DETROIT — “They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Maybe there are no atheists on operating tables.” Dr. Ray Guarendi, a clinical psychologist, said this while emceeing a fundraising dinner for a new medical clinic for women and their children. He was responding to Dede Byrne, a medical doctor and religious sister, who was explaining that when she is treating patients — in a white habit — she is sure to treat the whole person, body, mind and soul. For example: If she’s treating a Catholic couple who are living together outside of marriage and one of them needs to go under anesthesia for a surgery, she will write a prescription for the Sacrament of Confession.

A nun can get away with that.

Treating the Whole Person

Heart of Christ Clinic is the name of the new facility here in Motor City. It provides cutting-edge medicine for the whole person, at all stages of life. Being pro-life, Heart of Christ is likely going to reduce abortions in Detroit, in a state whose governor is militantly insistent on the need for abortion. But to reduce the clinic’s mandate to abortion matters is to misunderstand it.

You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian to understand what the clinic is doing, but you do need to comprehend the power of the Beatitudes.

For example: “Lower-income women do not get prenatal care,” Dr. Lisa Knysz said. That shouldn’t be, and Heart of Christ is taking steps to fix it.

At the clinic, which expects to see its first patients in the next two or three months, Dr. Knysz talked about some of her experiences working with the disenfranchised. Sometimes a patient might not be completely forthcoming: In casual conversation, one of her former patients admitted that her food stamps had been cut off and she’d been saving what food she can get for the kids, leading to dramatic weight loss. Knysz and her team helped the woman and her family get food, and reapply to the assistance program. That’s the kind of whole-person support that patients will receive at Heart of Christ.

Revealing the Heart of Christ

It’s a family practice, and if a mother needs to be there for a few hours with her five kids, there will be healthy snacks, tutoring, mentoring and activities for the children.

The clinic is in a renovated (paid for by two donors), repurposed convent on the grounds of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit. As churches and convents close — a reality in urban areas, especially — the opportunity for similar clinics is an opportunity.

As Heart of Christ is getting off the ground in Detroit, there are already preliminary plans for a clinic in Lansing, Michigan, and a longer-term plan for a clinic in each of the seven Catholic dioceses in the state. Coming from New York to take a look, I’m not alone in praying that there’s a national outreach sooner rather than later. And yet, it’s not up to Heart of Christ alone. Creative, excellent efforts to inundate women and families with care and love must be a priority. Our miserable politics will never get better until women have options like Heart of Christ.

Stopping by a local parish for Mass, I saw a statue in the parish hall of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who came as a missionary from Italy to establish schools and orphanages and other institutions for immigrants. Heart of Christ is a new kind of missionary service with professionals taking the lead.

The hope is that word will get out, that all people from all economic brackets will know Heart of Christ is there, ready to care for them. That may just be healing in and of itself — to see that de-institutionalized, personalized, human encounters in medicine are still possible.

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary. She can be contacted at [email protected].





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