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Founder's Day

Experience the place that recognized and revolutionized the care and hospital treatment for alcoholism throughout the world. Visit the Sister Ignatia Heritage Center inside the Summa St. Thomas Hospital Chapel and exhibits in the Summa St. Thomas Auditorium.

St. Ignatia

Friday, June 6, 2014 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday, June 7, 2014 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Summa is dedicated to preserving the significant work and memory of Sister Ignatia. Visitors are invited to honor the legacy of Sister Ignatia and Dr. Bob by visiting St. Thomas. The Sister Ignatia Heritage Center, located in Summa St. Thomas Hospital’s chapel, has been created to pay tribute to the history of Sister Ignatia and St. Thomas Hospital in the treatment of alcoholics, and the relationship between Dr. Bob and the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Visitors can view historical materials, hear a recording of Sister Ignatia and learn more about the history.

During Founders’ Day weekend, a film of Sister Ignatia is shown in the auditorium at St. Thomas Hospital. Also, visitors are welcome to tour the Sister Ignatia Heritage Center. Thousands upon thousands of people have visited Sister Ignatia Heritage Center over the years.

Shuttle service provided free of charge from the University of Akron.

For more information, please call (330) 379-9841.

How Ignatia Hall Began…

Helping those in need take the first step of their journey has a rich history within Summa Health System’s behavioral health services. In 1939, many individuals and organizations were impoverished as a result of the Great Depression; St. Thomas Hospital was no exception. However, even with limited resources, a visionary nun who had emigrated from Ireland and a physician at St. Thomas Hospital together created the first hospital-based unit in the country dedicated to the treatment of alcoholism. That unit still exists today as Ignatia Hall at Summa St. Thomas Hospital.

Sister M. Ignatia, C.S.A, emigrated from County Mayo, Ireland, at age seven. She entered the Sister of Charity of Saint Augustine in 1916. She pursued a degree in music from Notre Dame University and put her love to music to good use providing music lessons. However, in 1927, she had a “breakdown,” as a result of a number of possible causes— her fragile health, her exhaustion from a number of musical obligations and a break in at the convent building where she was staying.

When she regained her health, she wanted to return to teaching music, but was cautioned by her doctor not to. She was transferred to the new St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, where she worked in admitting upon the hospital opening in 1928.

As hospital registrar at St. Thomas Hospital, Sister Ignatia met Dr. Robert H. Smith (Dr. Bob), co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). She showed great compassion for alcoholics at a time when alcoholism wasn’t yet recognized as a disease, and those suffering from it were thought to lack willpower or morals. They had no welcome anywhere, including in hospitals. Dr. Bob and Sister Ignatia were about to change that.

Sister Ignatia’s compassion along with Dr. Bob’s fortitude prompted the duo to admit a patient who desperately needed help with his affliction with alcohol. Sister Ignatia put the patient in the only available room she had, the flower room, where flowers were stored for patients. That moment changed the course of history and the treatment of alcoholism throughout the world.

As more patients were admitted, Dr. Bob took care of the patient’s physical needs, while Sister Ignatia, known as the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous,” and members of AA took care of the individual’s spiritual and emotional needs. Often times, the duo had to sneak patients into the hospital. In a time where alcoholics were typically ushered into the emergency room to sober up and quickly sent back out, Sister Ignatia and Dr. Bob brought the patients through the back door and Sister Ignatia found them beds.

It was Sister Ignatia who introduced the custom of giving tokens to recovering alcoholics to mark their sobriety—she gave patients in the alcoholic ward a Sacred Heart scapular to remind them of their commitment not to drink, and asked them to return it to her before they took a drink.

In the first decade of the alcoholic ward at St. Thomas Hospital, more than 5,000 alcoholics were treated. Nearly 75 years later, the alcoholic ward lives on at Summa St. Thomas Hospital as Ignatia Hall, a 14-bed detoxification unit supported by an intensive outpatient program.

How do you know if you need help?

Ask yourself the following four questions:

  1. Have you had feelings of guilt or remorse after drinking or drug use?
  2. Has a friend or family member ever told you about things you said or did while you were drinking or taking drugs that you could not remember?
  3. Have you failed to do what was normally expected of you because of drinking or drug use?
  4. Do you sometimes need to take a drink or drug when you first get up in the morning?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to talk to someone about your alcohol or drug use.