Premature Unit and Sick Nursery were built. The increased incidence of cardiac problems required special care, and the Coronary Care Unit was constructed; on the first floor, a ward was opened for the seriously ill patients who needed intensive care. Within a short span of time, the Hospital had grown from an easily-managed 200 beds to one of 600 beds. Infra-structures were required in order to cater to this increased load of work; Laboratories, X-Ray facilities, E.C.G., Pharmacy, Dietary Departments, Laundry, were all expanded and updated. Centres for Speech and Hearing, Physiotherapy, Prosthetics and Orthotics came as a natural adjunct to the complete care of the patients, which St. Martha's now offered to its patients.

Training programmes were also diversified. The Nurses' Training School and Hostel was built in 1968 to accommodate over 200 staff and students. These became the backbone of the para-medical services at the time of rapid growth. An outreach programme was commenced in 1964 to initiate the nurses into community health nursing at Uttarahalli Village, 16 Kms., from Bangalore. Laboratory, X-Ray technicians courses, and training in ECG gave many young people the opportunity to learn from an old Institution with a modern thrust.

The Hospital during these years has been a beehive of activity. It has tried valiantly to retain its patient-centered care while balancing it with the increased emphasis on study and research, which was the logical outcome of our affiliation with a medical college.

The youthful enthusiasm of numerous white-coated medicos, and the presence of highly qualified specialists, enriched immensely the services offered to the patients. That this was acceptable to the people of the City was evident in the increase on both the inpatients and the outpatients during this period.

Today St. Martha's is one of the best known, and most loved, hospitals in the City. Its affiliation for 20 years with St. John's Medical College gave it a national status. The graduates from the Nursing School, now the largest Catholic Nursing School in India, can be found in every corner of the world, and we have every hope that they carry with then the motto which the Good Shepherd Sisters try to live by : "One person is of more value than a whole world".

As we leave one century behind - we naturally ask what the future holds. It is with gratitude that we recall how marvelously God has watched over the tiny seed sown in the City of Bangalore in the aftermath of the drought and plague of the late 19th century. The seed has grown into a great tree, and we pray that, as the next 100 years roll by, we will be able to respond to the ever-new health needs of the people of the City. For though "the old order changeth and giveth place to the new" there is a permanency in our dependence upon the Spirit, the source of all love, Who initiates all change, while remaining the Changeless One.

- A beautiful article on the History of St. Martha's Hospital, by Sr. M. Breda, R.S.G., from the Centenary Souvenir of St. Martha's Hospital, Bangalore, used with permission by the Good Shepherd Sisters, Bangalore. I first thought of editing the article, but it's fullness was so intense and alive, that to change a word would dilute a beautiful effort...., Today, St. Martha's Hospital is still one of the more progressive Hospitals in the City, and has various activities co-related to its aim, and especially in an ever-changing society, Pro-Life is one of the various activities that it's voice echoes to mankind.

Ronnie Johnson, Bangalore

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Pro-Life : Relief News Letter May-June 97 Issue, Bangalore

Pro-Life : Relief News Letter July-August 97 Issue, Bangalore

Respect For Life India, C/o. Good Shepherd Convent, Bangalore

Respect for Life : Its Beginnings

In an era where there is an increasing disregard for the preciousness of human life, to the point of violent termination of life at every level, there is a vital need to uphold the RIGHT TO LIFE which is the most fundamental right.

Over the years, many a movement has been launched to fight for human rights, The "INTERNATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE FEDERATION" which is affiliated to the World Health Organization, is foremost amoung them. A delegation of seven of its members came to Bangalore in August 1986, on invitation. Their coming marked the beginning of the "Right to Life" (RTL) movement in India. The national Association for Respect For Life is affiliated to "The International Right to Life Federation". Its Secretariat is presently in Bangalore.

Aims and Objectives



The Symbol:

A happy face of a child surrounded by hands, inside a frame of hearts, from which foot prints lead away towards a circle of problems that face society, and encircled by a circle of people with hands held together.


The face of a happy child surrounded by hands.

This is the symbol of what like should be at its beginning. Every person is born for happiness. The hands belong to the people who love and care for those little gift of God to the family. With this good start in life the child grows into a self reliant, contended, human being fully aware of his/her own dignity and the joy of being alive.

The hearts enshrining the happy face.

These hearts symbolise the united love of the family and community which is the spring-board from which the child takes its first steps into the wider world around

Shocks of Society.

Abortion (the murder of the unborn child), Child Labour, Drug Addiction and Alcoholism, Suicides, Battered wives, Dowry (Dowry is supposed to be a gift or an amount given by the brides family to the bridegrooms family at the time of marriage, this custom is an evil that is slowly dying out. Sometimes husbands demand money or objects of value from the wives, and it is quite common to read that wives have been burnt to death or tortured, by their husbands or mother-in-laws for not bringing dowry) Deaths, Handicapped, Euthanasia (the killing of old and the disabled).

Dots linking the above Social Evils.

These indicate the connection that necessarily must exist between all these evils where there is no love or respect for life.

The Outer Circle is "the bright frame enclosing the dark picture."

The happy child, staggering winder the impact f the shocks, finds new hope ion the discovery that there are others also whose hearts are filled with a compassion, and caring love and whose faces are turned towards their brothers and sisters. The linked hands symbolize the all-embracing love which is the KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH IN THE HEARTS OF PEOPLE WHERE EVERY PERSON EXPERIENCES HIS/HER DIGNITY AND WORTH AS A CHILD OF GOD

The RFL Movement aims at bringing this Kingdom of God into the hearts of every suffering person.

There are many categories of Membership:

Student, Ordinary, Institutional, Life, Donor and Patron

What Memberships pay for:

After one joins, what then:

Scope for action for the Schools, Colleges, Hostels, Youth Groups, Clubs.. in your area:

If you , or someone you know, stand in need, do get in touch with:

National Association For Respect For Life, St. Martha's Hospital, Bangalore 560 009. Ph: 80 2275081

Abala Ashraya Sangha - CRISIS Intervention Centre

Abala Ashraya Sangha, a Society formed jointly by the Catholic Women's League of Bangalore and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, started a Crisis Intervention Centre at Shivajinagar, on 7th February 1989, with the specific purpose of meeting the crying needs of women and girls in this vast City of Bangalore who have nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

Since its inception to date, about 1600 women and girls have been helped. A great number of those who seek shelter, are from the lower socio-economic strata of our Society.

The Centre has a stabilized system of reconciliation and rehabilitation which solves many a crisis. During their stay at the Centre, every effort is made to understand their problems. Sometimes, severe emotional stress and mental illness is prevented through timely counselling. Efforts at reconciliation with their husbands / families are made, and regular follow ups are carried out.

Basic skills such as cooking, landicrafts and sewing are taught to them to keep them gainfully occupied in their depressed state of mind.

No distinction is made on the basis of Caste or Creed and their stay at the Centre is totally free of charge - the expenses incurred for their maintenance being met solely by donations from generous donors.

The Abala Ashraya Sangha is Registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act 1960 S.204/88-89 date 19th July 1988.

Should any of you feel like helping out this Centre in any way, you may contact

The President, Abala Ashraya Sangha, (Crisis Intervention Centre), No. 4-B, 4th Street, Behind St. Mary's Basilica, Shivajinagar, Bangalore 560 051, Phone: 80 2869263 ( Info. Courtersy of the present President, Mrs. P. Pereira)

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Thought for the Day:" Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, Fon in the manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did they fathers to the false prophets." Holy Bible: Luke 6:20-26