Portland, Ore., May 11, 2021 / 14:00 pm
As a committed Catholic and newly minted medical doctor, Saad Jazrawi was clear about his mission: treat patients with Christlike compassion.
He also knew distractions would abound, from the allure of a bigger house or fancier car to the stress of navigating insurance companies and administrative demands. And he’d encounter an array of moral issues — if not regularly in his own work, in his interactions with colleagues — abortion, medically assisted suicide and new views on gender.
“If I combine my faith and my work, I’m a better Catholic and a better physician,” said Jazrawi, a gastroenterologist who deals with digestive diseases and abdominal cancer. “I wanted to make sure that the two would not be in conflict, and I needed support.”
When Jazrawi moved to Oregon, he found the spiritual and practical encouragement he sought in the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild.
“It’s a small community of morally sound physicians who have been so helpful,” said Jazrawi, who was named guild president seven years ago. “I’ve become more comfortable not being distracted by things and can focus on what’s important — caring for patients with respect for the whole human person.”
The Portland guild is a chapter of the Catholic Medical Association and one of about 110 such organizations nationwide. It aims to uphold principles of Catholic morality in medicine, communicate Catholic medical ethics to the broader community, and fortify medical professionals in their faith.
The local guild began in the early 1950s as a loose affiliation of Catholic doctors. Most were parishioners of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Southwest Portland and lived near “Pill Hill,” so dubbed for its proximity to Oregon Health and Science University.
The group grew more active in the 1960s, and members gave talks on natural family planning at Oregon parishes. The guild essentially dissolved for a time, but in the 1990s Dr. Thomas Pitre and his wife, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, revitalized it.
Physician-assisted suicide was gaining support locally, and within a few years Oregon would become the first state in the nation to legalize lethal prescriptions.
“We felt the need as Catholic physicians to get Catholic doctors together to preserve our ethic that the Catholic faith is not incompatible with being a physician” and to address new practices that violated core tenants of the faith, said Pitre, who retired last year after 45 years in urology. He and Bissonnette-Pitre, a psychiatrist, are converts.
The couple added additional events to the guild’s calendar and restarted a White Mass, held for medical professionals on the feast day of St. Luke. The saint was both Gospel writer and physician.
Cardinal Francis George, former head of the Portland Archdiocese, spoke at several functions and encouraged Lynne and Thomas’ efforts. He also connected them with the Catholic Medical Association.
In 2005, the Portland guild hosted the association’s annual conference, drawing more than 300 medical professionals to the city for a gathering that included talks and daily Mass. The following year Pitre began a term as president of the national association.
The local guild’s most notable achievement is Holy Family Catholic Clinic, founded by three guild members and opened last year in West Linn, a suburb of Portland.
“They are doing marvelous work there at the medical clinic,” said Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, guild chaplain. The monsignor is director of the Portland archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship and recently was named rector of St. Mary Cathedral.
“Holy Family is a great resource for me now as a parish priest,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “I can send young couples who are planning to marry to the clinic to learn about natural family planning.”
Membership in the Portland guild has fluctuated over the past few decades, but it currently has about 25 core members, with many others attending special events such as the White Mass and annual dinner. There are meetings the first Saturday of the month, occasional social gatherings and retreats.