Following the Doctor-Saint of faithful medicine
Through medical clinics that bear her name, St. Gianna Molla continues to provide health care to families around the globe while proving to society that modern medicine can be practiced along ethical and religious guidelines.
Two Legates who are physicians – Doctors Max Mercado in Philadelphia and Robin Goldsmith in Green Bay, Wisconsin – have drawn inspiration from the 20th century Milanese pediatrician who was a devout Catholic, wife, and mother who sacrificed her own life in a troubled pregnancy so that her fourth child could be born.
Mercado and Goldsmith have opened clinics named for St. Gianna Molla in their respective cities, who was canonized in 2004 by Pope St. Pope John Paul II. Though she died in 1962 at age 39, St. Gianna’s story and her pro-life example continues to inspire people around the world. The Legates who have opened clinics under her patronage believe St. Gianna has a role to play in reforming medicine and ushering in a true culture of life.
PHILADELPHIA – HONORING SANCTITY OF LIFE, MARRIAGE
The Gianna Center of Philadelphia opened in March after about a year of planning, said Mercado, the president of Legatus’ Bucks County Chapter who will serve as the center’s CEO.
“The goal and purpose of the Gianna Center of Philadelphia is to lay down a foundation for the culture of life to flourish in the lives of individuals and families,” said Mercado, adding that the clinic offers general gynecological care, natural family planning education, and infertility services.
Those services are provided while honoring the sanctity of human life, the dignity of women, and the integrity of marriage.
“We are following the teachings of the Church,” said Mercado, who explained that the St. Gianna Center does not provide services such as in vitro fertilization. To assist couples experiencing difficulty conceiving, the clinic uses NaProTechnology, a medical and surgical technique used to treat the direct source of various gynecologic and reproductive health conditions.
“We also refer to social services families that are in need,” Mercado said. “And as a mission, we seek to provide pro-life reproductive health care to women and families that follow the bishops’ ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services.”
The Catholic community in Philadelphia, a city with a large number of medical schools, encountered St. Gianna’s story during the World Meeting of Families that was held there in 2015. St. Gianna’s youngest child, Gianna Emanuela Molla, (herself a physician), attended the event and shared her testimony of growing up as the daughter who was saved by her saintly mother. St. Gianna was also a co-patron of the event.
“This is a saint who captures the imagination of a lot of young women who are exposed to secularism and the culture of death,” Mercado said. “We’re saying to them, ‘Come out of darkness. Come into the light.’”
The Gianna Center of Philadelphia is located in the city’s northeast section and is affiliated with the National Gianna Center Network, which has a string of clinics in New York, New Jersey, Kansas City, and Wisconsin.
The clinic in Philadelphia is also staffed with Dr. Delia Larrauri and Barbara Rose, a nurse practitioner, providing direct care for women and families. Mercado said he and the center’s staff and directors have been getting the word out to local Catholic agencies. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has also given the center his blessing.
“The centers are pro-woman, pro-families, and they’re prolife,” Mercado said, adding that there is a need for medical facilities that offers women’s health and fertility services through a pro-life perspective. All too often, OB-GYN practices in Philadelphia and across the country see no problems with prescribing birth control pills to address a variety of conditions such as menstrual cramps and irregular cycles.
“There are other treatments besides oral contraceptive pills,” Mercado said. “I mean, what are we doing here? Are we really giving choices to women or are we just going along with whatever the common treatments are and forgetting about the women’s beliefs?”
Being named for a 20th century woman who went to medical school, got married in her 30s, had children, worked as a physician, and is a canonized saint in the Catholic Church can only help the clinic’s mission.
Said Mercado, “Her life is an amazing story.”
GREEN BAY – LAUNCHED BY FEMALE PHYSICIAN AND MOTHER
Dr. Goldsmith, a member of Legatus’ Northeast Wisconsin Chapter, was praying in Eucharistic adoration when St. Gianna’s name came to her mind.
“I knew almost nothing about St. Gianna. I knew her name, but very little about her,” said Goldsmith, who a few years ago was asked by a fellow Legate to launch an initiative to bring back “faithful medicine” because the medical field was headed “in the wrong direction.”
Asked to think about it, Goldsmith said that for several weeks she prayed, pondered, and discussed the idea with friends and family. Eventually she concluded that something had to be done in the form of a Catholic medical clinic that took care of all people.
“You see women’s clinics, you see family practice clinics, but there aren’t many clinics that really emphasize taking care of everyone from the beginning of conception to natural end of life,” Goldsmith said. “Everyone needs to be cared and loved in dignity and respect according to our faith.”
After deciding to start a new clinic under St. Gianna’s patronage, Goldsmith said she scheduled a meeting to get the approval of Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay. The bishop loved the idea, gave her his blessing and asked what she planned to name the clinic.
Before she could answer, the bishop told Goldsmith that St. Gianna’s name had come to him in prayer. Stunned, Goldsmith said she had had a similar experience. The bishop replied, “Well, of course it did. That’s the Holy Spirit.”
“It’s been one event after another just like that,” said Goldsmith, who noted that many of the clinic’s major events, such as its opening day and consecrating Mass, have occurred on Marian feast days.
“We feel very strongly that Mary has been very involved in making this clinic unfold,” said Goldsmith, the president and chief medical officer of the St. Gianna Clinic in Green Bay.
The clinic is aligned with the Hospital Sisters Health System, and is located across the street from HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center. The clinic offers family medicine and a complete range of OB-GYN services and treatments, including pregnancy and fertility care. The clinic is staffed by Doctors Scott Stillwell and Melissa Weidert.
Like its counterpart in Philadelphia, the St. Gianna Clinic in Green Bay does not provide treatments that violate Church teachings. The center offers NaProTechnology and uses the Creighton Model Fertility Care System to diagnose a woman’s specific health condition.
“The approach is very beautiful. It’s about restoring a woman’ body back to health instead of just covering it up with medication,” Goldsmith said.
In addition to medical services, the clinic offers spiritual support. The staff prays together and with patients. In the waiting room are first and second class relics of St. Gianna Molla.
“Personally for me, I feel an incredible closeness to St. Gianna because she was a female physician, a mother of four, as am I, and a wife who was extremely pro-life and loved to teach about the faith, especially as it pertained to medicine,” said Goldsmith, who hopes her clinic will be one of many such facilities across the country that will change the face of Catholic healthcare in St. Gianna’s image.
“She completely embodies what we do here at the St. Gianna clinic,” Goldsmith said. “We believe that every life is beautiful, every life is worthy of respect, honor and dignity. Just as she honored every patient and every life that she encountered, we try to do the same here.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.