Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claire van Rooy react to a speaker at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center’s newly renamed van Rooy Center for Health Enhancement in Hartford Oct. 5. (Photo by Jack Sheedy)
HARTFORD – Jean-Pierre van Rooy is a very funny man – and very generous. When more than 100 people showed up on Oct. 5 at a St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center building renamed for him and his wife Marie-Claire, to thank them for their gift of $2 million to St. Francis Foundation, he said, "I was surprised, really surprised. I would have expected maybe 20 people. Okay, 25. So, Marie-Claire must have an enormous following!"
It was one of those remarks intended to be funny, but not intended to be just a joke. Inside the newly named van Rooy Center for Health Enhancement at 95 Woodland St., directly across from the main hospital building, is a plaque that, at Mr. van Rooy’s insistence, lists the name Marie-Claire, a former nurse, ahead of his own.
"Her name is up front, for all the nurses," he said. "I think all the nurses [working here] have to know that they could go to the top of their profession."
Lynn B. Rossini, interim president of St. Francis Foundation, called the van Rooys "two extraordinary people" who are "kind and compassionate, and they are wise. They’re a voice for the poor and underserved."
She was referring to the van Rooys’ many other gifts, including the concept and capital to launch the Malta House of Care vans that serve the health needs of uninsured and underinsured people in Hartford and Waterbury, at no cost to the patients.
Christopher M. Dadlez, president and CEO of St. Francis, listed other community involvements of the van Rooys, including the van Rooy Center for Complexity and Conflict Analysis at the University of Hartford; the van Rooy Competition for Musical Excellence at that university’s Hartt School of Music; Mr. van Rooy’s memberships on the boards of the hospital, Holy Apostles College and Seminary, the Collins Medical Group and other organizations; and countless other community activities.
Eileen Dadlez, Mr. Dadlez’s wife, speaks fluent French, the van Rooys’ native language, and she proposed a toast to them in French. As she paused briefly, her husband began speaking. "Non, non, je n’ai pas finis!" she said ("No, no, I haven’t finished!"), eliciting laughter. She concluded, "À votre santé" – "to your health."
Mr. van Rooy noted that Catholic and other Christian religions and institutions have come under heavy attack. "I think that therefore we as Catholics have to participate to maintain these institutions at the level that is the best they can be today. And that is the purpose of this gift," he said.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell concluded the evening with a blessing, but not before he added his sentiments about the van Rooys’ accomplishments. "They call this the van Rooy Center for Health Enhancement, but anyone who’s had the slightest contact with J. P. and Marie-Claire knows that they themselves are enormous centers for health enhancement. They’re a tonic for all of our lives," he said.
Among the ribbon-cutters after the ceremony was the van Rooys’ son, Dr. Eric M. van Rooy, an oncologist at St. Francis.
The 45,000-square-foot van Rooy Center for Health Enhancement has been St. Francis’ health and wellness building since the early 1990s, Mr. Dadlez said. "This center is crucial to the hospital’s everyday operations and is currently home to many programs, such as the Comprehensive Breast Center, our Foundation offices, the St. Francis Fitness Center, Collins Medical Group and St. Francis Health Partners," he said. Some of those programs may be moved to other St. Francis sites, he added.