In our era — when euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide have become legal in many places — we need to look to the example of Saint Giuseppe Moscati, an Italian doctor from the early 20th century who had true compassion for his patients.
St. Giuseppe Moscati was born in Benevento, Italy on July 25, 1880, the seventh of nine children of devout Catholic parents. The family moved to Naples when Giuseppe was four years old, and he lived there for the rest of his life. He graduated from the University of Naples Medical School with a degree in medicine and surgery in 1903. A few months after graduation, he began working as an assistant physician at the Ospedale degli Incurabili (the Hospital for the Incurables) in Naples.
He later became a professor of the hospital’s medical school, and an administrator while continuing his work as a physician. He also visited patients in their homes, and saw them in his office at his apartment. During World War I, he was appointed the director of military hospitals, and cared for wounded soldiers. A brilliant scientist, he conducted research in biochemistry and physiology and held positions at scientific institutions and laboratories. He was considered so gifted in diagnosing patients that some colleagues thought he may have been enlightened by God.
Dr. Moscati saw his work as a doctor as a vocation, not a career, and declined a prestigious position as a Chair of Physiological Chemistry at a university, so he could continue to devote his time to his patients and students. He wrote:
“Happy are we doctors, who are so often unable to alleviate sickness, happy if we remember that, as well as the body, we have before us the immortal soul, concerning which it is essential to remember the Gospel precept to love them as ourselves. The sick represent Christ for us.”
Dr. Moscati was able to love his patients with the virtue of charity and make sacrifices for them because he was a holy man completely dedicated to God. He had a great love for Jesus in the Eucharist, received Holy Communion every day, and spent time in Adoration. His spiritual director, Father Giovanni Aromatisi, SJ, said that Dr. Moscati’s devotion to the Eucharist “was the center of his whole life.” He was also very devoted to the Blessed Mother, prayed the Rosary daily, went on pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, and spoke of her often to his students and patients.
Having felt inspired by God to remain celibate, Dr. Moscati made a private vow of chastity at the age of 34. One of his former students said that he did this because of “love of the virtue of chastity and so as to dedicate his work completely to God, to science, and to his neighbor…”
Dr. Moscati lived very simply and practiced voluntary poverty in order to use the money he earned to help the poor. He never charged poor patients a fee for treating them, and often gave them money for their medicines and other needs. He also did not charge a fee to priests and religious because of his respect for their vocation.
Always willing to make any sacrifice to help the sick, Dr. Moscati even risked his life to rescue the residents of a hospital for the elderly during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on April 8, 1906. The roof of the building collapsed immediately after he helped the last resident escape.
Dr. Moscati was dedicated to caring for his patients’ spiritual as well as physical health. He prayed for his patients and with them. He encouraged them to go to confession and receive Holy Communion. He helped patients who were no longer practicing the faith to return to the Church, and even helped bring about the conversion of some atheists.
As a spiritual father and mentor to his students, Dr. Moscati taught them not only about medicine but also about God and how to provide pastoral as well as spiritual care to patients. In a letter to a former student, Dr. Cosimo Zacchino, he wrote: “Remember you must be concerned not only about the body but about the groaning souls that turn to you for help. How many pains you will alleviate more easily with counsel, and by appealing to the spirit, rather than with cold prescriptions to be sent to the pharmacist!”
Dr. Moscati spent the last day of his life, April 12, 1927, worshipping God and helping others. He served Mass and received Holy Communion in the morning, taught students and treated patients in the hospital, and saw patients in his office in the afternoon. Always aware of people’s spiritual needs, he asked his sister Nina (who assisted him in his works of mercy) that morning to arrange for a priest to see one of the priests in the hospital who was no longer a practicing Catholic. Dr. Moscati died at 3:00 pm. It was Tuesday of Holy Week.
Many people attended Dr. Moscati’s funeral and soon afterward people began praying for his intercession at his grave. Three years after his death, his body was moved to the Church of Gesù Nuovo, where he often went to Mass. The investigation process for his canonization began in 1931.
Three miracles attributed to his intercession were recognized by the Church. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on November 16, 1975 and canonized a saint on October 25, 1987 by St. John Paul II. St. Giuseppe Moscati’s feast day is on November 16. In a letter to a friend, he gave advice we can follow today. “Let us practice charity every day. God is love: he who abides in love abides in God and God in him. Let us not forget, every day, and even every moment, to make an offering of our actions to God, doing everything for love of Him.”
images: Statue of St. Giuseppe Moscati / © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of St. Giuseppe Moscati / Wikimedia Commons (Inviaggio [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)