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Omaha’s Pope Paul VI Institute . . . Brings New Beginnings To Women And Life To New Babies

November 27, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

 

By DEXTER DUGGAN

Part 1

OMAHA — A young Nebraska mother with a smiley eight-month-old baby boy at home listened with curiosity to remarks during an educational program here about natural fertility regulation and achieving pregnancy in difficult cases.
She and her husband initially hadn’t been successful at trying to conceive. Now she was learning there’s a medical institute right here in Nebraska’s largest city that she hadn’t been aware of, drawing clients from around the United States and beyond.
It’s the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, a professional pro-life academy that promotes women’s awareness of how their bodies work and is open to clients regardless of religious persuasion.
In harmony with the Catholic faith, the institute treats patients for problems including infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, premenstrual syndrome, and postpartum depression.
The Nebraska woman also heard about a different, competing approach to fertility — one that’s widely practiced in current medicine that might be considered “value free.” It treats symptoms while giving less attention to the important task of discovering underlying causes.
One example would be unfortunate instances of medical practitioners who readily point patients toward expensive, low-success in-vitro fertilization instead of trying to determine the basic answer: What’s the reason for the infertility in the first place?
The pro-life educational program, which ran November 8-15 for fertility professionals, was sponsored jointly by the Pope Paul VI Institute and Omaha’s Creighton University School of Medicine. It was accredited by the American Academy of Fertility Care Professionals. About 80 professionals attended.
Pope Paul VI Institute was founded in 1985 by a young physician, Thomas Hilgers, and his wife, Sue, in response to that Pope’s appeal for scientific research into natural fertility regulation. Paul VI had issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 against contraception, which brought strident condemnation from many powerful quarters.
The institute has grown to a bustling three-story brick building on Omaha’s Mercy Road, with a chapel on the top floor where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, as well as a library stocked with volumes from, and dedicated to the memory of, the late Fr. Marc Calegari, SJ, a pro-life expert who served in Phoenix.
Today Hilgers’ office at the institute is heaped with medical literature and paperwork and accented with memorabilia of University of Nebraska football and singer Elvis Presley.
“Between Nebraska and Elvis — those are his two loves,” said administrative assistant Terri Green. A photo shows Hilgers with his family outside Presley’s Memphis mansion, Graceland.
There are also a cross on the wall with tiny baby footprints on it and a painting of Jesus with His hand on a doctor’s shoulder in the operating room.
Green said Hilgers has “told us he felt many times He was guiding his hands, looking over his shoulder” during surgery.
Sitting down for a fast lunch and an interview with The Wanderer on November 11 between sessions of the educational program, the white-bearded Hilgers said he began medical school in 1968 at the University of Minnesota, knowing the Pope was expected to issue an encyclical on birth regulation.
“I was kind of trying to keep up with it . . . I actually thought the Church was going to change its position” on contraception, but he wasn’t disappointed when it didn’t. Instead of taking his cues from the news media — “because they had gotten things wrong before” — Hilgers read the encyclical itself, “and everything [it said] made sense.”
He later opened the Paul VI Institute “specifically in response” to the Pope’s appeal “to men of science and health-care professionals.”
Much of current reproductive medical practice centers on abortion, contraception, IVF, and sterilization, Hilgers said, but “if we can develop good, solid programs, they’ll have to pay attention eventually.”
Typically, the Paul VI Institute offers a phase-one fall and phase-two spring educational program each year. Next spring’s will be April 5-12 in Omaha.
“We train more doctors than anyone else in the world” in Natural Procreative Technology, he said, with about 25 doctors among the 80 or so attendees currently registered.
Although large-scale changes in medical attitudes toward a culture of life are “a ways off,” Hilgers said, professionals trained here are “already making their waves” among other doctors. “Doctors are very opinionated. They like to think they’re rooted in science, and in some ways they are,” but they also have their own prejudices, he said.
The Paul VI Institute building cost about $1 million to get started, he said. “We didn’t have any money. The whole thing was started on faith.” They expected to lose $250,000 the first year, he added, and they did.
John Cardinal O’Connor, archbishop of New York at the time, interceded with the Knights of Columbus for the institute, and the fraternal group came through with $250,000, Hilgers said.
When The Wanderer asked if this meant the deficit was erased, Hilgers said no because the institute went in the hole for $250,000 the next year, too. “But it helped keep the doors open.”
Funding remains a challenge today, he said. The building is “totally jam-packed, and we desperately need a new facility” that would be expected to cost $10 million to $12 million.
“It’s always been faith and prayer…and it still works on that level. We do need to get it on a solid level” financially, he said. “. . . We do have patients who will tell their story. . . . They’re very, very helpful” in giving testimonials of how the institute benefited them.

An Incredible Person

The Pope Paul VI Institute Press produced a 248-page book, In Their Own Words: Women Healed, the testimonies of 50 women and their husbands “whose lives have been enriched by the medical care, education and research efforts” of the institute (ISBN 0-9744147-1-9).
Some of the women tell of other physicians who brushed off their concerns or failed to look seriously into the women’s problems before the women turned to Hilgers and the institute. The emotional devastation of repeated miscarriages is recounted, as is the longing to have babies, who often arrive after treatment at Paul VI.
One woman writes: “I had always dreamed of becoming a mother. Holding my child in my arms, rocking her to sleep, with that unmistakable scent a baby has, with the wisps of hair on her nearly bald head, and those tiny hands, just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.”
Having the institute enabled him to make progress in fertility research, Hilgers said. “It’s really the only pro-life women’s institute for health science there is.”
Hilgers was in Rome for the October 19 beatification of Pope Paul VI at the Vatican and “was given the honor of reading” the English Prayer of the Faithful at the Mass.
Paul VI was “an incredible person,” Hilgers told The Wanderer. “He suffered enormously. He loved the Church immensely but had so many dissenters after Humanae Vitae” that he was greatly disappointed.
(Part 2 of this article will appear in a forthcoming issue of The Wanderer.)

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