Tag Archives: Providence Chapter

Dr. Martin Bednar, Providence Chapter

Dr. Martin Bednar, a lead Alzheimer’s disease researcher for Pfizer, regularly travels more than 100 miles for work from his home in southwestern Connecticut to Cambridge, Mass. With a background in neurosurgery and clinical drug development for Pfizer, Bednar lends his expertise to many pressing issues in medical science, including the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the role of adult stem cells in regenerative medicine. A member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, Bednar, 59, spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

How would you describe your role at Pfizer?
I like to think of myself as a problem creator. There are problem solvers who have a problem and find a solution, and then there are problem creators who find problems and new solutions. I try to bring some novel yet pragmatic approaches to the diseases that we’re studying, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Is a cure for Alzheimer’s disease within sight?

That’s a major thrust of my research. We’re looking into various investigational drugs right now that may remarkably impact Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a fatal and cruel disease, and one that is increasing steadily as well. At the same time, we in the field are optimistic that our knowledge basis is increasing to a point where we’re encouraged by some of the medications that we’re trying now on individuals with Alzheimer’s. The government has an initiative to try to cure Alzheimer’s — or at least make a big impact on it by 2025. I’m hopeful that collectively as an industry the pharmaceutical companies will have some sort of a therapy by then that will greatly improve the lives of individuals and get us working toward a cure.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?

Probably very early on, maybe even in grammar school, I thought I was going to have a career in medicine. It wasn’t until late in my medical training that I decided to actually pursue a career in neurosurgery.

You attended two Vatican conferences on adult stem cells in regenerative medicine. What did you take away from those gatherings?

It showed a few things about our faith, our popes, and the commitment of Catholicism in general to ensuring that we get the word out there about the appropriate use of medical therapies, focusing on adult stem cells, for example. Besides the ethical and moral issues of human embryonic stem cells, from a scientific standpoint there is nothing you can’t do with an adult stem cell, yet that pales in comparison to a human embryonic stem cell. We live in a world where not everyone shares the ethics, the morals that we do — and the respect for human life. We’re facing issues that have never been faced before, with little ability to understand what we’re doing. The pace of science has outstripped our ability to really carefully understand the moral and ethical obligations that we have.

You’ve written three children’s books on the struggles and triumphs of Sandy Cat. Where did the idea come from?

They’re based on a true-life story about a cat we had at one point, a poor abandoned kitty and his journey. The first book is about Sandy having the vision to teach children how to persevere in the face of adversity. The second book teaches children to dream the noblest dream of all, and that is to help other people. The third book was to encourage kids to give the gift of time to their family and their friends. It’s a trilogy of books, each with a different theme, but I think each of the themes are important ones we’re supposed to teach our kids — and adults as well.

How has joining Legatus impacted your spiritual journey?

Since joining Legatus a year-and-a-half ago, my wife Arlean and I have learned a lot more about our faith. Finding out about the members’ devotion to Mary has brought me even closer to her. My faith is definitely reinforced by the wonderful people at Legatus. They’re just a very welcoming family. We look forward to our monthly meetings. It’s a wonderful experience.

Mission of faith

…Providence Legates experience supernatural spiritual growth in Dominican Republic

“Habemus Papam!” a woman yelled excitedly as she ran down a dirt road in a village outside Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Father Marcel Taillon and his friends gathered around a television set like billions around the world who watched live on March 13, 2013, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerged for the first time as Pope Francis on a St. Peter’s Basilica balcony.

However, Fr. Taillon, chaplain of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, was far from his comfortable home parish in Rhode Island. He and a group of parishioners who had traveled to the Dominican Republic for mission work sat alongside several local people, most of them poor, in a makeshift home with an open roof as they watched the new pope on a television with a simple wire antenna. Together, they prayed for the new pontiff.

“It was very moving,” said Fr. Taillon. “I’ll never forget that. It was such a great grace for us. We all felt so bonded to the people and to each other.”

