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Caritas Christi CEO addresses White Mass gathering

By Neil W. McCabe
Posted: 10/24/2008

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Caritas Christi Health Care CEO Dr. Ralph De La Torre addresses members of the St. Luke’s Guild following the annual White Mass for Catholic health care workers Oct. 17 at St. John’s Seminary. Pilot photo/ Neil W. McCabe


The leader of Caritas Christi Health Care announced a $100 million initiative to significantly upgrade its facilities and technology at the Oct. 17 St. Luke’s Guild White Mass Dinner held at Brighton’s St. John’s Seminary.

In addition to the improvements to buildings and information systems, financed by a privately placed loan, the archdiocese’s healthcare system, which includes six hospitals, plans to establish the state’s lowest priced health insurance plan and a program of free-care healthcare for individuals earning less than $40,000 per year, said Dr. Ralph De La Torre, the president CEO of Caritas Christi.

“I was hired to be an agent of change, and that is what we are doing,” said De La Torre, who took the helm of the archdiocese’s healthcare agency in the spring. He was previously the chief of cardiac surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

These initiatives are consistent with the Catholic social justice mission of Caritas Christi, he said. “Doctors and nurses must get more directly involved in the lives of their patients and their communities.”

For Caritas, the challenge is to retain its character as a system of community hospitals, which reflect their neighborhoods, and to take advantage of the advances in technology that have ended the need for hospitals to be either a hub or one of the spokes of the health care system, he said.

In the past, community hospitals offered primary and secondary level care, and then when more sophisticated tertiary care was required, those hospitals became feeders into centralized institutions, he said.

Previously, the centralized hospitals were the only place to find the latest equipment and the professionals trained to use it. Now, doctors have MRIs and CAT Scans in their offices, De La Torre said.

With on-site access to high-end tools and equipment, the Caritas Christi facilities are delivering world-class care where people live, he said. “At the same time, we can capitalize on the economies of scale from being a system.”

De La Torre’s address at the dinner followed the White Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley.

In his homily, the cardinal said one of St. Paul’s few comforts was to have St. Luke as his personal physician.

When all of his friends abandoned him, Paul wrote that his physician did not, the cardinal said. “Luke is the only one with me.”

The cardinal said St. Luke’s gospel, which emphasizes the role of strong women and the power of the Holy Spirit, is continued in St. Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles.

The cardinal said that, as a seminarian, he was always struck by the beautiful Greek St. Luke used.

This beautiful language makes the abrupt end to the Acts of the Apostles more jarring. There are many theories why it stops as it does, he said. “But, I always like to believe Luke is showing us the Church is the continuation of Jesus.”

The White Mass has been an annual event since the guild was re-chartered in 1990, said Dr. Gerald P. Corcoran, who was its first president from 1990 to 2000. He was succeeded by Dr. Helen T. Jackson, who continues to lead the guild.

The guild was first established in 1912 by Cardinal William O’Connell and it thrived until the 1970s, when it became dormant, something Corcoran said he was distressed to learn when he returned to Boston after a career as a Navy doctor.

Corcoran said he, along with Jackson and Dr. E. Joanne Angelo, brought up the matter with then-archbishop Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The guild now has 150 members, and in addition to the White Mass, sponsors an annual retreat and a spring panel discussion.

To mark the guild’s first 10 years as a revitalized organization, Cardinal Law instituted an annual award named for St. Martin de Porres which is presented to an outstanding Catholic physician at the White Mass Dinner, he said.

This year the award was presented to Dr. Francis A. D’Ambrosio, a Concord ophthalmologist and a senior permanent deacon, who for more than 15 years assisted at the White Mass.

The guild is an important place for Catholic doctors to be fortified in their faith, said Angelo.

“It is important for Catholic physicians to know that they do not have to compromise their beliefs to have a successful medical career,” she said.

It is a positive sign to see so many young medical professionals joining the guild and attending the Mass and dinner, she said. There were 12 medical students from Boston University Medical School and 12 from the Harvard Medical School in attendance.