A Catholic medical association is forming in Burlington and will have its first event, evening prayer, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington June 1 at 5:30 p.m. with a reception to follow at the rectory with Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne.

The Vermont guild will be a local subset of the national Catholic Medical Association.

Dr. Marta Kokoszynska, who practices medicine in the fields of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, began the initiative for the association, but there has been interest by other physicians previously and there is a group of people who have been indispensable in support of the effort.

“Throughout my training as a young physician and a practicing Catholic, I realized the importance of surrounding myself with a strong Catholic community in order to stay close to the teachings of the Church while practicing in a healthcare system that at times may make it difficult to uphold the principles of Catholicism,” she said. “As physicians, we have a tendency of pushing ourselves to keep going without much internal reflection as our hearts are often consumed by our patients and their concerns.”

But she recognizes the value in having a place to be able to restore one’s own self, to leave time for prayer, reflection, a place to emotionally recharge, and the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington became that place for her. “Having access to daily Mass, holy hours and the support of the amazing staff there has been essential for my growth and renewing my spirit as I navigated the more difficult encounters that we face in medicine,” she said. “In this realization, God put a strong desire on my heart to become more involved in my Catholic faith as it relates to my profession.”

She wanted to connect with other physicians and healthcare workers to learn from and share with them but also to bring about a place where they can feel loved, supported and understood in the pursuit of their efforts to live out their faith in their vocation. “Many physicians, especially here in Vermont, feel like they are practicing in silos — alone in their attempts to live out their beliefs, brave enough to practice for decades in support of their faith but feeling isolated, hidden, misunderstood,” she continued. “Part of the guild locally would be to restore this hope that is so present in the union of upholding God’s mercy and grace in our daily practice of medicine.”

The Catholic Medical Association, as defined in its mission statement, is a national, physician-led community of healthcare professionals that informs, organizes and inspires its members, in steadfast fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church, to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith in the science and practice of medicine. The groups are organized at the level of a parish, city or Diocese and provide local support and community to healthcare professionals with fellowship, education, opportunities to serve the local Church and public, mutual support, witness and a base for medical students and residents to find guidance.

The local group is planning a fall “White Mass,” a Mass celebrated for healthcare professionals, named for the white coats worn by those in the medical community. The White Mass is meant to honor those working in the healthcare profession, “but more importantly it allows healthcare professionals to unite their medical vocation and service with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” Kokoszynska said.

Although it is a physician-led organization, anyone working in the healthcare profession is welcome to join.

Kokoszynska hopes to have regular meetings during which there will be opportunity for fellowship and prayer. “We hope to incorporate education on important topics like medical bioethics, physician wellness, spiritual growth, healthcare reform,” she said. “We would hope to organize retreats and mission trips in the future. There will also be opportunity to work with residents and medical students as well as serving the local community.”

The association is meant to be a resource for physicians. “It is there to be an unwavering entity in upholding the integrity and fidelity of the Catholic faith,” Kokoszynska said.

The association will allow exploration of issues that interface the intimate boundaries of medicine and religion especially those rooted in an ethical aspect. “In a broad sense, the CMA will focus on issues that will bring an integrated approach to the care of each patient by harmonizing clinical medicine with religion in order to highlight bioethical issues and their impact on patients, health-care workers and medical systems in the context of current society and culture.”

It is important to focus on such issues, as difficult or controversial as they may be, in order to restore and heal the patient-physician relationship, she continued. “To move away from a culture where the patient is a ‘client’ and the physician is a ‘healthcare provider’ who renders services determined by the client. Through discussing topics rooted in medical bioethics, psychology and sociology we can reconcile ourselves with the truth that this profession is truly a vocation, a calling from God to understand the patient as a whole and a selfless gift from God that needs to be nurtured and respected.”