Father Robert Grodnicki, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, celebrates Mass with Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Church, Howell, left. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
Father Robert Grodnicki, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, celebrates Mass with Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Church, Howell, left. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
Health care professionals from across the Diocese were recognized for their hard work, sacrifices and faith during a Mass Oct. 18 in St. Luke Church, Toms River.

“Many of you are my friends,” Father Robert Grodnicki, pastor, said in his homily.  “The trust in you I have is unbelievable. During this time, I know how scared you’ve been. You have young kids, yet you go to work, come home and sanitize before you see your kids. Then you go back the next day to put yourselves at risk again.”

Nearly 80 doctors, nurses, physical therapists, technicians, social workers, administrators and more gathered to celebrate their kinship as healers and sharers of faith during the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Church, Howell, and diocesan director of missions. Deacon Bob Pladek assisted.

Traditionally known as the “White Mass,” the celebration honoring health care professionals dates back to the 1930s, when the Catholic Medical Association was founded. This year’s Mass, which was livestreamed, was the seventh annual celebration of its kind at the parish, made all the more poignant by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of physicians.   

“Thank you for what you do in your ministry. Thank you for sharing your abundance. Yours are the hands that show you care,” Father Grodnicki said.

His words provided a segue for the anointing of hands, as the priests dabbed the health care workers’ palms with oil on Q-tips – a concession to COVID-19 safeguards. The doctors, nurses, caregivers and more processed forward, following social distance protocols, to present their hands – the primary instruments of their healing mission. Meanwhile, an image of hands cupping a heart appeared on video monitors around the altar.

Later, Joanne Penn, a pediatric nurse, discussing the overall stress of this troubled time, said, “This Mass was so needed. I felt helpless about everything this year.” She smiled as she remembered the anointing: “Suddenly it reminded me of all the things my hands did!”

Judy Schmidt, CEO of the New Jersey State Nurses Association, agreed. “Hands and caring are the most important aspects of the profession.”

Many who attended the Mass were front line health providers working during the pandemic who appreciated celebrating with those sharing journeys both as health practitioners and people of faith.

June Brandes Chu, a registered nurse who helped coordinate the event, reflected, “In this year of COVID, this event celebrates the hard work that all people in health care give to the well-being of all. Many of them do not get credit for what they do. This Mass gives credence to all of them. We also honor cooks, custodians, drivers who take the sick to appointments. This gives us special time to honor all those people for the work they do.”

Dr. Ann Tritak-Elmiger said, “It is good to be with colleagues. We share a passion for providing care and compassion for patients. No nurse or health care professional can be without faith or family. My faith is a rock. Health depends not just on the physical and psychological, but on the spiritual.”

Robin Ulep, a neurologist practicing at the University of Virginia, attended the Mass with her mother, pediatrician Shirley Ulep, and several siblings, all of them medical professionals. 

“It is great to share this day with the medical professionals who have made sacrifices during the time of pandemic. As professionals, we rely on each other to stay healthy and safe. Our faith helps us cope and keeps us sane … to overcome the hardships and get us through it.”