Tag Archives: healing

Catholic rehab makes all the difference

People recovering from serious injuries, strokes, life-changing illnesses, and catastrophic accidents often need more than just physical rehabilitation.

Their spirits also need to be uplifted. That is an important insight the staff at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals in Nebraska understands infinitely well.

Rehab involves much more than physical adjustment

“Our patients and our families are sometimes struggling to understand the reason for their condition, not only just the physical aspects of it,” said Paul Dongilli Jr., the president and CEO of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals.

Dongilli, a speech pathologist by training who is a member of Legatus’ Lincoln Chapter, said people come from 24 different states, as far away as Alaska and Washington State, to be treated at one of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ two locations, in Omaha and Lincoln.

Physicians and nurses in those other states often refer their patients to Madonna because of the cutting-edge, first-rate rehabilitative care that is matched by the psycho-social and spiritual care offered at the facilities.

“When those individuals are paired with our social workers and our psychologists, they’re able to deal with the psycho- social aspects of a devastating injury or illness,” said Dongilli, who has been with Madonna since 1983.

Whereas most hospitals and care centers have small rehabilitation units on-site, Dongilli said Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals are one of the only, if not the lone, freestanding Catholic rehabilitation facilities in the country.

“We’re not part of a larger acute care system, and in most acute care systems, rehabilitation is a small part of what they do,” Dongilli said. “Maybe they don’t invest in the technology and have the resources that are needed to treat patients who have had devastating spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, children as well as adults, where we have, because that’s all we do.”

Founded by Benedictine nuns – with a priest in residence

Benedictine nuns founded Madonna Rehabilitshort-term recovery and room for another 125 individuals who have chronic conditions and require longer-term care. The Omaha facility opened in 2016 and has room for 110 patients.

The facilities today are sponsored by the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and they retain a distinctive Catholic identity.

Madonna has a Catholic priest in residence, and offers daily Mass and access to the sacraments for patients, their families, and staff. Both locations have beautiful chapels and sacred art throughout the facilities.

“When you come into the facility, the look is such we think that it reinforces that Catholic identity,” Dongilli said, adding that spiritual care is offered for people of different religious and denominational backgrounds.

Patients come from afar

From its beginnings 60 years ago, Dongilli said Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals has evolved into a health care system that serves patients from around the country, primarily from an eight-state region in the Midwest.

“When individuals and their families are faced with these horrific injuries and they’re looking for a facility to help them, in most areas they’re told that they don’t have those resources,” Dongilli said, adding that trauma centers in other states that work with Madonna are quick to refer their patients to the Nebraska facilities.

“So people are willing to travel to access a resource that they can’t get in their immediate community,” Dongilli said.

Madonna has a dedicated pediatric unit and long-term care for patients who require ventilators. The staff specializes in complex medical, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, pulmonary conditions, severe stroke, other neurological conditions, and pediatric rehabilitation.

Offering hope, spiritual recovery

Dongilli, who worked in Madonna’s brain injury and stroke units and worked his way up to chief operating officer and then CEO three years ago, said Madonna offers hope and healing to thousands of patients every year.

“What we provide is a more holistic approach to care, balancing the more physical aspects of medicine, nursing, and therapy with more of the psycho-social and spiritual aspects of recovery,” he said.

In addition to the chapel, Dongilli said Madonna has a large therapy gym and carefully manicured grounds that contribute to the peaceful, spiritual, and mentally healing atmosphere.

“We have been very careful over the years to have green space and nature and some beautiful settings that are part of God’s creation that our families and our patients can access to have some quiet time or for reflection,” Dongilli said. “Those things, we think, very much make a difference and aid in the recovery process. It helps provide hope.”

In addition to focusing on the mental and spiritual healing, Madonna’s team of specialized physiatrists, hospitalists, therapists, rehabilitation nurses, clinicians, and researchers work with advanced technology and equipment to help each patient achieve the highest level of independence possible.

Research institute developing new technologies

Dongilli said Madonna has “a small but mighty” research institute that has been successful in developing technology to support rehabilitation efforts, and added that the technology is now being commercialized and sold to other health care facilities in the United States and abroad.

“We think we have the opportunity now in working with the University of Nebraska to expand our research efforts and develop equipment and technology that will help advance the field of rehabilitation and the outcomes of the patients that we serve,” Dongilli said.

Dongilli added that Madonna started a department to train physicians, and recently accepted the first group of residents from the University of Nebraska’s College of Medicine who will be trained in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

“I think what the future holds for us is to be a regional center, not only for the treatment of patients, but also a training facility for physicians and other professionals specializing in rehabilitation,” Dongilli said.

