By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
On Monday, July 1, Catholic healthcare in central Mississippi took a historic stride forward when the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois passed on the torch of sponsorship to the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Franciscan Calais Ministry has been providing Catholic health care needs in north-central Louisiana since 1911, while the Dominican Sisters launched their mission with Catholic health care in Jackson in 1946. Both envisioned and fostered the compassionate and healing ministry of Jesus Christ as a vital dimension of the mission of the Catholic Church to foster the Kingdom of God in our world while never losing sight of our eternal destiny. The theme that the Dominican and Franciscan sisters chose for the landmark transition is “Companions on the Journey.” They reached back in time nearly 800 years to a conversation between their respective founders, Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, to chart their course for the future. “You are my companion; we will work together, supporting one another to the same end, and no one will prevail against us,” said Saint Dominic to Saint Francis, while both were in Rome to receive official blessings for their fledging religious orders.
One might ask why a transition into one health system was necessary in the first place. Although the St. Dominic health care system is quite extensive, employing in the neighborhood of 3000 individuals across a range of services, and at this time financially stable, it is actually small in comparison to existing Catholic or non-sectarian health care systems throughout the United States. No free-standing health care provider of the size of St. Dominic’s would survive for long in today’s market. With this merger Catholic health care is strengthened for the foreseeable future across north-central Louisiana and central Mississippi. The new system remains part of the nation-wide Catholic network that provides one sixth of the nation’s health care needs. Large, medium, or small the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care inform the mission and set the standards for Catholic health care providers. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ratified the sixth edition of the Directives in June 2018, a document that is the fruit of collaboration for many who are committed to advancing the compassionate and healing love of Jesus Christ from the heart of the Catholic Church.
The Ethical and Religious Directives, a 40 page pamphlet, provides a substantial presentation of who we are and whose we are in our mission of health care as Catholics. I will quote extensively from this document in order to appreciate how blessed we are to have now an enlarged Catholic health care presence in our region, with the merger of the Dominican and Franciscan traditions. “The Church has always sought to embody our Savior’s concern for the sick. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry draw special attention to his acts of healing: he healed lepers; he gave sight to the blind; he enabled one who was mute to speak; he cured a woman who was hemorrhaging; he brought a young girl back to life. Indeed, the Gospels are replete with examples of how the Lord cured every kind of ailment and disease…Jesus’ healing mission went further than caring only for physical affliction. He touched people at the deepest level of their existence; he sought their physical, mental and spiritual healing. He came that they might have life and have it more abundantly…The mystery of Christ casts light on every facet of Catholic health care; to see healing and compassion as a continuation of Christ’s mission; to see suffering as a participation in the redemptive power of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, and to see death transformed by the resurrection, as an opportunity for a final act of communion with Christ.”
The mission and vision of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady and the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois align seamlessly with the Lord’s mission, as evident in their health care services since their inception.
The Ethical and Religious Directives further elaborates on what sets Catholic health care apart from other providers.” First, Catholic health care ministry is rooted in a commitment to promote and defend human dignity; this is the foundation of its concern to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until death…The right to life entails a right to the means for the proper development of life, such as adequate health care. Second, the biblical mandate to care for the poor requires us to express this in concrete actions at all levels of Catholic health care… Attention should be given to the health care needs of the poor, the uninsured and the underinsured. Third, Catholic health care ministry seeks to contribute to the common good, the conditions that ensure protection for the fundamental rights of all individuals and enables all to fulfill their common purpose and reach their common goals. Fourth, Catholic health care ministry exercises responsible stewardship of available health care resources. Fifth, within a pluralistic society, Catholic health care services will encounter requests for medical procedures contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. Catholic health care does not offend the rights of individual consciences by refusing to provide or permit medical procedures that are judged morally wrong by the teaching authority of the Church.”
What a blessing it is that this new creation in Catholic health care embodies the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, who invited all to the banquet of life, especially the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (Luke 14:13). “Catholic Health care services rejoice in the challenge to be Christ’s healing compassion in the world and see their ministry not only as an effort to restore and preserve health, but also as a spiritual service and a sign of that final healing that will one day bring about the new creation that is the ultimate fruit of Jesus’ ministry and God’s love for us.” May God who began the good work in the vision of our Dominican and Franciscan sisters continue to bless their commitment for many years to come and bring it to fulfillment on the day of Christ Jesus.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz