Commission on Justice and Peace Document Archives

Churches have been involved in the provision of health care services in Canada since the mid 17th century. In terms of health care institutions, the Augustines Hospitalières founded the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1639. Many other religious groups comprised especially of religious women and Christian laypersons have been in the forefront of every effort against disease that this country has known.

What explains such active involvement in health care? The main reason for this commitment of Christians was their desire to respond to the massive need for health care services that was so painfully obvious in Canadian society since the first Europeans arrived. In the early years of European settlement in Canada, as in Europe religious orders were the primary deliverers of health care services. By the end of the 19th century, both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches had operated hospitals, often as part of their medical missionary work

in isolated communities. The Lutheran church began a tradition of caring for the elderly with the founding, in 1926, of St. Paul’s Home in Melville, Saskatchewan. Until well into the 20th century, societies did not demand that the state play a preponderant role in the delivery of health care services, often leaving that role to charitable, and especially religious, organizations.

The history of Christianity is a record of service to the sick and commitment to health.1 In the time of Constantine (4th century), Aesculpapia was a temple and a refuge for the sick. In 660 A.D., Bishop Landry founded the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris. During the Crusades, hospitals were founded in Palestine as well as in London.2

The churches recognized that, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”3 From their reading of biblical texts, Christians recounted the many stories of Jesus’ healing ministry.4 The purpose of the Christian life was to imitate this Jesus who “went about doing good and curing all.”5 And so the churches attempted this same ministry, which included both these aspects of healing. Therefore, churches became providers of health services as well as social justice advocates who attempted to influence policies to improve health care. The churches saw human beings as images of a God of life who desired healing and health of not only the body, but also of the mind and soul. As we shall see, this was described by all of the churches as “holistic” ministry, the realization that, “Your faith has made you whole.6”

File Type: pdf
Categories: English, Healthcare
Tags: health policy, healthcare, human rights, public health
Author: Joe Gunn