Founded with Mary’s blessing

The founding Benedictine Sisters named the facility after the Madonna because 1958 was a Marian year, said Dongilli.

“They had a vision that if individuals could have good nursing care and therapy care, that folks who previously had to be institutionalized could return back to their homes and to their communities,” Dongilli said. “They really established a vision for rehabilitation. They recognized the blessings that Mary would provide for their efforts and for hopefully sustaining the hospital and the facility.”

Despite changes in medicine and technology over the decades, Dongilli said Madonna’s core philosophy remains the same.

“That notion of doing God’s work, a vision for doing rehabilitation under the guidance of the Blessed Mother, has really been a core tenet for us,” he said.


BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Hidden wound in marriage can heal

Next to the protection of life itself, the protection of marriage, as made by God, is one of the key concerns of Christians today. The attacks on marriage are manifest, and intensifying. But not all the factors that threaten and weaken marriage are immediately evident.

Fr. Frank Pavone

Among such threats is the impact that a past abortion has on a couple’s relationship. If either the man or the woman has been involved in an abortion in the past — either with one another or with others — the wounds of that act impact their relationship. And that impact can be mitigated to the extent that they discuss it openly with one another during marriage preparation and seek the help that is available.

Abortion creates a relational and spiritual wound. As our Priests for Life pastoral associates Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke (cofounders of Rachel’s Vineyard) write,

“A healthy marital relationship is marked by a deep bonding between husband and wife with a foundational trust that leads to vibrant and satisfying emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy. Abortion is a traumatic death experience that is closely associated to relational/sexual intimacy creating a profound fracture of trust striking at the heart of the marital foundation (this holds true whether the event preceded a marriage, or was experienced by only one spouse). Partners experience unresolved, unspoken grief and shame as they struggle with depression, anxiety, and other painnumbing symptoms of trauma that can negatively impact marriage and family life. Extramarital affairs are not uncommon for persons with abortion in their history.”

Women who have had abortions frequently settle for relationships that do not meet their needs for love and nurturing, and in varying degrees are abusive and violent. In our healing programs, women report staying in abusive relationships as a form of self-punishment. They feel on some level, “this is what I deserve for what I did to my baby.”

Couples having marital problems may not understand that those problems are rooted in a previous abortion as they struggle with intimacy, trust, communication, sexuality and parenting issues. One who has participated in an abortion can struggle to feel worthy of the love of another person. Without healing, couples can experience serious dysfunction, and even divorce. The past abortion is like a ticking time bomb in the marriage relationship.

These wounds, furthermore, affect the living children they have. Dysfunctional marriages can lead children to seek love and attention outside the home. They may seek this attention and consolation in ways that are self-destructive.

The good news is that healing is possible. It requires, first of all, breaking the silence. There is no such thing as a “private abortion.” This is made clear in a new book by Legatus member Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of Silent No More. Called Shockwaves: Abortion’s Wider Circle of Victims, this book traces the multifaceted relational wounds of abortion on a person’s family and beyond (see www.ShockwavesTheBook.com).

Marriage preparation programs need to open the door to talking about past abortions, and resources like Rachel’s Vineyard (a ministry of Priests for Life) are ready to lead couples through the healing needed to strengthen their marriage. In short, a key to strengthening marriage is promoting awareness of the wounds of abortion and the healing that can follow.

FR. FRANK PAVONE is National Director for Priests for Life – the largest ministry in the Catholic Church focused exclusively on ending abortion. Learn more at www.ProLifeCentral.com.

God’s gift of healing, given to all of us

Bishop Jacobs says the spiritual gift of healing is not limited to medical professionals . . .

Bishop Sam Jacobs

Bishop Sam Jacobs

I am happy to start off this new Faith Matters column for Legatus magazine. I’ll focus on the gift of healing, not the natural gift or the gift that comes from years of practice, but the spiritual gift from God.

Though this gift of healing is not limited to those in the medical profession, it’s definitely one that those who are practicing medicine can truly exercise as part of their service to their patients.

In his ministry — not as a professional doctor, but as a minister to people — Jesus frequently exercised this gift in his humanity. He told his disciples to do what he did. They in turn, in their humanity, through the power of the Holy Spirit, laid hands on the sick and prayed in the name of Jesus for their healing. This gift of healing has continued in the life of the Church over the centuries.

It’s this gift that I want to reflect on. As I mentioned, there is a natural, human gift of healing and a spiritual gift of healing. They are not in opposition. Both are given by God for the benefit of his people. There are times when the natural gift is sufficient to care for the immediate need of the patient. But there are other times that God desires us to exercise the spiritual gift of healing both for the good of the patient and His greater glory.

