By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
More than 40 physicians, medical professionals and their families gathered Oct. 24 at Ascension St. Vincent’s Chapel in Evansville for the Diocese of Evansville’s annual White Mass, named for the white coats often worn by people in the healing profession of medicine.
Bishop Joseph M. Siegel celebrated the White Mass, which he noted is celebrated annually on or near the Oct. 18 Feast of St. Luke, patron of healthcare professionals.
Concelebrants of the Mass were Father Ambrose Wanyonyi, minister of Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Evansville, and Father Ray Brenner, senior priest of the diocese. Deacons of the Mass were Deacon John McMullen of Annunciation Parish in Evansville and Deacon Gary Keepes of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Petersburg and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oakland City. Matt Miller, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, served as master of ceremonies.
The lectors of the Mass were Daughter of Charity Sister Catherine Brown, who serves as Ascension St. Vincent’s patient navigator in pediatrics, and St. Vincent’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Heidi Dunniway. The gift bearers were Zach Zirkelbach, Ascension St. Vincent CFO, and Ashley Tenbarge, Ascension St. Vincent experience coordinator.
The evening’s worship aid included information about the White Mass and St. Luke. The White Mass dates back to the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the 1930s and honors all people working in a healthcare-related field, volunteers, patients and families. St. Luke was originally a physician from Syria but became a companion of St. Paul.
Between the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke contributed nearly a quarter of the New Testament. St. Luke is given the designation by the Church as the patron of healthcare professionals, Bishop Siegel said, because St. Paul refers to him as the beloved physician.
In the evening’s First Reading, 2 Timothy 4:10-17b, Bishop Siegel said St. Paul sent a letter to Timothy from captivity shortly before he was martyred. St. Paul wrote that Luke is the only one who stays with him. Bishop Siegel noted Luke’s presence and care must have given St. Paul much comfort as he awaited what he knew was his upcoming death.
The bishop continued and said God’s mercy heals us and frees us from the corruption of sin and death. As St. Luke contemplated the infinite mercy of God, the bishop said he also stressed the need for us to be merciful like our Father and be witnesses of Christ’s merciful love.
For those who serve in the medical profession, Bishop Siegel said the spiritual work of comforting the afflicted is also an important part of their patient’s healing and wellbeing. Healthcare workers are called to be instruments of God’s healing love, the bishop continued, and they are called to be witnesses to the sanctity of life. He said they do this by recognizing every patient – including the disagreeable ones – is a child of God, destined to share the glory and joy of the creator. You are called to be servants of the Gospel of Life, the bishop said, which is also the Gospel of love and mercy.
Bishop Siegel said St. Luke reminds us the medical profession is indeed a vocation, a calling from God, to live the Gospel in their work of healing, in their care for patients, and in witnessing Christ’s love and mercy. Like St. Luke did not abandon St. Paul in his time of suffering and impending death, healthcare workers accompany patients in suffering and bring them the comfort of Jesus through their care.
In closing, Bishop Siegel said the Church today, more than ever, needs medical professionals’ witness to the dignity of every human life and their witness to love Jesus, our savior, the divine physician.