Some came straight from their shifts — still wearing their scrubs and white doctor’s coats — others were dressed more traditionally and brought their families to pray with them and share in the experience of the annual White Mass at St. Luke Church, Toms River.
On Oct. 15, just three days before the feast of St. Luke, evangelist and patron saint of physicians, Catholic healthcare professionals from around the Diocese gathered to pray for themselves, their colleagues and all who serve in the field.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mass for Healthcare Professionals in St. Luke Church
This year’s diocesan-wide White Mass marked its 10th anniversary, a milestone celebrated with joy and thanksgiving. Also this year, St. Luke’s co-sponsored the Mass with another parish in the Diocese, St. Michael in West End.
Father John Butler, pastor of St. Michael Parish, celebrated the Mass. His concelebrants were Father Michael Kennedy, administrator of St. Luke Parish, who was homilist; Father Robert Grodnicki, retired pastor of St. Luke Parish, who initiated the White Mass 10 years ago; and Father Jarlath Quinn, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish, Atlantic Highlands.
“An anniversary event is always special in terms of the support it receives to continue and because of the longevity, in and of itself,” said June Brandes Chu, a member of St. Luke since 1987 and chairperson of the White Mass committee.
Brandes Chu, a registered nurse who retired after 30 years at Ocean County Juvenile Services and eight years as an adjunct faculty member for the Accelerated BSN program at Seton Hall University, South Orange, added that the fact St. Luke and St. Michael parishes were cohosting the White Mass for the first time “makes this milestone celebration extra special.”
“It is important to recognize individuals who promote the care, well-being and recovery of others in every setting and every department, including the home,” Brandes Chu said, adding that the White Mass is extended to everyone in the medical profession and health-related fields delivering care at all levels, including community-based and home-based caregivers.
“It is a team effort by many players and allied health partners that helps support those in need of our care,” she said.
In his homily, Father Kennedy reflected on healthcare workers being gifted with a “vocation of compassion,” saying that such work is not for everyone and that it takes a “special person to have that vocation.”
Turning to St. Luke’s Gospel, Father Kennedy focused on themes that support the evangelist’s interest in assisting the sick, lowly and downtrodden, found in various passages. He then encouraged the congregation to read the passages on their own and embrace the messages “with an open heart and an open mind.”
Dr. Violet Kramer, a member of St. Michael Parish and pulmonary and critical care specialist who practices in Monmouth Pulmonary Consultants, Eatontown, and serves in Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch, attended the White Mass for the first time.
“When I learned that St. Michael’s was collaborating with St. Luke Parish for this year’s Mass, I was eager to participate,” she said.
“I think it’s incredibly uplifting and encouraging to share common values and worship with my fellow healthcare colleagues, especially when we are still trying to heal from the COVID-19 crisis.”
Kramer said it was meaningful to receive a blessing “to strengthen us in our day-to-day lives as healthcare professionals.
“God invites us to do his work in the world,” she said. “This Mass reinvigorates us to see Jesus in each of our patients.”
St. Luke parishioner Jenna Hisey, who cantored for the Mass and has worked as a nurse in Community Medical Center, Toms River, for the past 17 years, reflected on her family’s deep-rooted connections to the medical field. Her husband is also a registered nurse and her mother, who dedicated more than 45 years to nursing, played a pivotal role in inspiring her own path as a nurse.
Hisey noted that she began attending the White Mass three years ago and finds it to be “a profoundly beautiful event that pays tribute to the relentless efforts and unwavering dedication of all healthcare professionals.”
“The White Mass stands as a powerful symbol of appreciation for all who contribute to this noble cause,” she said.
“I believe the White Mass is important for all healthcare workers to celebrate the spiritual component of caring for people at their most vulnerable times,” said St. Luke parishioner Judith Schmidt, a registered nurse who is chief executive officer for the New Jersey State Nurses Association.
“The fact that St. Luke’s has kept this tradition for 10 years shows the dedication of the healthcare community in supporting this special Mass and celebration,” she said. She added that the Mass and the poignant blessing of healthcare professionals’ hands by the priests “energizes and confirms our vocation and dedication of our lives to helping people in need such as the Good Samaritan did.”