What is needed is the exercise of another gift: discernment. This enables us to know what is needed in the current situation. Those in the medical profession have many opportunities to exercise this spiritual gift of healing because of their personal contact with those who are sick. It can be done with the patient’s consent or just quietly as the doctor examines the person.

What would happen if, as a Catholic physician, you would pray before seeing a patient and pray silently for wisdom and discernment while examining the person? Is it possible for you to have a greater insight into the situation? What would happen if, after natural remedies do not seem to make a difference, you would ask the patient if they would allow you to pray over them asking God’s healing love to minister to them as well?

This is the additional gift Catholic health care can offer for the patient’s benefit. Obviously, we must be always respectful to the patient, but always ready to acknowledge that God desires to minister to the patient in his great love and healing. Doctors can bring this witness to the medical world, which may help to influence the medical culture. But again, I want to emphasize that we must always be respectful and not impose something upon them. There is nothing wrong with praying for them without them knowing that you’re doing it.

This spiritual gift of healing is not limited to the medical profession. As individuals, we often find members of our family having serious medical problems which the doctors are having a hard time alleviating. While not discontinuing medical treatment, we have the opportunity to “soak” the person in God’s healing love.

There are many testimonies of dramatic healings taking place through people, in faith, praying over another through the laying on of hands, invoking the healing power of God to make a difference in the person’s condition. (Click for a related story of miraculous healing.) God calls us to be visible witnesses and instruments of his healing power.

This gift is not limited to only a few people. All of us, by virtue of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, have been granted this and other gifts of the Holy Spirit. What is lacking many times is the ability to step out in faith and exercise this gift for the other.

An additional thought: We may not see the healing, but many times other healings are taking place, according to the will of God for the person. We may pray for a person’s physical healing of cancer, but God may desire, through our prayer, the healing of a spiritual cancer within the person — namely sin, which is eternally deadly. We are not the healer, only the instrument. God is the healer of body and soul. He calls us to share in his healing ministry through prayer, faith and the laying on of hands for the sick.

BISHOP SAM JACOBS is the bishop emeritus of the Houma-Thibodaux diocese. He has served as Legatus’ international chaplain since 2009.

Divine Mercy and health care

Health-care professionals bring the Divine Mercy devotion to the sick and dying . . .

At 3 o’clock every afternoon, residents, staff and family members at the Town and Country Nursing Center in Lowell, Mass., gather in the community room to ask for God’s mercy for themselves and the whole world.

It is the “hour of mercy” when Jesus instructed a Polish saint to implore his mercy, promising, according to the diary she kept, that “in this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in virtue of my passion.”

Growing trend

Deacon Steven Marcus

Deacon Steven Marcus

Christ gave the Divine Mercy Chaplet to St. Faustina Kowalska in 1933 with instructions to pray it unceasingly. Legatus member and Maronite Deacon Steven Marcus is president and CEO of New England Geriatrics, which operates Town and Country. He introduced the devotion at the facility after learning about it last year.Marcus also placed the Divine Mercy image, which depicts rays representing blood and water coming from Christ’s heart, in the home’s chapel.

Marcus is part of a wave of health-care professionals who have been drawn to the Divine Mercy devotion and its message as part of their work with the sick, aged and dying.

In Massachusetts, Marie Romagnano, a criticalcare nurse who was inspired by the events of 9/11 to start a group called Nurses for Divine Mercy, has seen the organization expand into the 3,000-member Health Care Professionals for Divine Mercy. Romagnano’s book, Nursing with the Hands of Jesus: A Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy, has sold 40,000 copies. Health Care Professionals for Divine Mercy now holds an annual conference attracting up to 350 people.

Dr. John Bruchalski

Dr. John Bruchalski

After developing a love for the Divine Mercy devotion on a trip to Medjugorje in 1989, Dr. John Bruchalski began to bring his obstetrics/gynecology practice into conformity with Catholic teaching. In 1994, he and his wife, Carolyn, a nurse, founded the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., which has since grown into Divine Mercy Care, a nonprofit company that also oversees the DMC Pharmacy and a perinatal hospice program. Future plans include family practice, home health care, pediatrics and mental health services.

In 1996, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, a Florida physician who discovered the Divine Mercy message by reading St. Faustina’s diary, founded Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, which promotes praying the chaplet for the sick and dying and sends shipments of medical materials to the poor around the world.

