Sister Ignatia Gavin, a tiny Irish-American nun, helped initiate medical treatment for alcoholics in Akron. Born in 1889, Sister Ignatia entered the community of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine in 1914. A trained and talented musician, she first taught music until she suffered a complete breakdown. To protect her health, she was reassigned to St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. In 1928, she became an admissions officer.
Born Della Mary Gavin in 1889 in Ireland, Sister Ignatia worked with Dr. Bob to help admit alcoholics into St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, starting in 1939. She surmounted obstacles to personally care for thousands of alcoholics over the next several decades, both in Akron and later at St. Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland. Beloved by all who were associated with or helped by her, she was commonly referred to as the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Her work in helping alcoholics was done with much dignity and modest distinction. In December 1949, she was presented with the Poverello Medal of the College of Steubenville. The medal was given to her for the A.A. Fellowship for her untiring efforts with alcoholics in Akron.In March 1961, Sister Ignatia received a letter of acknowledgment for her pioneering contributions from the White House (President Kennedy), which she shared with Bill W.
Dr. Bob S., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill W. in 1935, had been treating alcoholics for years and often tried to get his patients admitted to Akron hospitals, especially when they were undergoing withdrawal and needed medical care. At the time, alcoholism was considered a moral failing, not a disease, so hospitals usually refused. Dr. Bob S. had struck up a friendship with Sister Ignatia and began asking her to admit his patients. Although against regulations, she admitted them, usually by claiming they had "acute gastritis." She placed them wherever room was available and where they would be out of the way, going so far as to place them in the "flower room," where the bodies of deceased patients were kept while awaiting transferral to the morgue. Eventually, the two obtained permission to open the first hospital ward ever for alcoholics at St. Thomas. Dr. Bob attended to their physical needs, and Sister Ignatia and members of Alcoholics Anonymous to their spiritual needs.
In 1952, Sister Ignatia was transferred to St. Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland, where she set up a new alcoholism ward, Rosary Hall. Patients were admitted for six days, where they received constant help from Sister Ignatia and various AA members. It is estimated that during her career, Sister Ignatia helped over 10,000 alcoholics. She was mourned throughout the nation when she died in 1966.
In the 1920s a Clevelander left a bequest to establish a Catholic hospital in Akron. From 1922 to 1928, additional money was raised and a site selected. St. Thomas Hospital was built in 1928, and staffed by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Like other Catholic hospitals in the Diocese, St. Thomas was an innovator.
In 1939 it opened the first alcoholic ward in the country under the direction of Sister Ignatia Gavin and Dr. Bob S., one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The hospital grew steadily through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, as new buildings and departments were added to better serve the citizens of Akron. In the 1980s, an independent board took over control of St. Thomas and it ceased to function as a Catholic hospital. In the mid 1990s, St. Thomas merged with Akron City Hospital to form Summa Health System.
Sister Ignatia's message inspires -Akron woman treasures book that belonged to late father; A.A. figure signed it in 1947. by staff writer Jim Carney of The Beacon Journal