Speech of Prof. Salim Daccache s.j. USJ Rector at the launching ceremony of the 100th anniversary of the Hôtel-Dieu de France on May 5, 2022 at 5:00 pm at Amphithéâtre Obeji


It is a "serious" joy that fills us in this time of global system crisis in our country, during which we celebrate the inauguration of a centenary year of the concept of creating a hospital like no other. It is a "joy" because it is about celebrating a life or even the existence of an institution that has marked the life of a nation and of a profession for a century, "serious" because we carry a great responsibility for the troubles that threaten our existence and that of a health care system that is enormously struggling.

It is in this atmosphere that I would like to welcome you all Excellencies and Illustrious guests, People of the Hôtel-Dieu and the USJ, to this launching ceremony of the centenary of the Hôtel-Dieu of France and more particularly I would like to welcome Mr. Minister, H.E. the Ambassador of France, Monsignors, Reverend Fr. Provincial of the Society of Jesus in the Near East and the Arab Maghreb. It is in your presence that the celebration takes its meaning and will be for us a lesson of life turned towards the future.

Excellencies, Dear Friends,

Hôtel-Dieu de France was born on May 2, 1922, when General Gouraud, representing the French mandate, the Lebanese governor of Mount Lebanon, Fr. Claudius Chanteur representing the Society of Jesus and Mgr Frédien Giannini, the Apostolic Nuncio of the time, laid the first stone of what that has become a star that continues to shine in the skies of the Near and Middle East and even beyond. Considering the course of events within the context of this birth, one can tell that it was more than complicated. In medical language, the delivery of the newborn was done by caesarean section since the construction of the hospital planned in 1913, following the complications imposed by the First World War and the spoliation by our Ottoman brothers of the raw materials purchased for the construction site, had to be postponed just after the victory of the allies. The booklet you received and which is in your hands tells the story of this birth in detail.

In celebrating a centenary, we dwell on the meaning rather than the form, even if the Hôtel-Dieu de France changed its internal and external form in the course of its history, especially the one given to it in the 1990s after the Lebanese war, with the new buildings dedicated to the names of former rectors such as Frs. Ducruet, Chanteur and Madet, going from a hundred beds in 1923 to 470 today and to 520 as soon as possible, from three or four departments to more than 36 nowadays, and from one building to six at this moment. It is not a matter of show off, nor of making lists of achievements, but of focusing on the meaning of having a hospital, which is heavy in itself, and of looking to the future.

 "Hôtel- Dieu", as the term implies, is a magic word that refers to the welcoming of the passer-by, to charity and hospitality, making the hospital project a mission primarily social in reference to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, where Jesus Christ founded the believer's merit in the Kingdom of God in receiving and visiting the sick: I was sick and you visited me" and also in reference to the Samaritan who carried the wounded man abandoned on the road to the hotel as a symbol of charity. In 1984, the year we signed the long lease for 50 years with the French State for the management of the Hospital by the USJ, it is essentially this spirit that we received as a legacy to maintain, prosper and radiate. May we remember this Hippocratic lesson in every medical or administrative act we undertake.

Secondly, if the foundation of Saint Joseph University was made in 1875 to accompany the development of the city of Beirut as the future capital of an emerging Lebanon and if its first civil faculty was that of medicine in 1883 in addition to the faculty of theology, it was obvious that the development of health care was a major preoccupation for the political and academic authorities in place as well as for the humanitarian missionary institutions, and that the solidity of a nation depended on the good health of its citizens.

One of the reasons that led to the creation of the faculty of medicine was to train people of science, heroic doctors, according to the historian, "who travel the country and fight against the charlatans of all kinds who were engaged in deadly practices against the population suffering from all kinds of diseases".

In fact, didn't Father Chanteur, in his speech on May 2, 1922, say that one of the objectives of the foundation of Hôtel-Dieu was "in the greater good of this country"?

In this troubled period of the Lebanese national life, remembering these words confirms that the hospital is a health mission before everything else as it is intended to seek the deepest good of our country and to give the best care to the largest number of patients, that is to say to more than 18 percent of the Lebanese in search of care, especially those who lack social coverage today.

