When Dr. Marta Kokoszynska first decided to pursue a medical career, she did not think there could be true unity between her faith and her work. She prayed, went to work, came back home. “I didn’t realize God was calling me to something deeper,” said the instructor in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine in Burlington.

As she progressed in her training, she was no longer satisfied with just going through the motions of her days; her soul craved something more. “Even though we deal with joy, healing, pain, suffering and death on a regular basis and it may seem like an easy transition to faith, medicine can often be very demanding, isolating, all consuming,” she said.

She was instrumental in the establishment of a guild of the Catholic Medical Association in Burlington and serves as its president.

The group will have a special Mass on Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington with a talk and refreshments to follow.

“The importance of this Mass is to gather health care professionals under the patronage of St. Luke (the patron saint of physicians) to ask God’s blessing upon us, our patients and our work,” Kokoszynska said. “Healthcare professionals have the great privilege and responsibility of serving the sick and this allows us to revive and enrich our calling in unity with our Lord. It is a time for physicians to reflect on the moment Jesus called them to this vocation to serve and give thanks to the Lord for their gifts. It is an important reminder that we also need to take care of our spiritual needs in order to be able to properly serve with a full heart, to be still and listen to His voice.”

Professional Masses began in Europe during the Middle Ages. Red Masses were celebrated for judges and government officials, named after the red vestments worn in symbolism of the tongues of fire (the Holy Spirit) that descended on the apostles at Pentecost and the robes worn by the judges of the High Court of England. The tradition of the White Mass, named after the white coats worn by healthcare professionals, took its root from the Red Mass and originated with the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s.

Anyone working in the healthcare profession is encouraged to attend the special Mass at the cathedral, and they are encouraged to wear their white coats.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne is scheduled to celebrate the Mass with Father Jon Schnobrich, the guild’s chaplain.

The goal is to have an annual white Mass celebrated near the Feast day of St. Luke (Oct. 18).

“I hope the Vermont guild is a source of respite, healing and fellowship, a place for healthcare workers to be able to grow in their relationship with God, lay down their burdens and know they are not alone,” Kokoszynska said. “I hope the guild is … place [for healthcare workers] to pray, to have fellowship, to recharge, to be filled with God’s presence in order to be able to go out into their communities and faithfully live out their vocation. In addition to fellowship and education, we hope this will flourish into opportunities to serve the local Church and public, mission work, mutual support, witness and a base for medical students and residents to find guidance.”

For more information about the Catholic Medical Association, go to cathmed.org.

—Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.