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Counting a year of blessings

The Laguna Beach campus of Mission Hospital celebrated its first anniversary on Thursday with a blessing ceremony for the crosses that will be installed on the exterior of the tower.

"May they continue to provide, as they have done throughout the ages, a beacon of light providing inspiration for hope and healing for those we serve," said Monsignor John Urell.

"Let us venerate in faith the eternal plan by which God has made the cross of Jesus Christ the pre-eminent sign of his mercy," Urell said.

Urell, pastor of St. Timothy's Roman Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel, is a familiar face to communicants of St. Catherine of Siena Church. He served a brief stint at the church and most recently the blessing of the remodeled St. Catherine's School.

At the hospital, the Monsignor sprinkled the crosses with holy water dropping from twigs of rosemary, remembrance in floral parlance.

The backs of the metal crosses were signed by hospital staff members, physicians, supporters, volunteers and anyone else who was so inclined. A booklet of "Reflections" was given to people at the ceremony. It contained excerpts from the Koran, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian prayer and the Sisters of St. Joseph's vision statement: "We aspire to a life that is simple, prayerful, courageous and compassionate."

Prior to the ceremony, the crosses were displayed on a table covered in purple with two purple floral arrangements.

"Purple is the color of royalty and symbolizes for us Christ the King," said Cindy Mueller, vice president of Mission Integration, who welcomed the crowd of staff, volunteers, physicians and well-wishers clustered around the crosses.

Among the crowd who attended the ceremony in the hospital's Rose Garden: Mayor Elizabeth Pearson; Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. past President Pauline Walpin, an employee at the hospital for 15 years; her 11-year-old granddaughter, Katie; Eric Jessen, a member of the hospital's Advisory Board; a smattering of physicians who practice at the hospital and some of the 350 employees at the Laguna Beach campus.

"The crosses illuminate and animated our mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph., which is to extend the healing ministry of Jesus by continually improving the health and quality of life of the people in the communities we serve," Mueller said.

Mission Hospital is part of the St. Joseph Health System, under the auspices of the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange since 1994. St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton and St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange are also part of the system.

The order is not cloistered. Since 1650, when the order was founded in Le Puy, France, by a traveling Jesuit priest, the sisters have ventured into the communities where they live to seek remedies for existing "disorders."

That mission was the basis for forums and a survey held by hospital staff this past year.

"We spend a lot of time getting to know our community," said Markie Cowley, Mission vice president and chief operating officer.

Based on the needs assessment survey completed by 400 Laguna Beach residents, the hospital culled out three issues for immediate attention: prevention of drug and alcohol use by the city's youth, depression, and job skills for the homeless population.

Cowley said a lot had been accomplished in the previous 12 months.

"We were all just saying that we couldn't believe it has already been one year since we officially received the keys and moved in last year," Cowley said. "But we were here at midnight June 30 [2009]. We knew it would be a challenge."

Challenges included an aging structure, but ensuring a safe environment for patients was a top priority.

"We committed $3 million even before we took ownership," Cowley said.

That money went toward renovations of the infrastructure. Another $8 to $10 million was committed for refurbishments — some not readily visible, but essential — such as upgrading the central plant, which includes heating and cooling apparatus

"We have dedicated capital, time, energy, as well as our hearts and souls into elevating Mission Hospital Laguna Beach into a place that provides the highest quality care that residents should expect in their community hospital," Cowley said.

The blessing ceremonies also included a reading of a "Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians" by Mission Hospital's Sister Martha Ann Fitzpatrick and a hymn sung by hospital registered nurse Mary Merlin and her children, Phillip and Michelle.

In summation, the Monsignor recounted the story of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to give succor to a victim left to die by his attackers.

The blessing concluded with three prayers, the last one urging everyone to follow in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan and a final blessing of the crosses.

"May the cross of your Son be the fountain of all blessings, the source of all grace and hope and love." Urell intoned.

Michael Beck, vice president of operations of the Laguna Beach campus, was the final speaker.

"I have had the pleasure of being a part of the transformation of this hospital," Beck said. "It gives me great pride to see how far we've come in the past year and to be part of this legacy and to be here to raise our hands jointly together to bless the crosses that will watch over this Patient Care Building.

"The crosses are a perfect symbol to represent the end of our first year together and the beginning of many more years to come. We are so grateful to our dedicated staff and volunteers, dear patients and neighbors, and community partners for their open arms and accepting hearts.

"We hope to discover new opportunities to work in partnership to enhance the quality of life in this community we collectively serve."

Cake was served in the hospital's Beach Café and backpacks were distributed to employees, a gift from the administration.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or email

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