My First Physician Role Model: Dr. Giuseppe Moscati
I am pleased to introduce you to Dr. Giuseppe Moscati. A poor doctor for the poor. Born of nobility in 1880 in Italy, this “Holy doctor of Naples” harmoniously melded faith with science. After caring for his brother through his fatal traumatic head injury, Dr. Moscati became interested in medicine at a significant period of medical advancement. Noted for his pioneering work in biochemistry, Dr. Moscati was among the first to experiment with insulin to treat diabetes and stimulate the heart with what is now known as CPR. Also a brilliant diagnostician, Dr. Moscati became an administrator for the Hospital of the Incurables and a forensic surgeon and director of the Pathological Anatomy Institute. Additionally, between 1903 to 1916, he had written an impressive 27 scientific publications.
In a time of scientific discovery, there were other doctors with equally remarkable credentials. What made Dr. Giuseppe Moscati admirable, was his heroic act during the April 8th, 1906 Mount Vesuvius eruption. In genuine selflessness, within a few miles from the eruption, Dr. Moscati rescued elderly and paralytic patients trapped inside the Hospital at Torre del Greco just before the roof collapsed under the weight of the ash. What made Dr. Moscati memorable was his charity. He and his sister Nina sold most of their family’s possessions to continue caring for the sick. In fact after working at the hospital, Dr. Moscati would return home to see patients at his home who could not afford hospital visits. He refused to charge the poor for their treatment and was known to sometimes send a patient home with a prescription and a 50-lira note in an envelope (~$US 33 in 1927, which may have been near $100 if prescribed during WWI Italian inflation).
But what made Dr. Moscati unforgettable and worthy of canonization as a Saint by Pope John Paul II on October 25th 1987, was his faith and the extent to which he let Jesus transform him. He was recorded as having said, “Today, I realized something: Jesus lives in every sick person. If I were only to treat the diseases I would be destined for defeat. I would think of science’s limitations and feel helpless. I realized that with Aniello’s death [–an orphan he befriended who died of tetanus]. Being a doctor is a lot less and a lot more.”* It was his faith and his conviction to love the poor as if each sick person were Jesus himself suffering on the cross that made his faithfulness and love so powerful. To his friends and colleagues he wrote, “You will be blessed if you remember that as well as bodies you are dealing with immortal, divine souls that you must love the way you love yourselves.”*
During the 1911 cholera epidemic in slums of Naples, Giuseppe worked all day and night treating the poor without charge. He was known to have prayed for all of his patients, even the impossible cases. And so in loving the poor in humility and simplicity, this brilliant researcher and physician born of nobility and wealth, chose to sell all his possessions—and his sister’s possessions with her support—in order to serve the poor in Naples. On April 12th 1927, at the height of his career, esteemed by his peers and widely consulted, Dr. Moscati died at his home at age 47 after spending a morning receiving Mass and seeing patients at the hospital. As news spread rapidly, all of Naples mourned for his death, especially the poor people who had lost their only doctor.
When I reflect on Dr. Moscati’s life and faith, I have to wonder at the radical kind of love he lived his life by. It was a unique love drawn to suffering itself, for its origin lies with Christ’s own suffering on the cross. This poor doctor of Naples foreshadowed the life of another major saint whose life overlapped his own. Born on August 26th 1910, “Mother Teresa grasped the depth of Jesus’ identification with each sufferer and understood the mystical connection between the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the poor.”** Her complete obedience allowed her to answer Jesus’ call to “‘Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light.’”** This radical expression of God’s love has now penetrated the world through Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity ~5,000 sisters world-wide—133 countries—serving the poor with hospices and homes for those with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, orphanages, schools, and children’s and family counseling programs. What makes them radical by anyone’s standards is their vows of absolute poverty, chastity, obedience and “wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.” Yet these kindhearted sisters are not miserable souls. On the contrary, in their life of material suffering, prayer and service, they are some of the most joyful people I have ever met.
Dr. Moscati, Mother Teresa and the 5,000 amazing selfless sisters worldwide truly embody Christ’s own words in Matthew 25:40 “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”(See Matthew 25: 34-46) Dr. Moscati embodies the vision of medicine I always longed for. Without him as a role model, I would always question my rationality. For I’ve always felt that the necessities of faith and compassion for the poor call for a sacrificial type of medical service. Medicine serves suffering and so medical practice itself is bound within suffering. To me a life as a doctor is a life of suffering for the poor in service and charity. Medicine in the service and care of injury, disease and death should never be comfortable. It is necessarily uncomfortable. But in faith this somber profession can be transformed into one full of joy and love, just like the Missionaries of Charity! For doctors can only postpone death, but God can save and redeem lives! This is the beauty in medicine that Dr. Moscati is helping me seek.
- *Movie St. Giuseppe Moscati – Doctor To The Poor
- **Father Kolodiejchuk, Mother Teresa: Come be my Light