At White Coat Mass, medical workers called to dress in compassion, belted with love
FORT WORTH — Erasmus, a Catholic priest and theologian, recorded the proverb vestis virum facit in the year 1500. Even today, the adage is used in English: clothes make the man. Or woman, for that matter.
Clothing and its influence were prominent at the annual White Coat Mass, so named for the white lab jackets worn by many of the health care professionals who attended the Oct. 21 Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral.
In his homily, Bishop Michael Olson emphasized the symbolism of the white jacket, which shows the authority entrusted to those in the healing professions. “Vesture is so important for our professions. How we dress,” he said.
Donning the white lab coat, like wearing the Roman collar, is a visible sign that the wearer accepts the responsibility of his or her vocation, said the prelate.
In the first reading, taken from Colossians 3, St. Paul urges the faithful to put on the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience “as a type of vesture that every Christian wears, symbolized by the white baptismal garment,” explained the bishop.
However, he stressed that the most important thing is to belt it with love. He said, “The vesture that we receive, however, requires that we be girded by charity. Charity comes always with gratitude. We recognize that we need charity for our incredible vocation to help, serve, care for, and help to heal the sick, in whatever vesture they come to us.”
Celebrated in the Diocese of Fort Worth since 2005, the annual White Coat Mass is held each year around the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, to whom St. Paul refers as “the beloved physician” in Colossians.
Second-year medical student Ellen Gaudet is president of the Catholic Medical Association of Students at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which hosted a reception following the Mass.
About a dozen TCOM students attended the Mass, which is an occasion for them to focus on their ultimate goal during years where assignments and exams take so much of their time, according to Gaudet.
During her studies of science and medicine, Gaudet said her faith “helps me remember my purpose for joining the profession. It’s not just about memorizing facts. It’s about being able to treat people and help them heal. It can be an extension of loving people,” said the St. Patrick parishioner, who plans to be a pediatrician.
A physiology professor at University of North Texas Health Science Center, Robert Mallet, Ph. D., said he and his wife, psychiatrist Maryrita Mallet, M.D., have attended at least 10 White Coat Masses. They are members of Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo. The professor enjoys the diversity of health professions at the White Coat Mass, which welcomes nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and individuals from allied health professions, such as physical therapists and radiology technicians.
For Dr. Maryrita Mallet, the White Coat Mass is evidence of a medical community that puts faith into practice. As a self-employed psychiatrist, she addresses the connection between the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual with her patients. “My patients appreciate the opportunity to talk about their faith,” she said.
Intertwining faith with the practice of medicine is essential, according to Dr. Sally Kurz, a family medicine physician who brought her baby and toddler to the Mass. The high demands of a medical practice can leave a physician prone to burnout, but she has found the daily routine of prayer helps “maintain the peace that faith brings.”
Several attendees mentioned that Bishop Olson, who studied health care ethics in the Catholic tradition at Saint Louis University, is specially equipped to discuss the necessary union between science and the faith.
As health technology advances, “the Church is going to play a key role in grounding the discussion and making sure that [science] evolves appropriately, to make sure that it doesn’t go in a direction that marginalizes the sanctity of life,” said Tim Plocica, who works in advancement for a local nonprofit. Although he’s never worn a white lab coat, he attended the White Coat Mass because he has several family members in health care professions and previously worked in advancement for a Catholic hospital.
About 60 people attended the evening Mass and reception, a break during the week to focus on their faith and enjoy the fellowship of others who share their vocation. Although their workday was done, many wore their white lab coats throughout the event.
“We come here this evening aware of our vocations, aware of our vesture — our vesture of our professions and our vesture, as well, of our faith. The vesture that doesn’t conceal, but reveals Christ to us and saves us, saves us, from selfishness and sin,” concluded Bishop Olson.