By Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
In a chapel in the cathedral of Benevento, an ancient city in southern Italy, a marble statue commemorates the birth of St. Giuseppe Moscati. He was born in Benevento in 1880, the seventh of nine children in a devout Catholic family.
When he was a boy, his older brother fell from a horse and needed prolonged medical attention, which led to Giuseppe’s interest in medicine. He eventually pursued that interest, receiving a doctorate from the University of Naples and then joining the staff of physicians at the Ospedale degli Incurabili (Hospital for the Incurables), where he took on duties as an administrator. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906, Giuseppe rushed to a facility in Torre del Greco just a few miles from the mouth of the volcano and evacuated every last patient as the building began to crumble. He was a leader in combating the cholera outbreak in Naples in 1911, and he was a pioneer in experimenting with insulin to treat diabetes.
The film St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor of the Poor dramatizes his life and provides insight into the principles that guided him to view the practice of medicine as a ministry of God.
Giuseppe refused to charge poor people for their treatment, sometimes actually giving them money along with prescriptions. He took a vow of chastity and never married, being known today as the patron saint of bachelors as well as those rejected from religious orders. A powerful intercessor, he was considered a miracle worker even in his lifetime, and he called on his patients to utilize their faith and the sacraments in seeking cures.
He was a daily communicant and received the Eucharist on the morning of the day he died at the age of 46. His life story is a testament to the powerful influence faith can have on the practice of medicine. Faith can imbue physicians with the fire to know that a profound encounter with Christ awaits them with each patient they treat; and this, in turn, can inspire those patients to have faith on their journey toward healing.