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Struggle to Preserve Catholic Health Care


DIAGNOSIS CRITICAL: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Health Care
BEFRIENDING DEATH: Henri Nouwen and a Spirituality of Dying
NO MORE SECRETS: A Family Speaks About Depression, Anxiety and Attempted Suicide
Out of Pain and Grief

DIAGNOSIS CRITICAL: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Health Care, by Leonard J. Nelson III. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. 345 pp. $29.95.

Reviewed by JOHN M. TEW, M.D., a neurosurgeon with the Mayfield Clinic and clinical director of the University of Cincinnati's Neuroscience Institute (UCNI). Before cofounding UCNI, he was a professor and chairman of UC's Department of Neurosurgery. After being named "best anatomist" in his class at Wake Forest School of Medicine, he did a neurosurgical residency at Harvard University-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital and fellowship training in micro-neurosurgery in Zurich.

AFTER 40 YEARS as an attending surgeon and educator working in and around a Catholic health-care system, I thought I was relatively informed about the current forces confronting Catholic hospitals. I was wrong!

Leonard J. Nelson's book is very important for Catholic educators, physicians and all men and women interested in the health care delivered in our Catholic hospitals. Health care has become a highly competitive business that threatens the mission of one of the last bastions for cultivation and preservation of the "culture of life," as highlighted in John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae).

This book provides a highly informative, in-depth discussion of all the political issues which present an enormous conflict for and divide the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic politicians and Catholic voters. Exit polls indicated that a majority of Catholics voted in the last presidential election for Barack Obama, an ardent supporter of pro-choice.

This book focuses on the struggle to preserve a distinctly Catholic health-care tradition in the United States. Catholic hospitals and clinics are being transformed from their religious ministries to giant, multistate business enterprises governed by lay and non-Catholic leaders.

Leonard Nelson does a masterful job of providing examples of two mega-health-care systems, Ascension and Providence, which evolved from small mission-based religious orders that originated in Europe and founded the first hospitals in the United States. Today, Ascension and Providence are the largest not-for-profit hospital systems in the country.

In each case, the systems have struggled mightily to conform to norms of the USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services and to prepare for the potential consequences of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), legislation now in the Congress.

All thoughtful people interested in the sanctity of human life should read with care this information-packed and provocative book.

In the spirit of the dedicated Catholic women who founded and inspired the original identity for health care in our nation, this book challenges us to find new and unique ways to carry their ministry into a new century.

You can order DIAGNOSIS CRITICAL: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Health Care from St. Francis Bookstore.


BEFRIENDING DEATH: Henri Nouwen and a Spirituality of Dying, edited by Michelle O'Rourke. Orbis Books. 144 pp. $18.

Reviewed by JUDY BALL, an editor now retired from St. Anthony Messenger Press, who worked with newsletters, American Catholic Radio and She freelances for publications such as National Catholic Reporter.

THE WISDOM of Henri Nouwen, the Dutch-born priest who became a much-loved spiritual writer throughout the world, enriches the pages of Michelle O'Rourke's book.

She does a fine job of pulling together Nouwen's published writings on death and related topics. She also shares her own insights as a nurse and lay pastoral minister, along with the touching memories of some of his closest friends. The result: Henri Nouwen comes alive in Befriending Death.

Truthfully, I'd be just fine with "all Nouwen all the time." But, of course, that's not possible. Initially, I experienced some frustration at having to share his insights with the several other contributors to Befriending Death.

But, stepping back now, I am willing to concede that the finished product offers more than enough "Nouwenisms" that we can all use as we approach death. And I now see that hearing about Nouwen can be as valuable as hearing from him.

It helps, for example, to learn that Nouwen spoke openly of his own doubts and limitations that sprang from early childhood; that he was known to struggle with depression; that he grew immensely in working with the poor and the "differently abled" at the L'Arche community in Canada; that a near-fatal accident with a van in 1989 empowered him, perhaps for the first time, with a deep awareness of God's unconditional love.

And it doesn't hurt to hear from editor O'Rourke and from Nouwen's friends, who knew and loved and learned from the man. As his spiritual legacy, they, too, have something to say. They learned from the master.

Who of us could not use help as we think about and prepare for our death? This book is intended to give us strength for the journey, to see ourselves as God's beloved children and to live full, rich lives until God calls us home.

A few Nouwenisms for the road:

• Befriending our death comes through befriending life.

• We spend our lives trying to prove we are lovable, attractive, powerful, rich...when, in fact, God has already chosen us.

• Death is a friend who wants to welcome us home.

• Our greatest vocation is to live our one life cycle gracefully and carefully.

• How we face the question of our death is not as important as the willingness to raise the question in the first place.

It would be understandable—but a mistake—to dismiss this book as a downer. For me, it was uplifting, empowering, liberating. It touched me deeply and helped move me forward on my own journey. It might be wise to have a box of tissues with you as you read it (likely, more than once).

