The Salesians… with a hospital?


The San José de Viedma hospital, where Zatti worked, one of the first in Argentine Patagonia.


Love with humor


Being attentive to the needs of others


Facing adversity


Zatti and Ceferino


Zatti creates community

We know that Don Bosco founded oratories, houses, chapels, schools and workshops… but a hospital? This was the need that the Salesian missionaries saw in the then small town of Viedma, at the end of the 19th century. Thus they opened the first pharmacy in the place. And then the San José Hospital opened, the first one in the Argentine Patagonia.

In that hospital Don Zatti displayed his passion for the Gospel by serving the poorest and sickest of the region. He not only provided medical care and treatment, but also accompanied those who were alone or suffering from poverty.

The Salesian Raul Entraigas, biographer, brings us the memory of the events that preceded the creation of St. Joseph Hospital:

What is St. Joseph’s Hospital? On the night of August 11, 1889, the city of Viedma witnessed a strange scene: four Salesian coadjutors, Martini, Lanza, Bensi and Martin, on improvised stretchers, were carrying a sick person. It was a Catalan, Jaime Sananja. The poor man had been burning like a candle.

Four days before, Monsignor Cagliero and Father Vacchina, superior of the Viedma house, had discussed about the possibility of founding a hospital for line soldiers who often died abandoned and for the workers without families who died in the same way. A few months ago they had founded an “apothecary’s shop”: Viedma had not had a pharmacy until then. For that reason, the Apostolic Vicar installed one in the Salesian coolegel, and put Father Evasio Garrone, recently ordained priest, in charge of it. 

Garrone had been a nurse in the Italian army. He had a medical knowledge , a lot of practice and an admirable intuition. That pharmacy was admirable! It was a real “people’s pharmacy” because it was open to everyone. There was no speculation. The rich paid for the medicines, the poor did not pay for them. One compensated for the other. And as there was always a deficit, it was made up with the alms of the Salesian cooperators.

(…) The idea was to found a hospital in a town where there was none, nor was there any public assistance, nor a first aid room, nor dispensaries. On the evening of August 7, walking with Fr. Vacchina under the porticoes, Cagliero said to him:

– “What if we founded a hospital?”

– “I think it would be a solution” – the questioned one replied – “but with what?”

The prelate told him that Providence would take care of the means. And that same night Father Vacchina spoke in the “good evenings” of the foundation of a hospital, and asked special prayers to St. Joseph so that he would intercede with the Almighty to smooth the way for them. 

Four days later, Providence sent them their first sick person. It was Sananja, the Catalan painter. As he was wasting away near the school, Fathers Vacchina and Garrone went to see him. When they entered his poor room, the man seemed to come back to life (…) As soon as the worker told them his painful story, the two priests instinctively looked at each other, as if questioning:

– “Shall we take him? Shall we begin?” – and both lowered their eyes, as if meditating. When they looked back at the sick man, two thick tears were running down his cheeks, scorched by fever. Then Fr. Vacchina said to him: “Don’t be afraid, my friend, we will go and talk to the Superior and be sure that soon you will be happy and content”.

And they went  to the collegel. They spoke to the Monsignor: “No way,” said the holy Prelate, “just bring him in…”. But where to put him? The house was full. There was not even room for one more bed. At that time there was no grandiose building facing Rivadavia Street. But when Monsignor saw a small ranch that had served as a stable for the police horses and that was in the same block, on the other side of the small church that stood in front of the square, he thought that if he cleaned it up properly, it could be used to start a small hospital.

(…) The Salesians and students, with shovels, brooms, feather dusters and wheelbarrows, left the place clean and tidy. The Sisters took care of the final touches and even perfumed the room with balsams from the apothecary to remove the smell of animal excrement that was saturated. Then, a bed, mattress, blankets, a table, a chair and… the hospital was ready. How true it is that everything is great when love is great! 

That night of August 11, Sister Eugenia Galli waited nervously at the door of the ranch for the arrival of the first patient. Monsignor had entrusted her with the delicate mission of caring for him. The poor woman did not have it all to herself, but she hoped that God would help her….

Eventually, the Coadjutors arrived with the worker. Some boys accompanied them with lanterns. The night was dark and very cold. The Sister received him with great kindness. Fr. Garrone auscultated him well. The man felt different. Exactly one month later, on September 11, Jaime Sananja was discharged. When the worker breathed again the auras of the street, he understood how much he owed to the Salesians. That was the first conquest of St. Joseph Hospital! Thousands will come after him (…)”.