Seeing Jesus

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

For the sixth consecutive year, Fr. Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett, led a team of more than 20 teen and adult missionaries to the Dominican Republic in April to work for a week at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage for severely disabled children. Many Legates have also taken part in the annual mission.

“If you look into the eyes of these kids, you see Jesus Christ,” said Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter who is also a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence.

Ohnmacht, the only pediatrician that many of the orphans will ever see, has coordinated free medical clinics in the village’s Catholic parish. Last year, he helped a young father who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident to obtain a prosthetic and return to work to support his family.

“I’m moved by the goodness of people and how they are willing to help,” Ohnmacht said. “The kids are literally angels. They are without sin. Even though they may not be communicating with us, each of them has something very special.”

The orphanage is part of Mustard Seed Communities, a Catholic non-profit organization that operates facilities in Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe for children with serious physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. The apostolate seeks to create loving and caring environments to aid the children’s physical, mental and spiritual development.

“Mustard Seed treats the kids so well,” Fr. Taillon said. “A lot of the kids have a tough history that would make people really sad if they knew some of their stories. But they’re treated with great love and care. It’s really a profound experience of the Christian life.”

Father Taillon said he became involved in mission work after being challenged by a fellow diocesan priest who was involved with a different missionary organization. Hesitant at first, Fr. Taillon assembled a team and discovered that missionary work in the Dominican Republic, while demanding, is personally and spiritually rewarding for everyone involved.

“We’ve really adopted this orphanage and the surrounding Catholic community as well in the village when we go,” said Fr. Taillon, whose parish has donated the Stations of the Cross, a crucifix and other supplies to the local church.

“Fr. Taillon is a very generous person and his parish is very generous,” Ohnmacht said.

Father Taillon has also baptized 33 of the disabled orphans since the village lacks a priest. During this year’s trip, he baptized 13 new orphans. The teens and adults of St. Thomas More Church served as Godparents.

Said Fr. Taillon: “It’s great because we’re able to bring the sacraments to them. One of the big things for our parish is the sacramental bond with the kids.”

Spiritual wealth

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Inside the local parish, Immaculate Conception Church, the missionary team also sets up a medical clinic for Ohnmacht (who has made the trip several times) and other physicians to examine villagers. The medical team has provided medicine, vitamins, nebulizers, orthopedic equipment and other medical supplies.

“The first year I went, I basically saw all of the kids,” Ohnmacht said. “They had some health care available to them, so we tried to supplement that with whatever we could — either some medicines or offering orthopedic devices and things like that.

“Virtually every child in the orphanage has some degree of cerebral palsy,” Ohnmacht added. “The vast majority of them are non-ambulatory. A few are able to get around, but without much speed and with a lot of help. All the kids have some mental and developmental issues.”

Ohnmacht and the missionaries have also operated medical clinics in a local school adjacent to a garbage dump. The school — part of the Christ in the Garbage Ministries — educates many of the poor

Haitian and Dominican children who scavenge through the trash. Many of them live in small houses next to the dump.

“On a personal level, you see the goodness in these people. They don’t have a lot of material wealth, but they do have a lot in terms of just their faith,” said Ohnmacht, who also praised the orphanage’s staff for their care, compassion and willingness to improve conditions for the children.

“They work all hours. They don’t complain. They work very hard,” Ohnmacht said. “They certainly don’t have the surgery and the hospitals that we have here, but these kids are extremely well cared for, and that’s such a tribute to the people who work there.”

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Ohnmacht added that about six or seven former and current members of the Providence Chapter have participated in the mission trip over the years. “Legatus really inspires us to work to better other people’s lives, and I think we’ve really grown spiritually together.”

Father Taillon added that being a Legatus chaplain inspires humility and gratitude for all that he has. “In America, we strive to be independent, and in a place like [the Dominican Republic], you strive to experience a Christian common life — both in prayer and in the way we share our lives together. They have a very spiritual Catholic Christian culture, and we try to bring that back with us.”