To which I say: Thank you, Henri Nouwen and all those who contributed to Befriending Death!

You can order BEFRIENDING DEATH: Henri Nouwen and a Spirituality of Dying from St. Francis Bookstore.


NO MORE SECRETS: A Family Speaks About Depression, Anxiety and Attempted Suicide, by John and Patricia Gallagher. Team of Angels, Box 561, Worcester, PA 19490 ( and 155 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by JOAN McKAMEY, editor of Every Day Catholic, a monthly publication for adult faith formation from St. Anthony Messenger Press. She interviewed John Gallagher for its October 2009 issue on suicide.

MOVING PAST the shame and stigma of mental illness and suicide attempts is a major step toward emotional and relational healing. John Gallagher took an important step toward personal and family healing after reading of a courageous 19-year-old survivor of a suicide attempt much like John's.

This young man had shared his story in the hope of preventing others from attempting suicide. Following that lead, John decided to break the silence he had imposed on his family for the nine years since his own suicide attempts. This book is part of their healing process.

The Gallaghers' "picture-perfect" life was threatened by impending layoffs at John's workplace. Worse than the possible loss of livelihood is what worry about this did to John. He was in such a state of anxiety and depression that he attempted suicide twice—first, by inhaling car-exhaust fumes and, second, by jumping from the third floor of a hospital. Focused only on ending his suffering, he was unable to think of the effects his actions would have on his family.

John entered treatment for anxiety and depression and received care for his shattered legs. He was on the mend, but his family still had a lot of healing to do. His wife, Patricia, wanted to talk about what had happened, but John didn't want to talk about it or want anyone to know about his suicide attempts. Their four children—Robin, Katelyn, Kristen and Ryan—were told to say that their father had been in an accident or had fallen down the stairs.

It was as if, Katelyn writes, everything had been turned upside down. She asked to do the pictures for the book. Her efforts appear here, along with many other family photos. On a page with the heading "Why These Pictures Are Upside Down" are two photos—both upside down. One is of the family at Ryan's First Communion. The other is of their house.

No More Secrets was a collaborative effort, making it unique because of the many perspectives and experiences shared within it. John, Patricia, their four children and Patricia's mother each contributed a chapter. No More Secrets is the Gallagher family's acknowledgment that something traumatic happened to them and that sharing their story is a means to their own healing—individually and as a family—and an effort to reach out to others. They hope that their story will keep other families from experiencing similar pain.

No More Secrets is a self-help book of a different kind. It's not written by experts in the fields of depression, anxiety or suicide. It is a very heartfelt and sincere sharing of the "expert" experiences of seven family members whose stories are intended to offer consolation to those struggling with these issues and to encourage them to seek professional help.

Beyond the personal stories contained in the first part of the book, No More Secrets offers "Frequently Asked Questions About Depression" and an extensive list of resources: organizations, self-help groups and Web sites.

The final section of the book is a collection of encouraging stories and uplifting responses to a number of questions the Gallaghers posted on the Internet. Topics range from "What to Do When You Are Sad" to "What Money Can't Buy."

The book includes a reading-group guide, information about the "Team of Angels" pin and prayer ministry, and the family's new effort to reach out through group presentations about depression. This effort is called the "Real Dads. Real Men. Real Families. Real Depression Campaign."

Sharing a story of this nature is a courageous undertaking. No More Secrets will speak words of encouragement and consolation to those who suffer from depression or anxiety and their loved ones. It doesn't answer the question of why bad things happen to good people, but it does offer a story of hope for times when such things occur.

You can order NO MORE SECRETS: A Family Speaks About Depression, Anxiety and Attempted Suicide from St. Francis Bookstore.


EWE, by R.W. Metlen. Paulist Press. 80 pp. $16.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, author of the illustrated book Forgiving Is Smart for Your Heart, published by Abbey Press. She was assisted by seven young people between eight and 10 and their parents.

LESS THAN FAMILIAR with actual sheep, I do count them on my way to slumber. My closed eyes find them uniformly white, fluffy and easy to cuddle. Ewe contains no such animal. While the principal character remains unseen until the final four pages, the sheep-like character is skinny and angular, gets sheared for no apparent reason and wears an unlikely costume both for warmth and for modesty.

Just to be certain of my farm facts, I consulted the dictionary about ewe. As I suspected, the ewe is a mature female. This is troubling as regards the plot of this book, purported to connect with "readers of every age." At least, it troubled me, since "Ewe" doesn't look in the least feminine (though I may be stereotyping here) and is certainly not very mature (in the moral sense).

To add to my personal confusion, a secondary title page proclaims "Psalm 23," but the back cover promises "A fun retelling of an age-old parable," surely that of the lost sheep (i.e., Matthew 18).

