Archbishop salutes ‘healthcare
heroes’ during White Mass
at Cathedral of the Assumption

Members of the healthcare profession, including doctors and nurses, sang the opening hymn “For Builders Bold” during a White Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville Oct. 3. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare profession who attended a White Mass Oct. 3 heard that their work is “noble” because they uphold the dignity inherent in each patient.

The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the Cathedral of the Assumption. He noted that it was the ninth White Mass and that it shared the occasion with the 169th anniversary of the cathedral’s dedication.

The archbishop welcomed those who’d gathered on a wet Sunday evening, calling them “heroes” and offering his thanks. The Mass, he said, is a time to “renew and rekindle” within their hearts the commitment they made when they entered the healthcare profession.

“We always should be thankful,” he said, but that gratitude runs deeper since the “ravages of COVID-19” over the last 18 to 20 months. The pandemic has brought a “sense of fear and anxiety” into people’s hearts. “We should salute you every day, but most especially during this pandemic. We’re very, very grateful,” said Archbishop Kurtz.

The past year and a half have been the most challenging times for medical professionals, said Dr. Benjamin Klausing, a physician with the Baptist Health Medical Group Infectious Disease.

“We’re all in the same boat and we are all seasick,” said Klausing, paraphrasing the early 20th-century author and theologian G.K. Chesterton.

Klausing, who is a member of St. Louis Bertrand and a Trinity High School alumnus, said during a recent interview that he and his colleagues rely on the notion: “You can cure sometimes with medicine but you can always comfort.” That has been put to the test during the pandemic.

Most doctors, he said, know “they’re not going to cure every patient, but there are things that are important in the process of living and dying.” The pandemic took some of that away.

Doctors read the St. Joseph Guild of the Catholic Medical Association Pledge during a White Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville Oct. 3. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Because COVID-19 patients must be isolated, the comfort of having family members present or receiving last rites was not possible, especially during the early days of the pandemic. Not being able to provide patients with these aspects of care “carries trauma” for those in health care, said Klausing. “We’re doing our best,” he said. He thinks of health care workers, including nurses and nurses’ assistants, as “heroes.”

The doctor, he noted, leaves after seeing a patient, but the nurses and their assistants are with patients for up to 12 hours. “They’ve done outstanding,” he said.

Klausing said he and his colleagues — nurses, respiratory therapists and even those who serve the food — relied on each other during those early days of the pandemic.

He also relies on his family and his faith to get him through, he said. That was especially the case during the lockdown — months when the churches were closed.

“You must have something to rely on. … For me, I think, I go back to the belief that we aren’t in control,” said Klausing.

St. John XXIII was known for saying at the end of the day, “I did the best I could. It’s your church, Lord. Goodnight,” said Klausing. “You have to have some sense of ‘You’re not in control. It’s up to providence to have the answer.’ Once you accept you’re not in control, you try your best to love and heal your patients and you trust in his divine mercy.”

Klausing’s perspective was echoed in the archbishop’s homily at the White Mass.

Archbishop Kurtz noted that Jesus Christ said he came to serve and not to be served. Christ’s words come to mind when he thinks of healthcare professionals, he said.

He invited those in attendance to recall what first attracted them to the profession.

The archbishop drew the congregation’s attention to the day’s second reading from 1 Corinthians, in which St. Paul refers to believers in Corinth as “God’s temple.”

Healthcare professionals “are most aware of the spirit within the human person and the dignity of every person,” the archbishop said. They also possess the gift of “fidelity,” which gives them the ability to “love when people respond with great gratitude and when they respond otherwise,” he said.

The gift of fidelity, however, needs to be rekindled often, because it’s easy to fall into a routine where “we see not the person but a number.”

Archbishop Kurtz shared with the congregation that during his battle with cancer, he spent many hours sitting in a waiting room.

“In the waiting room, you can observe people who are waiting to be cared for. They come in all shapes and sizes. … Some are alone and some have family and friends with them, but they all have dignity,” said the archbishop. “The health care profession is a noble profession precisely because you uphold that dignity. We are very grateful for the gifts you bring to our human community and our spiritual community.”

Following the homily, Archbishop Kurtz led the healthcare professionals in taking the pledge of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s St. Joseph Guild of the Catholic Medical Association.

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