Health care workers spotlighted at special Mass

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Joan Giesler of Jasper knelt for prayer during the annual White Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper on Wednesday. The Mass, which was sponsored by Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center and St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville, honored health care workers. Giesler, who worked in health care for 52 years, is now on the receiving end of the industry as a patient at the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center in Jasper.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Clad all in white vestments, Bishop Charles Thompson and local clergy members offered up their prayers and blessings for a congregation of about 100 medical professionals Wednesday evening.

The Catholic Diocese of Evansville celebrated its third annual White Mass, the first held in Jasper, at St. Joseph Church. The event was sponsored by the diocese as well as Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center and St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville, both Catholic-sponsored institutions.

The celebration of health care workers dates back to the early 1930s when the national Catholic Medical Association was founded. White was chosen for the Mass because it is the color traditionally worn by those working in hospitals and doctors’ offices. It usually is celebrated near the feast of St. Luke, which falls on Oct. 18, as he is the patron saint of health care workers.

Bishop Thompson presided over the Mass and offered a message to the congregation during his sermon.

“Each and every member of a medical staff is integral to carrying out the mission of Catholic health care,” he said. “We pray in thanksgiving for all who have dedicated their lives to medicine and caring for the sick. May God be with you each and every day with each and every patient.”

It is important, the bishop said, for medical professionals to keep in mind the teachings of St. Luke during trying times.

“It is Christ Jesus, the divine physician, that all in the medical profession should emulate in carrying out their roles as healers, striving to preserve the dignity and sanctity of life rather than succumb to the growing cultural demands for convenience and the path of lease resistance,” he said. “The only sure way to stay on the path of righteousness, to be consistent healers in preserving life in all its dignities and sanctities, is to remain Christ-centered. Here lies the ultimate reason for celebrating the White Mass.”

After the celebration, several attendees gathered in the parish center for refreshments. Linda Bieker of Jasper, a part-time chaplain at Memorial Hospital, said she heard about the event through a friend and decided to attend to receive the blessings. This was the first White Mass she attended.

“I love being a chaplain,” she said, adding that she is often called in to hospital late at night when an accident or death occurs. “I don’t really know until I get (to the hospital) what the situation is, but on my way I just pray, and I ask God to get rid of whatever I don’t need in me and fill me with whatever it is I need to be the best chaplain.

Bieker did not become a part of the medical field until 2008, when she started her part-time work. She has since enrolled at Saint Meinrad School of Theology to obtain a degree to enhance her skills.
“We don’t carry the stethoscopes and scalpels, but we do make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

Bieker was joined at the reception by friend and co-worker Sister Renee Cunningham of Jasper who has worked at the hospital for the past 38 years as a member of the Little Company of Mary, the religious order that sponsors the hospital. Sr. Renee began her career in the intensive care unit and then became the head of the nursing education department. For 22 years, she has been working in palliative care, which is the step before hospice.

“Our community was founded for the dying. We’re really getting back to what we were founded for,” she said, adding that it was nice to be recognized at a church service for the hard work that she and others do to heal the sick.

Bishop Thompson closed the Mass with another blessing for health care professionals, thanking everyone — from surgeons and nurses to hospital maintenance and cafeteria staff — for their service to the sick and dying in their communities.

“I keep you in my prayers and I thank you for saying yes to that calling,” he said.

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