Lastly, the rescuer is named David, and I felt sure it was one far greater than even the biblical David.

I hasten to add that none of this troubled my young review assistants a bit. In an oral reading, of course, ewe and you are homophones. Everyone understood the double meaning immediately and delighted in it, especially when they pictured themselves in the predicaments of a thoroughly contemporary sheep lost in an urban neighborhood, wandering down a dark and dangerous alley.

This made the sharing of words and illustrations (done by the author) quite enjoyable.

Where I wanted cuddly, they enjoyed bug-eyed and trembling. One mother noted that the blurring of gender helped everyone to identify with the short, skinny mammal whose oft-dangling toes vary between three and four on each foot, though the sheep of my dreams have hooves.

The appeal of the book for me was the persevering love of the mostly invisible shepherd for this scrawny excuse for a sheep. Had the creature been actually adorable, constant love would have been less amazing. That is a powerful spiritual message.

In the context of appreciating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was why my assistant reviewers and I were gathered together, it was truly the essential message: "No matter how far you go, no matter where you go to, no matter when it occurs, or what you may do...I will always and forever love you, Ewe." This wondrous love was communicated more powerfully than I could have done without the book's assistance.

I had first thought phew, but now recommend Ewe to you.

You can order EWE from St. Francis Bookstore.


BLEEDER, by John Desjarlais. Sophia Institute Press. 272 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by JEAN HEIMANN, freelance writer, retired educator, psychologist and oblate with the Community of St. John.

IT'S NOT OFTEN that you come across a book that captures your full attention on an emotional level, and challenges you intellectually and spiritually, too. Bleeder was such a book for me.

In Bleeder, we are introduced to Reed Stubblefield, a classics professor on sabbatical. He is recovering not only from the physical wounds of a gunshot accident in a school shooting, but also from the emotional wounds of his wife's recent death. He retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to write a book on Aristotle.

But the town of River Falls is filled with the ill and infirm—all seeking the healing touch of the town's new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic. Skeptical about religion since his wife's death from leukemia, Reed is reluctantly drawn into a friendship with the priest, Father Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar.

Then the priest collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. Is it a miracle or is it a bloody murder? Reed needs to know because the police say he is the prime suspect.

Once Reed is identified as the prime "person of interest" in the mysterious death, he seeks to discover the truth with the help of an attractive local reporter and Aristotle's logic.

In his third novel, author John Desjarlais presents the reader with an exciting and suspense-filled mystery that is difficult to put down. A gifted writer, Desjarlais captures the reader's attention from the very first page with his sharp imagery, gripping plot, vivid characters, amazing climax and satisfying conclusion.

Bleeder uses sharp imagery, which is descriptive yet concise. For example, Desjarlais writes: "Two squad cars blocked the street at both ends, their blue and red lights flashing like votives."

In this mystery written in the first person, Desjarlais introduces us to a variety of well-crafted and colorful characters as he works through clues and dead ends, casting suspicion on a number of people, challenging readers to ponder their motives and to try to guess "whodunit."

What makes Bleeder uniquely Catholic is that, in addition to the practical mystery contained in the plot, there is a mystery that Dejarlais delves into on a higher level—the spiritual level— which he explores through the suffering that Reed Stubblefield, Father Boudreau and other characters encounter. In Bleeder, Desjarlais contemplates the mystery of "undeserved suffering" from a Catholic point of view.

Bleeder is an exciting and thought-provoking Catholic mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I highly recommend for all adults.

You can order BLEEDER from St. Francis Bookstore.


Out of Pain and Grief

These small books can help bolster our faith in God even as we face illness, death and loss.

FACING ILLNESS, FINDING PEACE, by Nancy Groves (Pauline Books and Media, 127 pp., $9.95). This is a guide through the emotional roller coaster of one's own illness or a loved one's, and would help caregivers, chaplains and parish nurses. Groves is a medical social worker with 20 years' experience. She invites readers to see illness as an invitation to grow in grace and perspective.

SURRENDERING OUR STRESS: Prayers to Calm the Soul and Strengthen the Spirit, by Joan Guntzelman (The Word Among Us Press, 110 pp., $10.95). Stress can cause illness or be a result of it. For anyone feeling burdened, these short reflections, Scripture passages and prayers might be just the right prescription. Guntzelman is a nurse with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.

MAY I WALK YOU HOME?: Courage and Comfort for Caregivers of the Very Ill and NOW THAT YOU'VE GONE HOME: Courage and Comfort for Times of Grief, by Joyce Hutchinson and Joyce Rupp (Ave Maria Press, 176 pp., $12.95). This first book was such a support for caregivers it's been reissued, with some new material, on its 10th anniversary. The second is brand-new, providing 25 inspiring stories of bereavement and prayers for coping. Hutchinson is a hospice caregiver; Rupp, a spiritual director.—B.B.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.


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