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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Joseph Moscati

November 8, 2016 saints No Comments


Most of the saints were in the priesthood or the religious life, but there are many saints who were lay persons, such as Saints Felicity and Perpetua, Louis and Zelie, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Frances of Rome, St. Agnes, St. Pier Giorgio, and many, many more. Some of the lay saints, although they thought they would enter the religious life, were advised that they could do more in their lay positions, such as St. Joseph Moscati, a brilliant and most holy doctor of medicine.
Benevento, Italy, nearly 40 miles northeast of Naples, became a favored vacation spot for many Italians. Francesco Moscati, a prominent lawyer and president of the Court of Assize in Naples, was described as an extremely intelligent and prayerful man. His wife, Rosa De Luca dei Marchesi di Roseto, was of noble birth. They became the parents of nine children. Joseph, the seventh of these nine children, was born on July 25, 1880.
Joseph was baptized on July 31, just six days after his birth. In 1884 the family moved to Naples where Joseph spent most of the rest of his life. In 1888, Joseph received his First Holy Communion. Now, when he attended daily Mass with his father, he could receive the Sacred Host with his father with the Poor Clare nuns. His father frequently assisted at the priest at the altar.
In 1889 Joseph finished his early education and entered Liceo Vittorio Emanuele, a school in Naples. He graduated from that esteemed school in 1897. Joseph then went to the University of Naples to study medicine. After Joseph’s first year at the university, his father died.
Joseph continued attending daily Mass, just as his father had done. Although, similar to public colleges of today, the University of Naples had a culture that was openly anti-Catholic and populated with many secret societies, Joseph remained faithful to his devotions. Perhaps his faithfulness to his spiritual practices is what protected him in that toxic atmosphere. He continued to study diligently and to avoid the many temptations and distractions to which so many of his peers succumbed.
He continued his studies and graduated with honors in 1903 with his medical doctorate, writing his thesis on hepatic urogenesis — dealing with the workings of the liver.
In the meantime, Alberto, Joseph’s older brother, had joined the military and eventually reached the rank of lieutenant in the artillery. In 1893 Alberto fell from his horse and incurred a terrible injury which left him permanently disabled. Alberto returned home and the family cared for him. Joseph spent many hours tending to his brother. This experience not only brought comfort to Alberto, it also set Joseph on the path to his future occupation.
Joseph reflected on the circumstances of his brother and himself — how the medical field could not do anything to help his brother on the one hand, and how religion, on the other hand, brought them comfort, hope, and deepening love.
After graduation, Joseph began teaching at the Hospital for Incurables in Naples. He also taught courses in general medicine. Days after Mount Vesuvius exploded on April 5, 1906, the roof of the hospital in Torre del Greco began to collapse. Under the leadership of Joseph, many men managed to remove the patients just before the roof came crashing down.
Once again, he saved many lives by caring for those struck down in the cholera epidemic of 1911. The government arranged for Dr. Moscati to research the origins and the best methods of treatment as well as authorizing him to inspect various facilities to ensure that standards were being met.
His charitable works complemented his commitment to use his gifts to find ways for medicine to help the sick and injured. Thus, in 1911 he became the dean of the chemical physiology department at the University of Naples and a member of the Royal Academy of Surgical Medicine. Soon, he had completed another doctorate.
Likewise, his spiritual life continued to develop quickly and deeply as he sought to unite himself more closely to God by making a vow of chastity in 1912. Around this time he considered joining the Jesuits, but they discouraged him and suggested that Dr. Moscati would better serve the Kingdom of God by continuing his work as a physician in the world rather than in religious life.
His regal bearing, brilliant mind, and holiness drew many to his circle. Many students flocked to him and followed him as his rounds began. He was patient with the students and the sick, seeking to minister to their souls as well as their bodies. With such achievements, it was not long before his many skills were recognized and he was appointed head of the hospital.
In 1914, as the rumblings of World War I began, Rosa de Luca, his mother, died. Her faithful son saw to her burial, praying for her to rest in peace in eternity. He then entered the military, where he served injured soldiers both physically and spiritually.
After the end of the war, he returned to his practice of medicine. His approach was unusual for his era as he sought not only to treat the symptoms of the diseases with which he was faced, but also to determine their causes and treat them. He became an excellent diagnostician, curing many persons.
More important, he sought to instill in his students a love for people’s souls. Before he examined the bodies of those under his care, he would first tend to their soul, as he taught his students, “one must attend first to the salvation of the soul and then only to that of the body.” Hence, he brought many back to the practice of their faith.
His students questioned him why he did not collect any money from his patients. One day, he actually refused payment when offered. He responded to them, “These are working folk. What have we that has not been given to us by our Lord? Woe to us if we do not make good use of God’s gifts!”
Furthermore, he never accepted payment from priests, religious, the poor, or the homeless. To sustain him, he learned to rely on God’s Providence. With these sacrifices and his devotions, he continued to grow in holiness. Sometimes he even persuaded his students to accompany him to daily Mass.
Dr. Moscati also had a deep devotion to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (remember he was born exactly 88 years before the promulgation of Humanae Vitae).
He learned to love the cross and encouraged the same in his patients. When one of them complained of the strict diet the doctor prescribed, Dr. Moscati gently replied, “God makes us suffer here in order to reward us in the heavenly Kingdom; by resigning ourselves to dietary restrictions, and suffering, we shall have greater merit in the eyes of the Almighty.”
On April 12, 1927, Joseph attended Mass, made his rounds at the hospital, and after his noon meal he felt exhausted. He went to his room to lie down, never to wake again. He was almost 47 years old. His feast is celebrated on November 16.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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