Hôtel-Dieu cannot be dissociated from one of its fundamental missions of being a clinical university hospital, otherwise it will lose its raison d'être for Saint Joseph University of Beirut. We are aware today, as the administration of the University and the Faculty, as well as the medical community, that in view of the need for international accreditation of the Faculty of Medicine, it is necessary to better forge a strong relationship between the Faculty and the Hospital, based on trust and common interests, between teaching on the benches of the Faculty and working with patients in the Hospital, so that there is continuity and interaction in the act of teaching. A doctor in the hospital is almost automatically an instructor in the Faculty, even if the opposite is not always true since doctors in the hospital do not teach in the faculty but are instructors in the hospital. However, the progress of the Faculty of Medicine in the sense of accreditation can only leave its good marks on the University Hospital, which will strengthen its image and its services to the most varied and complicated healthcare. 

Let's remember a statement by Fr. Chanteur, rector of the University at the time, and the meaning of his statement: "Our hospital will be primarily a teaching hospital, so that the mastery of our doctors and surgeons will not limit its benefits to the patients who will be the direct beneficiaries, but will extend to all of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Persia, Anatolia, and no doubt to all the countries near and far that will send their students to the French faculty of medicine at  Beirut. It is true that times have changed and that medicine in different countries is subject to rather conservative legislation. However, these words which are ours tell us that the progress of a health institution like the Hôtel-Dieu de France, supported by the Faculty and its own attached university institutions represent a determining factor in the progress of the French language and even more so of the presence of the French culture in the whole region of the Near East, but above all a humanistic and beneficent French language that spreads the French-speaking medicine to many countries and nations. Let us at least say that this sentence deserves to be taken up and reflected upon and even meditated upon as to what could be a French cultural policy in this region and what part to give to the Hôtel-Dieu de France, as a home for clinical and scientific research and as a medical university center right here in Beirut, for the Near and Middle East region. "The good fame of France" this statement from the rector's speech of the past and even the one of today still has a place in today's and tomorrow's dictionary.

The Centenary is an opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation to the thousands of competent people, doctors, nurses, orderlies, managers and administrative staff, the sisters in office and the fathers serving as chaplains and as board presidents, who have shaped the Hôtel-Dieu.

Dear stakeholders, you have a special place in our minds and hearts because it is you, through your efforts and competences, that will carry the HDF from one centenary to another one that is starting; How not to save a special thought to the donors, donors of yesterday and today who help us to remain active and in full in the social mission through funds if not the social funds of solidarity for patients, as well as for the development of the Hospital, I would like to express our gratitude and recognition.

Indeed, many are those who have reached out to help our hospital during this multiple crisis, alumni of the USJ and the Faculty of Medicine, friends from all over the world, institutions and individuals, foundations and institutions, whether in Lebanon, France, the United States or other countries, who continue to show their solidarity, especially to patients who cannot bear the burden of their treatment. In praising our donors, whether through the USJ/HDF Foundation or more directly to the hospital management, I can only turn to the present moment to appreciate and thank those who have given of their time and intelligence in preparation for today's celebration, if not the entire centennial year, whether it be the hospital communications team or the USJ SPCOM, the hospital administration, or the rector's delegate for marketing. In spite of the crisis, there are still people who point their fingers not to threaten or warn but to point the way forward, the way of salvation and the will to assume victory over the evil committed.

The time and the buildings, the acts and the efforts made, yesterday and today, in times of war and bloodshed, in times of peace and joy of births and deliveries, are all the achievements of women and men who gave the best of themselves and who want and wanted to share the essence of a mission. If a Legion of Honor medal has been awarded to anyone, it is to an entire university and today to a hospital, the HDF, even if not perfect. More than any other institution, the HDF is a joint French and Lebanese pride. The achievement of Hôtel-Dieu de France, is a real pride and a strong promise of continuity of an ever present mission.

More than ever, we are proud of a humanist and scientific culture represented by the Hôtel-Dieu, but also of a heritage that originates from afar and of which we are proud and that we must protect in order to continue and remain alive in the name of Lebanese and French values, consisting of a spirit of resistance in the face of adversity, of bravery in the face of discouragement, of justice in the face of the abandonment of the human being, of unrestricted solidarity in the face of egoism, and of assertive competence and unrestrained loyalty.

Long live Hôtel-Dieu, University Hospital of the USJ

Long live France and long live Lebanon