In 1999, the Daughters of Charity National Health System and Sisters of St. Joseph Health System combined forces and sent a clear message in choosing "Ascension Health" as the name of their new entity.
"We wanted to make a statement that this is not about any particular order but this is about the Catholic Church," said Anthony R. Tersigni, president/CEO of St. Louis-based Ascension, which dropped "Health" from its name in 2012.
The Ascension is among the pinnacles of Catholicism, the rising of Jesus Christ to heaven after His resurrection. The name, Ascension denoted the universal Church.
"At the time, we really wanted to strengthen Catholic health care (and) support our mission to care for all of the poor and vulnerable," Tersigni said.
Since then, the Alexian Brothers, Carondelet Health System (Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet) and Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother have come on board, Ascension has evolved from individual congregation sponsorships to a non-congregational sponsorship model and has become a leader nationally and internationally in Catholic health care. Ascension is the largest nonprofit health system in the United States and the largest Catholic health system in the world, with 141 hospitals among 2500 care sites in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
The Vatican also has taken notice.
Tersigni recently finished a four-year term as president of the International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions (CIISAC), which is a committee of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The Dicastery met in mid-November at the Vatican to discuss global inequalities in health care and to coordinate solutions and responses. CIISAC's mission promotes health, healing, peace and reconciliation through assistance and care for sick and suffering across the globe, especially to people who are most in need.
"The conference was a great opportunity to bring together people from all walks of health care life around the world to have not only presentations and dialogue but also networking and a lot of that capability," Tersigni said after returning to St. Louis. "As a global community involved in ministries of the Church across the globe, we're all in this together. We're all at different stages of development and different stages of learning, but we can share information with each other, help each other and continue to support Pope Francis' agenda of taking care of the poor and vulnerable around the world.
"The Vatican has a huge responsibility all around the world and we, being in health care, deal with many of the issues that Pope Francis alludes to on a day-to-day basis, whether it be in the United States, Africa or Europe. ... We'll continue to grow as a global community. We have to be able to assist each other and learn from each other," he said.
As a leader in Catholic health care, Ascension "feels a responsibility and a calling to provide affordable, reliable and safe care for underserved communities, both in the United States and around the globe," Tersigni stated, adding that the Ascension Global Mission subsidiary " is closely aligned with CIISAC's goal to support international efforts that improve the health and well-being of poor and vulnerable populations in developing countries."
An Our Lady of the Pillar parishioner, Tersigni has helped oversee Ascension's growth from humble beginnings with its founding sponsors — Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth. He became president/CEO of Ascension Health in 2004, then president/CEO of the newly formed Ascension in 2012.
He credits "the great people I've had the privilege of working with" for Ascension's ascent, singling out the non-congregational sponsor (Ascension Sponsor), men and women religious and lay people and Ascension's board of directors.
"We have a great team," he said, noting that its members "understand that in order for us to keep Catholic health care strong, then we need be creative, we need to entrepreneurial and we need to use the skills available to us in all the men and women who work with us to accomplish that. ... We have some talented men and women, religious and lay who are really committed to transforming health care in this country and really eliminating health disparities across populations in this country."
Ascension | By the numbers
A quick look at the nation's largest nonprofit health system and world's largest Catholic health system:
$1.8 billion — health care for people living in poverty and other community benefit programs
23,657,773 — outpatient visits (excluding ER visits)
11,159,811 — physician office visits
3,007,923 — emergency visits
1,527,543 — clinic visits
505,361 — home health visits
84,751 — births
22,990 — available beds
*Data for FY2016