A Tale of Two Holy Doctors


If I told you that long ago there lived a doctor who was a fiercely devout Catholic, lived to serve the poor and infirm,  and sacrificed all to live a life a humble and loving service to precisely those most needy and suffering, you would agree that one had the makings of a very special saint.   If I added that said doctor was also a brilliant and respected scientist attributed with many contributions to the study of medicine in his age, you would happily agree that said individual was the epitome and personification of the argument that faith and science do, indeed, have a place together in the service of God. If I further told you that this individual was deeply beloved and admired by his town of birth, a source of great pride and veneration, and that said veneration for this remarkable person had spread far and wide not only throughout his country, but to many other nations as well,  you would not be surprised.  Neither would you be shocked to discover that this great healer of body and soul was known as “the doctor of the poor” by his people, given his dedication to the most unfortunate and abandoned among us. Well, believe it or not, this description fits two very holy men of medicine who dedicated their lives, really their being, to loving service of others as healers.  In fact, if you look above,  you might even think that we are talking about a very holy pair of medical siblings, given their similar appearance!

Giuseppe Moscati was born in 1880 in Benevento, Italy, to pious, aristocratic Italian parents. He was the seventh of nine children.  His father, Francesco, was a well-known lawyer and his mother, Rosa De Luca dei Marchesi di Roseto, came from nobility.  In 1884 Francesco moved the family to Naples, the city where Giuseppe spent most of the rest of his life.   Giuseppe could have studied law, given his father’s status in that profession, but life events led him to the study of medicine instead. St. Giuseppe Moscati was very dedicated to his studies and proved himself to be not only a brilliant diagnostician, but a caring and charitable doctor. He is perhaps most known and loved for his Christlike bedside manner, and began a revolution in medicine that changed and improved the way doctors treated their patients. He was a medical pioneer, and among the first to stimulate the heart through what is now known as CPR. He was one of the first doctors in Naples to experiment with insulin to treat diabetes. Giuseppe was respected and admired for his extraordinary courage and compassion, but was also accused of witch doctoring because of his methods, which were at the time unconventional and cutting-edge.  Giuseppe was a forensic surgeon and director of the Pathological Anatomy Institute as well, and known as a master of conducting autopsies. Additionally, he wrote 27 scientific publications from the time he earned his degree in 1903 to the year 1916.  He cared for the sick and poor out of his own home, selling most of his possessions to pay for their care and help them financially. His was a life of deep piety and heroic charity, cut short by exhaustion in the pursuit of selfless service to the poor and sick he loved in such a Christ-like manner.

Sixteen years before the birth of Giuseppe Moscati, in a small Venezuelan town, Jose Gregorio Hernandez was born to successful parents as well.  He wanted to study law but, at the urging of his father, chose medicine instead.   His ability to combine a deeply pious life with a dedicated professional life of selfless charity carried Hernandez to a legendary status among his people which has only grown since his tragic death in 1919, being struck by one of the few cars in  Caracas at the time.  Hernandez  became a leading medical pioneer in his nation, introducing the use of microscopes and other innovative instruments, and preparing at least 13 studies in various medical fields.  He was a respected educator fluent in seven languages known for his knowledge of philosophy, theology, and music.  Like Moscati, Hernandez devoted himself completely to the needs of the poor and sick, often paying for their medicine and other needs as he could.  Like Moscati, he died serving the very sick and poor he loved in such a Christ-like manner.

While Moscati was beatified in 1975 and canonized a saint in 1987,  the formal recognition of Jose Gregorio’s spiritual merit began in 1949, resulting in his being declared “venerable” in 1986.  Many cite the slow process of the Hernandez process as being due to a number of factors, including missteps in the formal documentation and procedure for the presentation of his case by followers and devotees less experienced in this process as well as some association and promotion by non-traditional, non-Catholic spiritual cults and followers.  It is probably not inaccurate to say that, as an Italian whose holy work was performed under the nose of the Vatican and promoted by those experienced in Church red tape, Moscati had a considerable advantage in networking connections over Hernandez.  Despite this seemingly unfair double standard regarding two nearly identical holy men of science, many firmly believe that Jose Gregorio Hernandez will someday be counted as a saint as well.

These two outstanding servants of God who used their scientific talent to care for the suffering and marginalized exemplify the mission to which we are all called. Namely, to use our talents and God-given abilities to serve the poor, defenseless,  suffering, marginalized, and voiceless in our society.  We are each called and will be judged by how well and how deeply we put our talents and skills in the loving, Christ-like service of the less fortunate, sacrificing our own comfort to bring comfort where discomfort exists, our own advantages where disadvantages abound, and a loving touch and smile where these simple gestures are so meaningful.  Numerous miracles and intercessions have been attributed to both of these men of God, and it has become clear that they remain on duty to heal upon request and God’s Will.

Two holy men who, by their similar appearance, could have been separated at birth have, in the epitome and culmination of their loving, selfless service of the poor and suffering,  now become inseparable in eternity.  It is most ironic that, in paradise, where we are told there is no pain or suffering, we have two such outstanding healers nevertheless ready, willing, and able to provide the loving, gentle, caring touch that Christ calls all of us to provide on this earth.

Copyright, 2013,  Gabriel Garnica   All rights reserved.


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