The youth who participate in the parish mission often return home with lasting impressions. Many become active in the parish and in college campus ministries.

“It’s a life-changer,” Fr. Taillon said. “First of all, they’re unplugged technologically. They’re not allowed to bring technology. It’s really a retreat as well as a mission trip. We do a lot of prayer and sharing together while we’re there. The Eucharist is the center of our day. We have daily Mass. We introduce the Liturgy of the Hours to them. The effect is really enormous.”

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Learn more:


A ‘mustard seed’ of faith

FR. MARCEL TAILLON of Legatus’ Providence Chapter is committed to Legatus . . .

Fr. Marcel Taillon

Fr. Marcel Taillon

Fr. Marcel Taillon
Providence Chapter

Pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Parish and St. Veronica Chapel in Narragansett, R.I., Fr. Marcel Taillon, 49, cherishes the “loyalty and spiritual friendship” among Providence Legates. Pivotal to his priesthood were the nuns of his youth. One, now 95, was the parish cook. “Every Sunday between Masses she would teach me a Thomistic virtue,” he remembers. “Hers was a hidden apostolate, but powerful. And, oh, her doughnuts!” She and other sisters told him he had a vocation. It wasn’t until he was a traveling businessman, however, that “everything sort of fermented.”

Tell us about your call to the priesthood.

I felt called around the fifth grade. But in high school I didn’t want to be called. I dated and wanted to be in business. I worked for CVS pharmacies during and after college as an operations analyst and pharmacies systems trainer. During that time I traveled a lot alone. My prayer life and devotion to the Eucharist deepened. I went to Mass often and grew in intimacy with the Lord. I began paying attention to the call again and entered the seminary at 27.

How did you become acquainted with Legatus?

Our former bishop approached me to help form a chapter about eight or nine years ago. I didn’t know much about Legatus at the time.

The members are completely energized, truly evangelical Catholics. Legatus helps form them in their faith and gives them comfort, knowing that they’re not alone in accepting Christ and all the teachings of his Church. They’re leaven in the business community and the diocese. A lot of good things happen quietly as they work hard, but quietly, every day they bring people to the Lord and the Church.

How would you like to see the chapter progress?

We’ve got a relatively steady number of about 25 couples. We’re trying to work on growing, which is hard because Rhode Island is small and not exactly a center of corporate activity. But we have excellent speakers!

In our chapter we pilgrimage to different churches, learn about the saints they’re dedicated to, their different styles of architecture, and meet different priests. Most people tend not to go beyond their home parish. This is another plus that members like.

I’ve become a confessor and spiritual confidant to members over the years, helping them and their families as well. There’s a great sense of loyalty among members of the chapter.

You have a vocation, of course. Any avocations?

I enjoy taking Catholics on pilgrimages: to the Holy Land every year, sometimes offering retreat experiences for the laity and local pilgrimages — basically, taking them outside their comfort zone to experience the wider Church.

I also go to the Dominican Republic every year to work at the Mustard Seed orphanage for severely disabled children and their Christ in the Garbage Ministries. These people scavenge garbage for a living. Many Legates have become involved with Mustard Seed. Last year our Legates donated uniforms to the kids in the Christ the Garbage School. Yes, that’s its name. It’s not offensive to them. The garbage dump is their world, their life.

Can you recommend any particular devotions?

I think that fitting daily Mass into your life is critical and changes your life. It starts as a sacrifice, but becomes an indispensably good habit. You’ll never be sorry if you incorporate daily Mass into your life, starting maybe just one day during the week.

Any advice for business leaders?

Stay humble, grounded, close to the sacraments and the Church. Legatus can be a sacrifice, but it’s a way to commit and stay grounded.

MATTHEW A. RAREY is a Chicago-based freelance writer.