White Coat Mass blesses those with vocation of healing

North Texas Catholic
(Oct 20, 2022) Local

medical students hold open doors of Cathedral

Ryan Barrientos, right, and Kurt Chunda greet people as they arrive at the White Coat Mass on Monday, October 17, 2022 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)


FORT WORTH — Can medicine and religion coexist? Or must Catholics check their faith outside the door of their health care workplace?

The integration of health care and faith was at the forefront of the annual White Coat Mass, celebrated on Oct. 17, the eve of the feast of St. Luke, the patron of physicians.

Bishop Michael Olson celebrated the Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral with about 150 health care workers and their families in attendance.

Father Linh Nguyen, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller and chaplain of the Catholic Medical Association of Students at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, delivered the homily.

Fr. Nguyen asked, “What is the goal of medicine? The goal of medicine is the attempt to restore people to wholeness, and in the process respecting and recognizing the inviolable inherent dignity of a person.”

He encouraged health care providers to recognize the humanity and soul of their patients, who often come from a place of hopelessness, vulnerability, and suffering. The lens of faith helps professionals see beyond the diagnosis to the person, who is created in the image and likeness of God.

To do this, he prescribed three steps. First, begin with prayer, remembering that Jesus carved out time for prayer despite the busyness of His healing work.

Secondly, “Through each patient encounter, come to find more deeply Christ in and through them,” he said, understanding that patients are looking for love, meaning, and peace.

Finally, he suggested viewing patients as collaborators to find the best treatment, building a relationship based on mutual trust.

Vincentia Onuegbulem and other healthcare professionals attend the White Coat Mass on Monday, October 17, 2022 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

Medical students from the TCOM helped organize the Mass and reception that followed, visiting about a dozen parishes in the weeks before the White Coat Mass to invite medical professionals to attend.

The students expressed a desire to deepen their network with practicing Catholic physicians, which would be useful for future rotations and for advice. Keith Ripkowski, a second-year medical student and co-president of the Catholic Medical Association of Students, said an established physician can counsel “how to keep your faith in your practice, to make sure your faith doesn’t take a back seat.”

Ann Kurian, MD, and her husband Derek Nieber, MD, have recently moved to the diocese and were attending the White Coat Mass for the first time, but the experience of integrating their faith with their practice of medicine is well established for the physicians.

Dr. Kurian, a surgeon, said she prays for peace, calm, and guidance before each operation, a habit which she finds especially important for emergency surgeries.

Dr. Nieber, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, said his specialty often deals with patients facing the possibility of a negative outcome. His faith, he said, helps him “not be afraid to connect with patients, to be sympathetic, to provide peace and comfort.”

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