Native son returns to celebrate white mass

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, delivers the homily at the White Mass Feb. 14 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood.
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, delivers the homily at the White Mass Feb. 14 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood.

by Marc and Julie Anderson
mjanderson@theleaven.org

LEAWOOD — What do Dr. Jerome Lejeune, Dr. Giuseppe Moscati and Dr. Gianna Molla have in common?

They were Catholic doctors but, more importantly, said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, their souls proclaimed the greatness of the Lord.

Bishop Conley discussed the doctors and the importance of Catholic health care in his homily at the annual White Mass held on Feb. 14 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood. More than 200 people participated in the Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Naumann and concelebrated by Bishop Conley, a native of Overland Park. Also joining the archbishop were Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Abbot James Albers, OSB, and archdiocesan priests.

Sponsored by the Saints Cosmas and Damian Guild of the Catholic Medical Association of Kansas City, the annual Mass is celebrated in honor of all health care workers. The name and the white vestments at the liturgy are in honor of the traditional color worn by doctors and nurses.

In some dioceses, the Mass is celebrated in mid-October near the feast day of St. Luke the physician. Others celebrate the Mass near Feb. 11, the World Day of Sick.

Founded in 1912, the Catholic Medical Association is “a physician-led community of health care professionals that informs, organizes and inspires its members, in steadfast fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church, to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith in the science and practice of medicine.” More than 2,000 physician-members belong to more than 90 local guilds spread across 11 regions. Bishop Conley serves as the association’s episcopal adviser.

In his homily, Bishop Conley first recounted the startling finding of Dr. Jerome Lejeune in 1958 that led to the discovery of Down syndrome.

Lejeune went on to open the first clinic for people with Down syndrome, treating patients from around the world. He also trained thousands of physicians to treat those with chromosomal abnormalities. In 1994, Lejeune became the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“I met Dr. Lejeune in the summer of 1990 when I was living in Europe, and I spent a whole day with him and a few of his colleagues. I knew then that I was in the presence of a saint,” said Bishop Conley.

The bishop next shared the story of St. Giuseppe Moscati, an Italian doctor who, when the roof of his hospital collapsed in 1906, dragged his patients to safety, one at a time. In 1911, he treated hundreds of people with cholera without regard for his health.

“Those experiences transformed him,” the bishop said. “While Dr. Moscati might have been content teaching and practicing medicine, the Holy Spirit spoke to him and called him to more.”

In 1912, Moscati took a vow of celibacy, a promise to remain unmarried, and to serve the poor, opening free clinics for the homeless and the working poor.

Like Moscati, St. Gianna Molla practiced family medicine, often for free. In 1961, two months into her pregnancy, Molla’s doctor found a fibroma on her uterus. Advised to undergo an abortion and hysterectomy, she refused. In April 1962, Molla’s fourth child, a daughter, was born healthy, although she died seven days later from septic peritonitis.

“In 2004, I was graced to be present at her canonization, and I met her 90-year-old husband,” Bishop Conley said. “Her husband and her family brought her relics to the altar at that canonization Mass and presented them to Saint John Paul II at the offertory. It was a moving experience to behold.”

The bishop said these three doctors were “ordinary physicians in imitation of the divine physician, Jesus Christ. Their work was an expression of the fundamental experience of their lives, divine love.”

Later, the bishop said, “Health care in America is losing sight of the fundamental dignity of the human person. Dear physicians and health care professionals, the world of medicine needs the Gospel, and you are called.”

Bishop Conley ended by encouraging health care workers. “Do not be afraid to evangelize for Jesus Christ in your medical practice.

“The world is longing to see the greatness of the Lord.”

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