Friday, March 3, 2017



This week's arts and culture column is on one of the best books I've read in recent times, or really ever: "God's Hotel," by Victoria Sweet, M..D.

Here's how the piece begins:

“God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine” is a 2012 memoir by San Francisco-based physician Victoria Sweet. The subject is Laguna Honda, a long-term Bay Area hospital that for years was known as “the last almshouse in the country.”

When Dr. Sweet began working in the early 1990s at Laguna Honda — “an elegant, though somber, riff on a 12th-century Romanesque monastery” — patients, nearly always poor, could stay as long as they needed to. There was a turret for a resident priest. There were open wards with a solarium at the end. There were nooks and crannies where the patients smoked, drank, played cards, gambled and occasionally had illicit sex. There was a greenhouse, a barnyard and — I kid you not — an aviary.

Perhaps nothing captures the spirit of Laguna Honda more colorfully, in fact, than that for a time the AIDS hospice ward had its own much-beloved hen.

Unhygienic? Maybe. “Although, as a matter of fact,” Sweet writes, “in the months when the AIDS hen roamed the open AIDS ward, she did keep her diseases to herself, as the AIDS patients did for her.”

Inefficient? Certainly. “But there was therapy in her inefficiency. I can’t document the numbers, but it was worth my while to walk into the AIDS ward just to see the spark of interest in those cachectic faces when lunch was served and the AIDS hen began her strut down the ward. It was a spark of life, an extra spark and sparkle that must have extended a life or two by a day or two, which, when you only have a few days left, is worth something.”




  1. One of my favorite question at a Children's Mass is "What animal did our Lord compare himself to?" Multiple shouts of "Lamb!" No, that's his cousin's name for him. The answer is a bit bewildering: 'a mother hen.' Mother hens are tough and tender. The AIDS hen making her rounds at Laguna Honda: a spark and sparkle indeed. How we want such incongruous loveliness: how bereft we are to not recognize how deeply we desire her strut in our lives. Thank you, Doctor.

    1. Oh wow Fr. Pat, I didn't think of that--you're right. O Jerusalem, How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. And you would not...I know that like me you are surrounded by piles of books...God's Hospital I can't recommend highly enough. Always good to hear from you, keeper of the Monterey Peninsula flame...


I WELCOME your comments!!!