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Open Wide and Say 'A-men'

More than a Filling … a Dentist Discovers Divine Mercy

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In the Bible, the "gnashing" of teeth is a veritable dental epidemic. Seven passages in the New Testament alone speak of this grinding or grating together of the teeth. Those teeth, without exception, belonged to souls lost in a state of suffering of one form or another.

Back in 1995, a man we'll call "Harry" stepped into Dr. Valdemar Welz's dental office in Boston. Harry, 42 at the time and a successful businessman, had ground his teeth — all 28 of them — down to the gum lines. His mouth was a mess.

But he had come to the right dentist at the right time.

Dr. Welz (pronounced Wells) had just recently read the Diary of St. Faustina. After what he calls a "30-year search for truth," he finally found truth in the Diary. God had suddenly become real to him. And the cause of most of the world's problems had become clear.

He took a gander at Harry's mouth. Yes, Harry would need 28 crowns, no question. "But, look, this is not a dental problem," he told Harry. "Why are you gnashing your teeth? Because of the lack of God in your life."

Harry was taken aback. Here was this dentist, one of Boston's finest, whose job entailed the science of teeth, talking about God and mercy and the power of prayer.

But it paid off. Harry, a non-practicing Jew, began going to temple. With a peaceful heart — and a mended mouth — he tells people to this day that "it's all about God."

"So my first convert was Jewish!" says Dr. Welz, with a laugh.

Welcome to the world of Dr. Welz, the Divine Mercy dentist, where the motto is "brush, floss, pray, and obey."

"The Diary was the book that brought me back to the Catholic Church," says Dr. Welz, 54. "When I read it that first time, it was my 'St. Thomas moment.' Think of St. Thomas after the Resurrection. Ten of his best friends told him, 'Look, the guy who walked on water, raised the dead, fed 5,000 with two fishes and five loaves, He's resurrected. We've seen Him.' And Thomas says, 'I don't believe you.'

"For 30 years I did that. I said: 'I don't believe you.' Saint Faustina's book allowed me to put my hand in His side, my fingers in His nail holes and say, 'This is the truth.' Now, when I read the Bible, I say, 'My God, My Lord, this is the Word of God.'

Fighting truth decay
It's 5:30 a.m. on a Friday in early September. Dr. Welz pulls his car up to St. Anthony's Shrine on Arch Street in Boston, as he does each weekday morning to attend Holy Mass.

The subway grates puff out stale morning breath. And about the only signs of life are a few delivery trucks that seem to wobble on arthritic knees and a couple of seagulls that circle and squawk hoarsely and half-heartedly as if they've been up all night.

Dr. Welz has been up nearly all night, too - since 1 a.m. Sleep doesn't come easy for him. In fact, his spiritual advisor, Fr. James Montanaro, OBV, orders him to sleep as an act of penance. But reading and praying do come easy. He's been reading the Diary for the fourteenth time ("Everytime, I discover something different," he says). He's also been reading a book on Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body"("It's a call to Divine Mercy," he says. "It's a call to imitate Christ. It's amazing!")

As for his prayer life, he's been praying for a big, long list of people — and that list always includes his beloved wife of 30 years, Elzbieta, and their three children whom they've adopted from Russia — Nika, 9, Max, 9, and Tosia, 8.

They're all back home, sound asleep, as most people at this hour.

Dr. Welz, with the squared-off build of a hockey player, makes his way into the Shrine, nodding to a few familiar faces he sees in the pews. The Gospel reading is Matthew 25:1-13, known as "The Ten Virgins Parable." The point of the parable is that we must prepare ourselves for Christ's coming because the stakes are high. To do otherwise means we could be left behind.

This, of course, is right up Dr. Welz's alley, and he nods knowingly.

Through his attempt of trying to preserve his patients' teeth for a lifetime, he does everything he can to get their souls into heaven. That is to say, he fights tooth decay and truth decay. And the Diary — the reading which he frequently "prescribes" for his patients — contains precisely the very truth that the world needs now more than ever, he says. The truth being that God is with us, that He is merciful above all else, and that we must turn to Him in trust.

