White Mass celebrates contribution of Catholic health care workers

by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a big weekend for the Catholic medical community.

The White Mass for health care workers, sponsored by the Catholic Medical Association, was held Feb. 12 at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kan. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the principal celebrant; Bishop Robert Vasa, coadjutor of Santa Rosa, Calif., concelebrated and delivered the homily.

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to address the Catholic Medical Association because I see in you and acknowledge with you that the work you do so closely resembles the work Christ calls us all to do,” said Bishop Vasa.

Bishop Vasa addressed the significance of the World Day of the Sick on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, held Feb. 11, in relation to the Catholic medical community.

“It is a suitable occasion to reflect on suffering,” he said. “The true measure of humanity is determined in relationship to the suffering and sufferer. True compassion is to take up a portion of suffering with or for them, not to find ways to avoid it.”

In his homily, Bishop Vasa discussed the balance of science and faith required by Catholic medical staff.

“We are here as men and women of rationality and science and, in your practice of medicine as Catholics, that’s what Jesus asks you to do,” said Bishop Vasa. “We must be people of faith and science. As a Catholic physician, one cannot minimize the pursuit of reason or science in your care of patients. But that also must be tempered by faith.”

Bishop Vasa encouraged health care workers to look to Mary for their example in following Christ, particularly her words to Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana: Do whatever he tells you.

“May her presence in our lives be an ever-present impetus for us to be courageous in obeying the voice of her son in the world today,” he said.

Displayed at the Mass were several relics of St. Gianna Molla, an Italian mother and physician canonized in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

On Feb. 13, Thomas McKenna, president of the St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, gave a presentation on the saint’s life at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Leawood. McKenna, who knows the family of St. Gianna personally, supplied the relics on display at the White Mass — a stethoscope used by St. Gianna in her medical practice, a pair of gloves that belonged to St. Gianna, and a strand of her hair.

“I’m very blessed to have been entrusted relics by the family of St. Gianna,” said McKenna. “It’s an Italian custom to snip a lock of hair from the deceased prior to burial, and that clip of her hair is considered a first-class relic.”

McKenna’s talk included photos of St. Gianna as a child, engagement photos, and photos of her with her children. St. Gianna married at 33 years of age in 1955 and died at the age of 39 in 1962.

“St. Gianna lived in our times. And one of the things that makes it easy to relate to her is because we have pictures of her life,” said McKenna.

St. Gianna, when pregnant with her fourth child, refused a hysterectomy that would have removed a fibroid tumor — but would have also ended the life of her unborn child. Against medical advice, she chose to have the fibroid removed while continuing the high-risk pregnancy. She delivered a healthy baby, but developed complications from the caesarean section procedure and died a week after giving birth.

But McKenna’s talk concentrated less on the final chapter of the saint’s life and more on how her virtue was revealed prior to that. It also brought to life some of the personality of the saint.

“Her oldest son was six when she died and remembers riding in the car with his mom while she drove, and that she drove fast,” said McKenna. “She loved to ski and hike outdoors; she loved to paint.”

McKenna said that at the age of 15, St. Gianna attended an Ignatian retreat that she later wrote marked her life. Her faith, said McKenna, especially hinged on devotion to the Eucharist, apostolic action, and purity.

“Her husband said St. Gianna did many things, but she always did them with the Catholic faith as her compass,” said McKenna.

McKenna said St. Gianna desired to be a medical missionary in Brazil like her brother, but her health was too frail. So it was especially fitting, he said, that the two miracles attributed to St. Gianna for her beatification and canonization were both from women in Brazil. One of the women who received a miracle through the intercession of St. Gianna was present at her canonization, along with St. Gianna’s family.

“This is the first time in the history of the church that a saint has been canonized with their husband and children present at the canonization,” said McKenna. “Her husband just died last April, and her children are in their 40s and 50s, alive and knowing their mother is a saint. It’s a very unique situation.”

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