“As you pray, you begin to see the power of this chaplet,” said Divine Mercy Care’s Bruchalski. “You’re drawn to do something — to do an act of mercy.”

Bruchalski said he believes the Divine Mercy devotion is gaining in popularity because “it’s a message for our time in a world that’s gone off the deep end.”

Hospice ministry

The chaplet is especially suited to those who work with the dying because of God’s promise to St. Faustina that whoever recites it will receive great mercy at the hour of death.

“What a perfect time in life to hear about God’s great mercy — that no matter what they’ve done, his mercy is greater than their greatest sin,” said Thatcher of the Eucharistic Apostles. He added that Christ also told St. Faustina to pray the chaplet at the bedside of the dying, saying he would be there for the person as a merciful savior and not a just judge.

If someone cannot pray at the bedside, Thatcher explained, the chaplet is still effective. “With God there is no space or time.”

Greg Patterson

Greg Patterson

Legatus member Greg Patterson, a hospice consultant and former hospice owner, prays the chaplet with his wife, Lee, and their five daughters. “We pray for the intentions of our patients, those who have passed and those current patients as well.” The family also prays for the hospices Patterson consults.

Romagnano said she had been praying the chaplet for her patients, especially those who were dying, since the early 1980s, but that she wasn’t moved to spread the message more widely until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As she was preparing to take a team of trauma nurses to New York to assist victims, she got a call telling them they weren’t needed. “They said, ‘We think everybody was killed,’” Romagnano recalled. She suggested the nurses pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but none of them knew what she meant. “I just assumed everybody knew about it and would know to pray the chaplet in the middle of a disaster.”

Shortly afterward, Romagnano began teaching a class for nurses in spiritual care. Forty showed up the first week. Monthly classes followed. Her ministry grew to include her book and the annual conferences.

Once people learn how merciful God is and understand the Divine Mercy devotion, Romagnano said, they see how God can help when no more physical help is possible. “With the Divine Mercy message, you realize that you not only make the most critical intervention to save a person’s life, but you make a spiritual intervention based on the promise of Jesus. The Lord says he actually depends on us to intercede for these people. He said that by your prayers you are responsible for many souls.”

As a critical care nurse and case manager, Romagnano said she has worked with many families whose loved ones are hanging on a thread between life and death. She often gives them the Divine Mercy image and tells them about God’s mercy. “Nobody has ever said, ‘I don’t want that.’ I don’t care what religion they are — Jewish, Muslim, Protestant.”

Through her work with Health Care Professionals for Divine Mercy, Romagnano has heard from medical personnel who knelt on the floor and prayed the chaplet when a patient was dying. She often prays the chaplet with her patients’ family members at the bedside. “The Divine Mercy message brings hope where there is no hope, and that’s what health care needs.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.

The healing body of Christ

It doesn’t take great powers of observation to realize we live in a wounded, sin-scarred world. Each one of us has been hurt by our own sinfulness and by the sins of others. Some wounds are superficial and heal with time. Others are so deep, we may think they can never heal.

The good news is that Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician, brings healing to our wounded world and our wounded hearts. The problem is that we often fail to ask for his healing, and we often fail to be agents of his healing.

Legatus member Dr. Phillip Madonia of Mobile, Ala., has devoted his life to being an agent of healing. Over the past 26 years, he has counseled hundreds of women contemplating abortion. The vast majority of them have opted to keep their babies. Madonia credits the Holy Spirit, to whom he prays fervently, for his success in saving the lives of these children — and also saving their mothers from committing a horrendous act they would regret for the rest of their lives.

What sets Madonia apart is not only the fact that he’s saved hundreds of lives, but that he is living in the Spirit and following the path the Lord has shown him. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul compares God’s people to Christ’s body. If one member is hurting, Christ himself suffers, and the Church, as the Body of Christ, also suffers. Like Madonia, we are all called to be agents of healing. We may not save live, but we are nonetheless called to build and heal the Body of Christ, his Church.

Saint Paul writes, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12: 4-7).

In Baptism, we take the first step in a lifelong journey of discipleship. As we mature in our faith, we begin to understand how the Lord wants to use us to bring healing to his Church. You may have a simple gift like listening. Quite often, when a person is hurting, all they need is someone to be there for them, to listen as they pour out their heart. Your gift may be one of action — helping out at your parish’s ministry to the poor or planning a fundraising drive for a crisis pregnancy center.

Whatever your gifts, the world needs you, the Church needs you, Christ needs you. Unused gifts are squandered gifts. And at the end of our lives, when the Lord asks what we’ve done with our talents, let’s pray that our work for the Kingdom of God has borne much fruit.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.