"What I do for people in the office is I say, 'Can I give you a present?' Who can refuse a present? Most of the time the gift I give them is the Diary," he says. "I give them away. I mean, what do they cost? Eight bucks? Eight bucks to save a soul? That's a bargain!"

Enlisting help in the fight
After Mass, he heads to a coffee shop, buys a pastry and a coffee, and steers his car toward his office. It's located in Boston's posh Back Bay, where the handsome and historic townhouses sit straight and snug, like sets of perfect teeth.

Today, perfect teeth are not on his agenda. It's Friday, his favorite day. Why? Because each Friday he reserves time for his non-paying patients — people referred to him who are most in need, as well as to religious, including sisters from St. Faustina's order who live in Boston and members of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

It's not a lopsided relationship, Dr. Welz admits. He puts them "to work," as he says.

"Whenever I come, he has a list for me," says Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' Director of Evangelization and Development. "Sometimes he wants me to talk to people on the phone whom he's met who need spiritual counseling. He takes these things seriously. He wants to provide people in need with ministerial resources."

"One thing is for sure," says Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the Director of the Association of Marian Helpers, and a patient of Dr. Welz, "he doesn't want anyone to go to hell."

Until Divine Mercy Sunday this year, atop Dr. Welz's list of people in need was his own brother, Roman, who served as his associate for decades. Roman had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2005. By this April, he was clearly dying. Dr. Welz urged him on many occasions to consult with a priest, but Roman brushed the notion aside.

Then, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, Dr. Welz prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for his brother with the special intention that Roman would go to heaven. The next day, unbeknownst to Dr. Welz at the time, Roman received the sacraments of the Church. He died on July 29.

Roman's name remains on the door of the dentistry office "as a reminder to me of what my goal in life is," says Dr. Welz, " — to get to heaven."

In his eulogy at Roman's funeral, Dr. Welz laid out a plan on how everyone can join Roman in heaven.

"What is the purpose of life?" he said. "To get to heaven. How do we do that? We have to become saints. How do we become saints? By imitating Jesus."

A kid with questions
Dr. Welz wasn't always like this. Born in Poland, raised in Boston, he had, from an early age, an inclination to question the things that were presented to him as absolute truth. And that included his Catholic Faith. When he was 14 and in CCD class, he asked so many questions that the priest who was his teacher finally stormed out of the room.

That marked the beginning of a 30-year period in which he all but closed the door on Catholicism. But during that period, he read everything he could get his hands on — philosophy books, spiritual books, psychology books — searching for meaning.

Finally, in 1994, in a book of quotes, he came across this: "It's all about forgiveness," it said. For the dentist, that touched a nerve. He formulated a theory — that God, in effect, is asking us to forgive everyone who has ever hurt us, and then, at the same time, through His mercy, He forgives us for everything we've ever done that's sinful.

Several months later, in the spring of 1995, his dental hygienist, Christine Schneider, a Divine Mercy devotee, handed him a copy of the Diary of St. Faustina, a book written in the 1930s by the Polish nun that includes revelations she had with Jesus Christ.

That was a Thursday. He spent the entire weekend "devouring" it, he says.

His former CCD teacher might be pleased to know that Dr. Welz no longer has any questions about God. They've all been answered, he says.

"But I'm sure God has lots of questions for me," he says, with a laugh.

Another day at the office
At 7:40 a.m., a young Polish immigrant named Malgorzata is first in the dentist chair. She needs a filling. But first thing's first. Dr. Welz, dressed now in green scrubs with a Divine Mercy pin, clicks on the office music — not the typical Muzak, but rather the Psalms in song.

Because of dental dams and other sorts of obtrusive instrumentation, most patients' mouths are often too occupied to join in any conversation. So Dr. Welz typically has the floor, so to speak.

"Do you know why Valdemar has two dental assistants?" Kasia, one of his dental assistants, asks. "To make sure he's not talking the whole time." She's teasing him. "We point to our watches. We wave our hands," she says with a smile.

