Healthcare Professionals Should Never Close Themselves Off From the Sense of Awe

DANBURY– One of the biggest problems facing doctors today comes “when the sense of awe wears off,” Fr. Myles Sheehan, Jesuit priest and physician said at the 24th White Mass Breakfast for healthcare professionals at Ridgewood Country Club.

The Dartmouth Medical School graduate and Harvard trained physician said what when physicians and other health workers “close themselves off from awe,” they close themselves off from God and the grace to respond with the deepest level of compassion and mercy to those who are suffering and ill.

Fr. Sheehan, who is Provincial Assistant for Senior Jesuits of the USA Northeast and Maryland Provinces of the Society of Jesus, was introduced by Dr. John Murphy president and chief executive officer of the Western Connecticut Health Network, and a parishioner of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown.

Speaking to a gathering of more than 200 healthcare professionals and others at the breakfast, Fr. Sheehan said that Pope Francis has invested the Church with a sense of urgency about the need to reach out to those who need help the most.

“The Pope sees the Church as a place for urgent care, not for specialists,” he said, adding that health care workers have a “sacramental presence” because they “touch the flesh of Christ” when they treat the outcast and those who are ill.

In a half-hour reflection on Pope Francis’ concept of the Church as a “field hospital,” Fr. Sheehan turned the tables on the often-used phrase that hospitals “need margin in order to perform mission.”

“The Pope is challenging us to take the mission to the margins,” he said, noting that healthcare workers must be supported in their mission to accompany people “through the dark places” of their suffering and loss.

The Church must also reach out to the marginalized and those on the periphery including Catholics who no longer practice their faith. “In Boston only 15 percent of Catholic attend Mass on Sunday. The Church must find a way to reach out.”

Fr. Sheehan said that an occupational job hazard for clergy as well as physicians is the temptation to “separate from people,” falling back on ideology or power that prevents them from responding with mercy and compassion.

“We can create boundaries or realize there is no safety except in god’s love and grace,” he said of the need of physicians and priests to remain open to others.

Fr. Sheehan said most hospital have brand tag lines that affirm the whole person and the spiritual aspect of care, but that Catholic healthcare providers need to “make compassion more than a slogan.”

Likewise, he said many current “measures of productivity” in medicine are “increasingly out of step with patient’s needs and the Gospel.

Recalling his work as Senior Associate Dean at Loyola, Fr. Sheehan said he told young physicians that if they were interested in medicine for the money or the lifestyle, “they were in it for the wrong reasons.”

He said the challenge for Catholic hospital administrators and managers is to “encourage a deep sense of the vocation of medicine” and to deepen their own formation.

Fr. Sheehan said he did not have the answers to the many challenges facing Catholic healthcare in the future, but “there is a sacredness to how we work that out.”

Fr. Sheehan added that Catholic healthcare networks might also benefit by returning to the spirit of religious women who founded them. Many faced discrimination and other obstacles, but they were totally committed to their patients and they lived alongside those they served.

Referring to the Pope’s thoughts on “the apostolate of the ear,” Fr. Sheehan said that diagnoses would be more accurate and healthcare would improve if physicians and others spent more time listening to patients.

The morning began when Bishop Frank J. Caggiano celebrated Mass at St. Peter Church in downtown Danbury. “You are the light in the darkness and help people to see they are loved by you and by Christ. Few vocations have so sacred a duty,” Bishop Caggiano said to health care workers in his homily.

During the breakfast, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano presented the Father Rufin Kuveikis Compassionate Care Awards to Dr. Mae Kelly Tighe, M.D. of Wilton, and Rose Taliercio of Norwalk

In receiving the award, Dr. Tighe said that being a good physician is not simply “about the skill in our brains and hands, but in our ears and our hearts.” Fr. Reggie Norman, Pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton, nominated her.

She was honored for her work with the Order of Malta and for her medical service on Malta’s team on pilgrimages to Lourdes. He was also the 2011 recipient of the “Healing Hands, Caring Hearts” award from Milford Hospital and has served as a strong advocate for the dignity and sanctity of life.

Rose Taliercio, RN, was presented the Fr. Ruffin Award in recognition of her leadership of the Parish Nurse Program of St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk, which encourages physical and spiritual health and wholeness. The retired nurse of 44 years continues to serve elderly and hospice patients, is also a Eucharistic Minister.
She was nominated Fr. Walter Orlowski, pastor of St. Matthew Parish.

In her acceptance remarks, Rose Talierico said she knew the late Fr. Rufin, long-time chaplain at Norwalk Hospital, and was grateful to receive the award for compassionate care. “This is very special for me. Compassion is what he did. I am very honored.”

Pictures by Michelle Babyak