Health care workers have been a main line of defense these many months during the unrelenting pandemic. They have given themselves with love and compassion and, like Jesus, have worked tirelessly to care for the sick and afflicted.
On Oct. 18, the White Mass for these ministers of life was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. That date was also the feast day of St. Luke, patron saint of physicians. The special liturgy was given its name for the color worn by health care professionals and serves to give them strength and guidance when caring for others.
The tradition of the White Mass is traced back to the 1900s in the United States by the Catholic Medical Association. The CMA was formed to “… educate physicians in church doctrine related to the practice of medicine” with three main objectives: foster Catholic physicians’ faith and relationship with God, strengthen knowledge and the practice of moral and ethical medical principles, and promote support and solidarity among physicians.
In Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ homily, he spoke about the importance of prayer and how Jesus links health with “even larger purposes.” As he looked out to the congregation, he said, “I invite you who have been blessed by God with medical skills to see your profession as a share in the mission Jesus gave to the 72 disciples. Jesus Himself is your model. Jesus, the divine physician, humbly put Himself at the full disposal of His patients.”
“Please know of my and the Church’s gratitude to you for your service of the Gospel, especially your selfless and exhausting work during the pandemic. May the Lord continue to give you strength and consolation as you face the pressures of your work,” he said.
The physicians and other health care personnel attended the Mass to celebrate their fellow medical professionals and to pray for strength for each other and for their patients.
Dr. Patrick Krach, a third-year family medicine resident with the Fort Wayne Medical Education Program, shared why he is so passionate about his career.
“It’s great to be a Catholic doctor and take that approach every day in how I take care of my patients and pray for my patients. My Catholic faith first and foremost leads me to respect the human dignity of every person that I see whether it’s just a normal well child check or sick and dying patients in the hospital. My faith is how I approach my patients in an everyday setting.”
The decision to become a medical professional touches the lives of those around the person who makes that decision. Dr. Eustace Fernandes, pulmonary and critical care specialist with Lutheran Medical Group, said he was inspired by his father, who was also a physician.
“I learned from [my dad] that it was an opportunity to serve Jesus living in my fellow man and also just a genuine love of the subject matter and the desire to serve others is what led me to pursue a career in medicine.”
In his approach to caring for his patients by being a Catholic physician, his father told him: “’My faith teaches me that every patient I encounter is an image of Christ so it provides encouragement for me to uphold the dignity of every human person because that person is Jesus.’”
For Anne Koehl, a registered nurse who works with expectant moms and helps them to make the choices for their babies is something she is passionate about. She is the director of the Women’s Care Center, a pregnancy resource center in Fort Wayne, that provides free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, counseling and more for pregnant mothers who are facing unplanned pregnancies.
Koehl also serves as a member of the Catholic Medical Guild chapter in Fort Wayne. To her, the White Mass is a special time for health care professionals to come together once a year as an opportunity to worship and pray together and continue the work that they do. “I just really love helping people. It makes me feel closer to God with the work I do,” she said.
After Mass, a dinner was provided at St. Mary, Mother of God Parish down the street. There, a special guest spoke about his miraculous recovery from COVID-19 while in the care of a Catholic physician. Jason Shanks, OSV Institute president, was intubated and sedated for six weeks and was under the care of Dr. Fernandes.
“Tonight, I want to express my gratitude and thanks. I think Catholic medicine in particular saved my life,” he said. “I was in the hospital for three months and had to relearn how to walk and talk, use my arms again, swallow — many things we take for granted. I want to show you a little bit of hope for your other patients of what God can do through you and the work you do.”
Shanks went on to encourage everyone to remember the medical heroes that are on the front lines during this pandemic. “I watch them go through very stressful days, and I think we owe them a debt of gratitude and prayers for their strength and courage.”
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