Health-care professionals inspired by Paul VI praise his beatification

Pope Francis will beatify Pope Paul VI Oct. 19 during the closing Mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. Pope Paul’s connection with themes raised at the synod Oct. 5-19 include his best-known encyclical Humanae Vitae, the 1968 letter affirming Church teaching on marriage, family life and contraception.

Many dignitaries will attend the beatification including Dr. Thomas Hilgers, founder of the global medical institute inspired by the pontiff that bears his name: the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.

Paul VI’s defense of the dignity of marriage and human life in Humanae Vitae resonated with Hilgers when he was a medical student at the University of Minnesota.

“It was like he was talking directly to me,” Hilgers said in a statement. “It changed my life.”

In the encyclical, the Holy Father asked different groups to become involved, including men of science.

“When he died (Aug. 6, 1978), my wife (Sue) and I turned to each other and promised to start the Paul VI institute,” he told the Denver Catholic Register in 2010 when the institute celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Hilgers’ research led to the development of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology, two groundbreaking technologies in reproductive health care that serve as the cornerstones of the institute’s outreach efforts— serving thousands of women and families on six continents. The institute offers obstetrics, gynecology, reproductive medicine and surgery for individuals needing regular or high-risk care, as well as a women’s hormone laboratory and a nationally accredited reproductive ultrasound center.

“I never imagined back in 1968 that I would someday be a part of this great man’s legacy,” Hilgers said of Paul VI. “He was such a staunch defender of the faith, and the courage he demonstrated in Humanae Vitae continues to serve as a source of inspiration to both the institute and to me personally.”

The institute also coordinates educational programs for doctors, other medical professionals, clergy, and lay men and women from all over the world. Two Denver women trained there include nurse practitioners Dede Chism and Abby Sinnett, a mother-daughter team who are establishing Bella Natural Women’s Care, a medical practice specializing in obstetrics, gynecology, infertility and contributing issues, through conventional and natural treatment methods.

“Pope Paul VI gave us a trustworthy outline for healthy relationships, strong marriages, and a healthy and thriving world,” Chism said. “We are certainly grateful that Dr. Hilgers answered the call of Humane Vitae in such a concrete, scientific way.

“Pope Paul VI really helped galvanize our mission to embrace the dignity of women with reverence,” she continued, “using scientific, natural methods in cooperation with a woman’s body to restore healing and wellness, with sincere compassion for life.”

Recognizing the world’s vision for women’s health care could destroy women, marriages, babies, families and culture, Pope Paul VI “saw the slippery slope and warned the world,” she added.

Dr. Steve Hickner, a Catholic OB/GYN, will join the team at Bella Dec. 1 after completing a one-year fellowship in medical and surgical NaPro Technology under Hilgers’ direction. Located at 180 E. Hampden Ave., the practice is currently scheduling appointments and is expected to open Nov. 17. There will be an open house and blessing by Archbishop Samuel Aquila Dec. 9.

For more information, visit www.bellanwc.org. To read Humanae Vitae, click here.

About Pope Paul VI

Born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 in the northern Italian province of Brescia, he was ordained in 1920 and named archbishop of Milan in 1954. Elected pope in 1963 at the death of St. John XXIII, Paul VI reconvened the Second Vatican Council and presided over three of its four sessions. He also led the implementation of council reforms. Paul VI was the first pope in the modern age to travel abroad, visiting Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, India, the United States (New York), Portugal, Turkey, Colombia, Bermuda, Switzerland, Uganda, Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, Samoan Islands, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. He died at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo Aug. 6, 1978. He will be beatified by Pope Francis Oct. 19.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.