Catholic health care professionals invited to annual White Mass Oct. 18

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The Annual White Mass will be celebrated by Father Tim Hjelstrom on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish, 8035 S Quebec St, Englewood CO 80112.

Mass will be followed by a dinner and a speaker, Sister Mary Diana Dregar, MD, Dominican Sister and Physician. The White Mass is an opportunity for Catholic Healthcare Providers to join in celebration and renewal of their professional oaths guided by the wisdom and moral teachings of the Church. It is open to the public, but Catholic health care professionals, including mental health workers, are especially invited to attend. To register and RSVP, go to www.Denver-CMA.com. The cost is $10 (for dinner) and students are free. The event is sponsored by Centura Health.

The tradition of the White Mass in the United States finds its origins in the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s. From its inception, the medical profession has been understood as a healing profession, a way in which Christ’s work continues upon the earth. Moreover, since the apparitions at Lourdes in the late 19th century, the plight of the infirmed — and those who care for them — have taken on renewed appreciation in participating in the mysteries of Christ’s own life. The White Mass, so named by the color worn by those in the healing profession of medicine, gathers health care professionals under the patronage of St. Luke to ask God’s blessing upon the patient, doctor, nurse, and caregiver alike.

Following the White Mass, Sister Mary Diana Dreger will be speaking on the “Reflections on Being a Catholic Physician: Model of the Church’s Social Teaching for Healthcare Professionals.”  Sister is a member of the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as a practicing internal medicine physician.

Since 2007, she has worked with The Holy Family Health Center, an affiliate of Saint Thomas Medical Partners. In addition to caring for her patients who are predominantly uninsured immigrants, as the only physician on-site, she supervises nurse practitioners and participates actively in the management of the clinic and formation of the staff.

She graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School in 2001, and completed her residency in internal medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2004. She holds a faculty appointment with Vanderbilt as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine and Public Health. In this role she is a preceptor with medical students for rotations in primary care and supervises internal medicine residents in their continuity clinic at Holy Family.

Sister Mary Diana has become proficient in Spanish in order to serve the largely Hispanic population of the clinic, where the staff, providers, and students are all bilingual. Sister is board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

She has been a member of the Dominicans for over 25 years. Before entering the community, she was a biology major at Cornell University, and then completed her degree at the State University of New York at Stony Brook with a concentration in secondary education. She completed Master of Arts in Mathematics at Stony Brook in 1987. Sister then taught at the high school and college levels, before discerning her vocation to religious life.

In Nashville, she has also been involved in administration at Saint Cecilia Academy, and was a member of the Aquinas College Board of Directors. She is currently working toward completion of a Master of Arts in moral theology with Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

Sister became an active participant in the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) in 2006. She was a founding member of the Nashville Guild of the CMA in 2008 and has served as an officer for the local guild for six years. She became an advisor to the president and a member of the board of directors of the CMA at the national level in 2014, and serves as chair of the Linacre Quarterly Committee, providing strategic oversight for the official journal of the CMA.

She is a member of the national CMA speaker’s bureau, and has presented over 100 talks across the country and in Canada on topics related to education, medicine, faith, and ethics to high school, college, parish, clergy, and medical audiences. She has presented twice at the Annual Educational Conference of the CMA on topics related to the faithful practice of the Catholic physician, was invited to speak twice to the Christian Community Health Fellowship national meeting, and has spoken at several secular medical meetings including for the Program in Professionalism and Ethics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She completed the National Catholic Bioethics Center certification program with distinction in 2011, and her paper “Autonomy Trumps All” was published in 2012 by the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

For more information on the White Mass event, contact [email protected].

COMING UP: A time to reflect on death

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November is a month when the Church asks us to pray for the dead. After celebrating those in heaven on Nov. 1, we pray for all the faithful departed who await heaven while undergoing purgation on Nov. 2, All Souls Day. The Church encourages us to pray for the dead by granting special indulgences in November to assist the souls in purgatory. A plenary (or full) indulgence can be received November 1-8 and then a partial indulgence the rest of the month when we “devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead” or “devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Requiem aeternam”: “Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him/her/them. May he/she/they rest in peace. Amen.”

November, therefore, provides an opportunity to reflect upon death. Even the readings at the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent point us to the coming judgment and end of the world. We may not relish contemplating death but doing so constitutes an essential element of a life well lived, realizing that our life on earth will decide how we spend eternity. Socrates described philosophy as a preparation for death and the same has been made for monasticism.  “Remember to keep death before your eyes daily,” the great Patriarch of monks, St. Benedict, directed in his Rule (ch. 4). A French writer, Nicholas Diat, put this maxim to the test in his new book, A Time to Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life (Ignatius, 2019). Diat, known for his three interview books with Cardinal Robert Sarah, visited eight monasteries in France — Norbertines, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Carthusians — to talk to the monks about their experience of death.

He describes why he wrote the book: “The West has worked hard to bury death more deeply in the vaults of its history. Today, the liturgy of death no longer exists. Yet fear and anxiety have never been as strong. Men no longer know how to die. In this desolate world, I had the idea to take the path of the great monasteries in order to discover what the monks might have to teach us about death. Behind cloister walls, they pass their existence in prayer and reflection of the last things. I thought their testimonies could help people understand suffering, sickness, pain, and the final moments of life. They have known complicated deaths, quick deaths, simple deaths. They have confronted death more often, and more intimately, than most who live outside monastery walls” (13).

I found that Diat achieved his objective. Although the monks live very different lives, they still face similar human struggles, sometimes magnified by lack of distractions, including the dominance of technology in sickness and the last stages of life. The Benedictine Monastery of En-Calcat experienced many difficult deaths and the superior, Dom David, related how sedation can make it hard to die: “We no longer feel life. We no longer feel humanity. We no longer feel God approaching” (55). When death approaches more naturally (or should we say supernaturally), the monks can die the “most beautiful death.” Such was the death of Father Henri Rousselot, who died at 96: “His face in death was magnificent. He was supernaturally radiant. The monks had the impression that his features had been drawn by God. Everyone who entered this room was struck by his beauty. Each found the child that Father Henri had always been” (72).

Some monasteries experienced difficult deaths — young monks whose lives were cut short by cancer, or, in the case of the canon Brother Vincent, multiple sclerosis, sudden deaths, even in chapel, or cases of dementia or mental illness. It did seem, however, in my own assessment, that the more a monastery was withdrawn from the world and its cares the more peaceful the deaths of its monks. This was true especially of the Grand Chartreuse (see the film Into Great Silence), where the monks live like hermits in the silent seclusion of prayer. Here the monks, already anticipating heaven, seem to die miraculously by slipping away peacefully. “The beauty of Carthusian deaths, sweet and simple, seems to bear witness to the fact that the spiritual combat of the sons of Bruno is so powerful that, in the final hour, fears are abolished. In the last moments, the peace that dwells in them is so profound that the majority of them are not afraid to die alone. They have spent their lives in the silence of an austere cell that sees them leave this earth” (165).

The book does not treat simply the experience of monks, but a central question for us all: “No one knows how he will live his death. Will we be courageous, fearful, happy? Will we be cowards or heroes?” (114). It’s time to start preparing now!