He's talking to Malgorzata about the Diary now. Specifically paragraph 374 in which St. Faustina crosses out her will and writes, "From today on, my own will does not exist … From today on, I do the Will of God everywhere, always, and in everything."

"Amazing, isn't it?" he says, pulling his facemask down around his neck. "The most powerful thing we can do," he says, "is give our wills totally over to God. It's an amazing thing, and it's only then when you realize how wonderful and merciful God is."

Holding court
Can all this zeal be overbearing for some patients? It's a question that's not new to Dr. Welz. He's given it a lot of thought. His spiritual advisor, Fr. James, acknowledges, "I have to channel his enthusiasm from time to time."

But Dr. Welz likens himself to the bartender who talks baseball, or a barber who talks politics. With candor, humor, and conviction — and in between drilling and filling teeth — he holds court inside his elegantly appointed office at 398 Commonwealth Avenue, talking with his patients and 12-member staff about Divine Mercy.

"How could I not discuss this with people?" he says. "That's insane. God is the most important thing in my life."

He pauses, then he adds: "People want to hear the truth. They yearn for it."

No one can argue with that. Plus, his business is booming. He's booked solid several months in advance.

By day's end, he's performed half a dozen procedures, including root canal on a low-income mother. He's also given the Catholic chaplain of New England Medical Center a new gold crown and gold inlay (what Dr. Welz jokingly referred to as a "chalice" and a "patten").

At 4 p.m., the babysitter drops off his three children. He lets them make "super balls" out of lab putty while he finishes up his work. Then they all pile into the car excitedly. It's Friday. They're going to meet their mother at home and have a feast. The children have headphones on. They're snapping their gum (sugar-free, of course).

"Ok, kids," Dr. Welz says, as he twists the ignition. "What's the purpose of life?"

They stop what they're doing and respond in unison: "To get to heaven!"

A wide smile takes over his face as he puts the car in drive.

Learn a few dental tips — and spiritual tips — from Dr. Welz by clicking here.

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Former Student of Dr. Welz - Nov 14, 2007

One cold autumn day during my first year of dental school, the year was 1986. I was waiting on the corner with my blue articulator box in hand waiting for the bus to take me to Boston University School of Dentistry. Dr. Welz was a clinical instructor in Dental Anatomy. As he was driving to school, he saw me on the corner and beeped his horn and waved for me to get in. I knew him, but I was convinced he didn't know me, he recognized the blue articulator box. On the way in to school, we stopped at his office on Commonwealth Avenue which at that time was being constructed. He showed me the blueprints and layout of his future office. Being a lonely freshman dental student, I could only dream of being in that situation one day. As I said this to him, he said with a twinkle in his eye, "work hard and you will..." Needless to say, he was right. I never forgot what he said, and I never forgot him. He was more than a clinical instructor, he was an artist. And I am sure he remains that today. G-d Bless Dr. Welz.

Dr.V - Apr 26, 2007

I'm a Catholic Dentist working in New Mexico. Thank you for such an inspiring article. It's nice to see Dentists doing their part for the kingdom of God. :)

Lynne - Nov 17, 2006

I enjoyed this article very much and I love the picture of Jesus in the article, it's beautiful! Where did you get it? God Bless you for all that you do.

Bernadette - Nov 14, 2006

Your story made me cry. So Beautiful. It inspired me to reread the Diary myself. I need as much Mercy from God as He wants to give me. Thanks for sharing.

Brian - Nov 13, 2006

Thank you Felix for a wonderful and inspiring article. I have emailed the link to friends.

Robert - Nov 13, 2006

"Floss for souls!" What a great bumper sticker that would make.

Thanks for a great story and a great picture.

Joseph Lobo - Nov 11, 2006

Early in my life I learnt the importance of brushing and flossing regularly, the hard way though after a tooth extraction, root-canal treatments and much more. Ever since I have become more regular in oral hygiene. Yes 'Brushing and Flossing'!

After reading this article, I started pondering on how our lives could be severally damaged and more so decayed, without the regular presence of God in our lives. This truly calls for 'Prayer and Obedience'.

All in all, "Brush, Floss, Pray, and Obey" is super cool formula.