Today there are as many general Catholic hospitals in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in operation as have closed over the years — five to be exact, including Holy Redeemer in Meadowbrook and four others in the region owned by Trinity Health.
One of those is St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, which touts a diverse staff serving a diverse community in Bucks County.
With its 357 beds, 50-bed rehabilitation center, Level One trauma center and extensive out-patient services, the hospital adheres to Catholic doctrine and fulfills its mission by respecting the sacredness and dignity of every person.
The nurses and doctors, chaplains and aides all participate in the center’s mandate of healing the whole person by offering each patient healing, comfort and encouragement.
The spiritual aspect of St. Mary is evident in its chaplain staff, which encompasses two Catholic priests among chaplains of different faith traditions who pray for and with patients. For non-believers, the chaplains provide a listening ear.
Father George Pereira has dedicated 43 years of his 45-year priesthood to what he calls his healing ministry. The spiritual aspect of his service, he believes, complements the science of medicine.
“Every person has a soul and a body,” he said. “A patient might tell me that they are not Catholic. I tell them that sickness does not have a religion. I sometimes recite Jewish prayers. The human spirit always craves for something that the material can’t give.”
Father Pereira recounted one experience he had with a patient who rejected his approach because, he told the priest, he was an atheist.
For the next several days, Father Pereira would enter the room and simply wave to the man before going to the other patient in the room. Eventually, the non-believer called him over and asked to speak with him.
The two developed a rapport and, at a later time, the patient stopped to thank Father Pereira just for listening.
The priest’s visits to patients are accompanied by a deep, mystical empathy — a sharing in their suffering.
“When any patient is in agony, I feel their agony in my heart. When you feel their pain, they feel relieved,” Father Pereira said.
And he or one of the other chaplains are always present for a dying patient. “No one here dies alone,” he said.
The priest’s involvement in health care is not limited to his pastoral ministry to the sick. In past years he has helped formulate health policies that have been adopted by Catholic hospitals. He has served in India and Australia as well as the United States.
St. Mary Medical Center opened its doors in 1973, run by the Franciscan nuns. Today it is part of Trinity Health, a national Catholic health system. It operates 92 hospitals, 109 continuing care facilities, home care agencies and outpatient centers in 22 states, and employs 129,000 health professionals.
“We at St. Mary and Trinity Health are a community of caring people,” said Father Pereira. “We are committed to extending and strengthening the health ministry of Jesus. By doing so, we live out our values of reverence and commitment to those who are poor, justice, stewardship, integrity and excellence.”
The doctors and nurses at St. Mary comprise men and women of various ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. There is no discrimination or judgment of people’s beliefs, but it is made clear that the hospital is founded on the doctrines of the Catholic faith. That means care givers they must accept certain standards and practices — for example, no abortions, sterilizations or other procedures that violate Catholic teaching on human life and dignity are performed.
Morning prayers are recited over the hospital’s public address system, and Mass is celebrated daily at noon in the hospital chapel.
“The doctors and nurses at St. Mary each have a sense of mission. Our message to the patients is that we care that they are here to offer our healing services. As Pope Francis said, ‘You are the Now of God,”’ said Gary Edwards, vice president of mission integration.
His job is to incorporate clinical and pastoral care, education and volunteer services. And he is in the process of providing access to mental health care, working with local agencies, he said.
“We plant the seeds and set the example,” Edwards said. “We ask, what does it mean to walk with Christ, to see the spark of the Divine in every person?
“In our actions we are preaching the Gospel. Sometimes,” Edwards said, “we use words.”
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