Second-year medical student Brent Cunningham addressed his fellow seekers of healing knowledge who were gathered in Mary Immaculate Church.
“Welcome to the first of many,” said Mr. Cunningham, organizer of Kirksville’s inaugural White Mass.
Inspired by the yearly Liturgy for health professionals in the St. Louis area, the Catholic Student Association at A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (ATSU) in Kirksville sought to bring the celebration to the students who cannot afford to travel for the occasion.
The White Mass is traditionally celebrated on or around Oct. 18, feastday of St. Luke, patron saint of physicians.
“You may wonder why I am wearing red at a ‘White Mass,’” said Monsignor David Cox, pastor of Mary Immaculate parish in Kirksville and the St. Rose of Lima mission in Novinger. “St. Luke was a martyr, whose feast was yesterday; you all are providing the white with your coats.”
Each healthcare professional was given a medal of St. Luke upon entering the church, affixed to a safety pin in order for it to be pinned onto their coat.
Medical students wear pins on their coats to signify what organizations they are a part of. Members of the Catholic Student Association, now in its third year on campus, figured they should have a pin honoring their patron saint, as well.
Luke, a disciple of St. Paul, was a pagan who at first “did not understand the influence he would have,” Msgr. Cox explained.
Paul had many physical ailments, so Luke helped take care of him not only spiritually but bodily.
Though he never met Christ himself, Luke came to believe through the witness of others. He most likely knew the Blessed Mother.
It’s also said that he was a something of a “renaissance man,” an enthusiastic pursuer of a broad range of knowledge.
“As the Irish say, ‘If that’s not true, it oughta’ be!’” Msgr. Cox chuckled.
The priest said he appreciates the students’ presence in the parish.
“The relationship between the medical school and the parish is a wonderful one,” he stated.
He went on to thank a student in the congregation whose wife works at the parish school, and another whose daughter is currently a seventh-grader there.
Gift of faith
Msgr. Cox told a story about his experience with a surgeon who had made an impact on him.
The priest had been called into the operating room to give the last rites to a dying patient.
When he entered, he found out that the doctor who had called for him was not Catholic or even Christian.
“But he realized that when he could do nothing else for his patient, faith could,” Msgr. Cox said.
“You all have the gift of faith,” the priest continued. “You recognize God at work when not many in your profession do.”
Fourteen of the 20 or so students in the ATSU Catholic Student Association were present, along with four health professionals who are members of the parish.
The association offers men’s and women’s Bible studies and fellowship events, and sponsors “Theology on Tap” events where a common theme is ethics in medicine.
Group leaders hope they are laying a solid groundwork by adding this Mass to their schedule this year.
Students served as lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and song leaders and accompanists for the Mass.
“We want to celebrate Catholic health professionals and ‘spawning’ health professionals,” Mr. Cunningham said. “Kirksville is the birthplace, per se, of many of those health professionals.”
What better way to honor that than to celebrate with their faith community?
Ms. Shimmens is a student at Truman State University in Kirksville.