Archbishop Cupich calls health care essential to Catholic ministry

July 1, 2015


WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the annual Bishop Joseph Sullivan Memorial Lecture at the Catholic Health Assembly June 8, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago, praised the unique contribution of religious women in building and maintaining Catholic health care in the U.S.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich
Photo credit: Evelyn Hockstein/© CHA

The archbishop described the lecture's namesake, the late Bishop Sullivan, whose legacy includes having been instrumental in expanding Catholic Charities in Brooklyn and Queens, as a man who bore the smell of the sheep from staying so close to his spiritual flock. His was a combination of purposeful ministry lived out in the joy of the Gospel, said Archbishop Cupich.

That same sense of purpose, he said, nourished by a deep sense of joy, makes Catholic health care not only an essential ministry of the church, but essential to the entire ministry of the church.

Bishop Sullivan appreciated the keystone role of women religious in building Catholic health care, said Archbishop Cupich. Calling the legacy of Catholic health care the foundation for its future and drawing on fresh insights from Pope Francis, the archbishop cited several stories about religious sisters recorded in John Fialka's book Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America, and paired them with sections from the pope's Evangelii Gaudium.

The purpose of the pairings, Archbishop Cupich explained, was to celebrate the particular mission of Catholic health care as one that brings good news to the poor, evangelizes by attracting rather than proselytizing and balances the order of moral teaching with the fullness of mercy.

His first story had to do with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Kokomo, Ind., whose hospital was an economic target of the Ku Klux Klan. The archbishop recounted how a wealthy Klan benefactor rewrote his will in favor of the sisters because they had cared for him when a competing hospital — one backed by the Klan — inadvertently mistook him for a poor man and turned him away.

The sisters' inclusive health ministry "not only benefited the sick they cared for, but the common good as people were brought together and given a chance to overcome bigotry which divided society," said Archbishop Cupich.

The archbishop recalled the words of Pope Francis who affirms that care of the poor is directly related to the good of the wider community, saying it "is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish ... and that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor."

The archbishop said Catholic health care's daily experience in serving the poor keeps the entire church focused on Pope Francis' message that "the poor come first."

Archbishop Cupich's second story featured a shy young nun recognizable as Sr. Cecilia in Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio." Hemingway, himself one of the rowdy characters cared for by the nuns at St. Vincent's Hospital in Billings, Mont., recognized that the gentle spirits of the sisters and the unwavering concern and respect they had for their patients often awakened something in the roughest of men that enabled them to respond in kind, with tenderness.

Today, Archbishop Cupich said, we call that awakening of disposition toward goodness "pre-evangelization."

Such connection and credibility with people exposes them to deeper meaning and attracts them to the call of God, he said. The archbishop recalled the passage in Evangelii Gaudium in which the pope quotes his predecessor Benedict XVI, who said the church grows not by proselytizing, but by "attraction."

The archbishop related Pope Francis' reference in Evangelii Gaudium to St. Thomas Aquinas' position on the superior virtue of mercy in external works of the church: "In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for any of their deficiencies."

Archbishop Cupich concluded that the members of the Catholic health ministry should cherish and carry forth the mission passed on to them by the founders of Catholic health care: to proclaim good news to the poor, to evangelize by the gentle means of attraction and to rely on mercy as the balance to moral teaching. It is much the same as the mission of the church, he said, to which Catholic health care is essential in bringing forth the reign of God.


Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.