St Joseph Moscati, Holy Physician of the Poor

(We need examples and intercessors of saintly physicians, and here is a re-post of the life of one of the greats, Saint Joseph Moscati. We could use many more like him! Editor)

November 16th is the feast day of St Joseph Moscati, the holy doctor of Naples. I had the joy of visiting his relics in July 2017 at the Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo in Naples.

Giuseppe was born on July 25 1880, the seventh out of nine children, born into an aristocratic family. However Giuseppe decided to refrain from continuing the law career of his father, who was a magistrate, and instead opted for medicine. His brother Alberto’s terrible accident when he fell off a horse during his military training was the incident prompting this decision. Due to his irreversible head trauma, Alberto became disabled. This powerful experience at his brother’s bedside, convinced the young Joseph to dedicate himself to the study of medicine. In fact, he entered the University of Naples in 1897, soon after graduating from high school. During that year another terrible blow struck the young Giuseppe: his father, Francesco died.

When he graduated as a doctor in 1903, Giuseppe started to spend himself ministering to the poor. His life story wonderfully tells us that when a patient could not afford his medication or didn’t even have food to eat, Dr Moscati used to send him and her home with money in an envelope, thus ensuring that they got what they needed. Other accounts tell us that he would also leave money under the poor’s pillows. To one of his students who flocked to his classes at the university St Joseph Moscati said: Not science, but charity, has transformed the world.

 To the medical students he often said: Let us daily practice charity. God is love. He who loves is in God and God in him. Let us never forget to offer every day, nay, every moment, our actions to God, doing all things for love. … Love truth; show yourself as you are, without pretense, without fears and cares. And if the truth means your persecution, accept it; if it means your torment, bear it. And if for the truth’s sake you should sacrifice yourself and your life, be strong in your sacrifice.

 Before he preached to others Giuseppe lived all this in his personal life. Besides visiting his poor patients in the slums of Naples and devoting all his energy to cure them, he was courageous enough to turn down the opportunity to obtain a professional chair so that nothing might impede him from serving his patients he loved so much, as well as training future doctors so that they could help the poor.

From where did Giuseppe get so much strength to keep living his very challenging vocation? To begin with, from the Sacrifice of the Mass. He started his busy working days by first attending the Mass. Then, he would spend time praying to God. Complementing the Mass his beloved mother, Rosa De Luca Dei Marchesi di Roseto, inculcated in her son a deep love for Mary, Our Heavenly Mother. With how much love and devotion Giuseppe prayed the Rosary! For him, Mary was the Blessed Mother to whom he consecrated his life as well as the counsellor who showed him not only what vocation he was to follow in his life but also a great helper at the moment where he needed to take important decisions. For that matter, Giuseppe carried a rosary in his pocket so as to keep close to his heart our Blessed Mother.

Within the agnostic and anti-clerical academic environment of the University of Naples, Joseph’s faith kept maturing all the more. Both the Mass and his love for Our Mother Mary helped him to let God fill every moment of his life. It is said that before he examined a patient or doing his research he always prayed. And as a doctor, if he knew that his patient’s spiritual state was lacking, he would prescribe to him the dose of sacramental life, which was part and parcel with their treatment plan. When a patient was going to surgery Giuseppe would strongly prescribe this ‘sacramental dose’. For him sacraments were the “first medicine”. Oftentimes he used to say: I’m just trying. The only thing that can cure you is Jesus. Always pray to Him because He is the source of all healing …

St. Giuseppe was thinking of becoming a Jesuit. The Jesuits, however, were of the idea that it would be better if Giuseppe remained out giving his life for Jesus in the secular world. So he became a Third Order Franciscan, by leading a simple life while taking a voluntary vow of poverty. Furthermore, he utterly refused to charge priests or religious due to the respect he nurtured for their vocations.

Irrespective of their moral state, sick people are Jesus’ creatures. In a slip of paper dated January 17, 1922, Giuseppe wrote: Sick people are Jesus Christ’s creatures. Many wicked people, criminals, swearers, find themselves in a hospital by God’s mercy, he wants them to be saved! Nuns, doctors and nurses that work in a hospital have a mission: cooperating with this endless mercy, helping, forgiving and sacrificing themselves.

Giuseppe had the gift of consoling others in their grief. In a letter to the Notary de Magistris, whose daughter died, and is dated March 7, 1924, Giuseppe wrote to him: I’ve got here, on my table, among the first flowers of Spring, one of your daughter’s portrait and I rest, while writing, and meditate upon the frailty of human things. Beauty, every enchantment of life has an end…Only eternal Love lasts, the one that is the reason of every good action, that survives us, that is hope and religion, because Love is God. Satan tried to foul even earthly love, but God purified it through Death. A splendid Death which is not an end, but a beginning of the Sublime and Divine, in the presence of which these flowers and Beauty are nothing! Your Angel ravished in her young years, like her beloved friend, the Blessed Therese, discovered in her last years, assists you and her mother from Heaven… From this letter we can also get to know how Giuseppe was a great devotee of St Therese of Lisieux. In fact, in his room he had a portrait of her. St Therese is also mentioned in some letters he wrote to his friends.

The life of this brilliant doctor, who worked in biological chemistry, whose research led to the discovery of the insulin which nowadays saves millions of lives of diabetic people, had its earthly end. On April 12, 1927, after attending the morning Mass and receiving Communion, Giuseppe went to his office to work. While sitting in his chair he suffered a stroke and died at the age of forty-seven years old.

St Pope Paul VI beatified him on November 16, 1975 whereas St Pope John Paul II canonized him on October 25, 1987.

O Saint Joseph Moscati, doctor with a huge heart, in the exercise of your profession you cured the body and spirit of your patients, turn towards us too who now run to you with faith in your intercession. Give us physical and spiritual health, so that we can serve our brothers with generosity. Alleviate the pain of those that suffer, give comfort to the sick, consolation to the afflicted, and hope to the hopeless. Make that the sick might encounter doctors like you: human and Christian. The youth find in you a model of life, the workers, an example, the old, comfort, and the dying, hope in eternal salvation. Be for all of us a sure guide: teach us to work with serenity, honesty and charity, to be able to complete in a Christian way our everyday tasks.

Saint Joseph Moscati, pray for us!


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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.