The ‘Noble’ and ‘Precious’ Work

As the Marian Fathers’ healthcare apostolate prepares for its 16th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics & Spirituality Conference this spring, they are doing so during a year of special significance. 

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife.”

Pope Francis himself has taken note. In his Angelus address on Sunday, Jan. 19, he praised the “noble” and “precious” work of healthcare workers.

“I am pleased to remember that 2020 has been designated internationally as the ‘Year of the Nurse and Midwife,’” the Holy Father said. “Nurses are the most numerous health workers, and closest to the sick, and midwives are perhaps the noblest of the professions.”

Pope Francis concluded, saying, “Let us pray for all of them, that they may do their precious work in the best possible way.”

For Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, “the best way possible” demands professional formation that integrates the best of medical science with bio-medical ethics, pastoral care, Judeo-Christian Revelation, and Divine Mercy spirituality. 

To that end, Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy hosts its annual conference, a seedbed for thousands of noble professionals who seek to serve the whole person: the physical person and the spiritual person.

This year’s conference will be held May 5-6, at a new venue: Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. 

Register for the conference here.

“I love that Pope Francis is recognizing the important role of the nurse,” said Marie Romagnano, MSN, RN, CRC, CCM, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy. “This illustrates the necessity for conferences like ours that are teaching platforms for bioethical issues and ongoing education for all healthcare professionals on the spiritual care of the patient.”

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Marie notes that this year’s conference will be held against the backdrop of the deadly and contagious coronavirus outbreak, which has put nations around the world on edge and placed healthcare workers on the frontlines.

“Healthcare workers are dying in their efforts to save the lives of others,” says Marie. “It’s just another reminder that, with the work we do, there’s a high degree of self-sacrifice, and in addition to the need for technical medical expertise, we need to draw upon the spiritual tools available to save souls, including our own souls.”

Part educational seminar, part spiritual retreat, the Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics & Spirituality Conferenceincludes prayer, Holy Mass, and two full days of training geared toward helping attendees identify bioethical principles and ways on which to apply them to patient care. The conference is open to all medical professionals as well as social workers, hospital chaplains and other clergy, and educators. Physicians, nurses, and social workers can earn continuing education credits by attending.

This year’s lineup includes the Most Rev. Bishop Robert McManus, STD, of Worcester; Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers; Bryan Thatcher, MD, the international director of Doctors for Divine Mercy and founder of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy; Dr. Christopher Klofft, associate professor of theology at Assumption College; Brian B. Burkey, MD, MEd, FACS, the vice-chairman and section head of the Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology at Cleveland Clinic; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, PhB, STL, SEOL, former vice-postulator of St. Faustina’s canonization cause; Marie Romagnano; Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, BA, STB, STL (Cand.), provincial superior of the Marian Fathers; Ron Sobecks, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic; Sr. Gaudia Skass, OLM; Peter A. DePergola II, PhD, MTS, assistant professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the College of Our Lady of the Elms; and Brian B. Burkey, MD, MEd, FACS.

Reflecting on this year’s speakers and the topics to be addressed, Marie shakes her head in wonder: “This is why this never gets old,” she says. 

All this effort serves to underscore the critical role healthcare professionals play in providing what Marie calls “total patient care.”

By means of her conference and her work with the Marian Fathers, Marie emphasizes the fact that incredible advancements in medicine and science don’t change the simple fact that spirituality can bring comfort, even healing — even redemption — for the sick and dying.

Moreover, bringing this attitude to mainstream medical practices is not only advisable, she says, it’s required.

Indeed, the independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 15,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the United States, requires that spiritual assessments be made of patients. For example, such spiritual assessment may include the following questions directed to the patient or his or her family:

• Who or what provides the patient with strength and hope?
• Does the patient use prayer in his or her life?
• What type of spiritual/religious support does the patient desire?
• What is the name of the patient’s clergy, ministers, chaplains, pastor, rabbi?
• What are the patient’s spiritual goals?
• Is there a role of church/synagogue in the patient’s life?
• How does your faith help the patient cope with illness?

Spiritual assessments, says Marie, “need to be second nature” for healthcare professionals. “They need to know what to do and who to call for appropriate spiritual care, and if the patient is actively dying, they need to know how to pray in whatever religion they are,” Marie says. “They need to offer the spiritual support to the patient and the patient’s family. 

“The literature shows that healthcare professionals would be happy to perform a spiritual assessment if they were taught, but most of the time it’s not in the curriculum,” she says. “We’re really focused on making healthcare professionals aware of The Joint Commission guidelines and giving them the confidence to take care of the spiritual needs of the patient.”

Marie, a nurse case manager from Charlton, Massachusetts, founded Nurses for Divine Mercy on Sept. 11, 2001. Nurses for Divine Mercy grew and eventually developed into Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy when doctors and other medical professionals desired to join its ranks. 

The ministry became an official apostolate of the Marian Fathers in 2006. Marie work closely with Bryan Thatcher, MD, founder of another Marian apostolate, the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy.

For Marie, it’s not merely a point of pride to emphasize that western hospitals were first established by the Catholic Church and that faith-based care draws from Western civilization’s earliest medical traditions. Rather, it’s a point of practicality. For early Christians — inspired by how strongly Jesus identified with the sick — it was understood that “humans are God’s greatest masterpiece,” says Marie, “and they deserve not only the best medical care, but the best spiritual care, as well.”

In addition to the emphasis she places on bioethics and Church doctrine, Marie says that Catholics in particular have an instrument at their disposal that, in the realm of the sick and dying, is at least as powerful as any of modern medicine’s most astounding medical breakthroughs: the Divine Mercy message and devotions, as revealed by our Lord to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s.

“The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, an intercessory prayer, was given to St. Faustina especially as a remedy for the dying,” Marie says. “Our Lord tells us, ‘Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death’” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 687). 

“The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is the most powerful prayer next to the Mass that you can say for the dying,” said Marie, who received her spiritual training from the Marian Fathers.

Relying on Jesus’ promises through St. Faustina, Nurse Marie said, healthcare professionals can be “the spiritual link to Christ … you are His merciful presence at the bedside of the patient. By prayer and by using our hands and our hearts, healthcare professionals can bring God’s grace of healing and consolation to their patients and the patients’ families.”

Specifically, says Marie, for patients or their families who are open to spiritual care, medical staff can offer copies of the Image of Divine Mercy and prayercards with the Chaplet. “By using the Divine Mercy devotion,” says Marie, “it gives patients and their family members a tremendous amount of hope in the promises of Jesus.”

Additionally, she encourages medical staff to pick a time of day, before or after work, and pray the Chaplet for the intentions of those who die within the next 24 hours.

Father Kaz, the Marian Fathers’ provincial superior in the United States and Argentina, notes that Blessed George Matulaitis (1871-1927), known as the Renovator, placed great emphasis on gathering the laity to help with evangelization. Healthcare professionals, he says, fill a particular niche that clergy cannot.

“We have something more than just ‘12 disciples,’” says Fr. Kaz, noting that Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy has grown to include more than 3,000 members worldwide. 

“Do you know what that means? You can multiply the good,” he says. “Each can have an effect on a couple dozen people each day, a few thousand a year.”

He referred to healthcare professionals as “seeds of grace, powerful seeds of change, of healing and strength, because when we bring God (into our work), we are all powerful. He is there for us.”

Register for the conference here. Learn more about Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy. You can also order Nurse Marie’s book, Nursing with the Hands of Jesus: A Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy (Marian Press), written with Frs. Kaz and Seraphim.

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A special invitation from Marie Romagnano, founder of the Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy.