The daughter of one of our patients is visiting France this week and sent her mother’s nurse this photo – a hospice in Viviers that was built in 1874. Curious about the early days of hospice, I did a little internet research and here’s what I learned…

Historians believe that the first hospices originated around 1065 to treat “incurably ill” Crusaders. In the early 14th century, the Order of Knights Hospitaller opened the first hospice in Rhodes, Greece, as a refuge for pilgrim travelers and to care for the ill and dying. As the religious orders became dispersed, the hospice movement languished until the 17th century, when it was revived in France by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

The earliest founder identified with a home for the dying in 19th century Europe was Jeanne Garnier, a young widow and bereaved mother. She and a couple other women in similar circumstances formed L’Association des Dames du Calvaire in Lyon, France in 1842. (The French word “calvaire” means “the ordeal.”) Madame Garnier envisioned that the “Association of Widows” would aim to provide “personal sanctification” and assistance to “the incurably neglected.”

The following year, the association opened a “hospice retreat,” characterized by “a respectful familiarity, an attitude of prayer and calm in the face of death.” Madame Garnier died in 1853, but her influence led to the establishment of six more hospices in France by the 1900s.

In a memoir toward the end of her own life, she reflected on the religious calling that initiated and sustained her endeavors stating that she “founded her refuge with 50 francs and providence did the rest.”

God bless the pioneers of hospice. Gentle Shepherd’s own founders, Don and Kim Eckenroth, are in good company!