Homily of Archbishop Martin, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mater Hospital
24 September 2011
Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, at Mass of Thanksgiving, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital 1861 – 2011
This is a great moment of celebration with which I am proud and happy to be associated. It is a celebration of a Dublin landmark and of one of the great institutions of our capital city. It is a celebration which is also worldwide, as the spirit which established and supported this Dublin hospital over these long years also gave rise to Mater Hospitals which the Sisters of Mercy established in other parts of Ireland and around the world. This is a celebration not of a building, but of people and of a rich tradition of medical excellence and above all of concern for the sick and for enhancing the gift of health.
I am happy to be here as Archbishop of Dublin. My predecessors over these one hundred and fifty years have played a significant role in supporting and encouraging the expansion of the Mater Hospital. Archbishop Daniel Murray encouraged the Sisters of Mercy in the years immediately after the death of Catherine McCauley to continue her plans for the development of the hospital. Cardinal Paul Cullen presided at its opening.
I have to say that I feel that I am here not just as Archbishop of Dublin, but also as a sort of past pupil since my last time to stay in hospital was in the Mater, albeit almost fifty years ago.
Without mentioning names, I am always amazed that when I tell doctors today when I was in the Mater and why I was there, they can almost immediately identify the doctor who cared for me. He was in his time a true Master in his field. While I will be eternally grateful to him for what he did for me, I also look on that doctor as an icon, as a symbol of a succession over the years of exceptional doctors in the Mater Hospital: true leaders and pioneers in their specialised field, great teachers and also genuinely caring men and women driven by a true sense of vocation of healing and of enhancing health and fullness. I am sure that the list of such exceptional men and women who have spent their lives in the Mater – doctors, nurses and other staff – would be a very long one indeed and one of which we can all be proud.
The map of the Mater site brought up at the beginning of this Mass shows the extraordinary wealth and diversity of activity that takes place on this piece of land bought by the Sisters back in the nineteenth century. Many things have changed over one hundred and fifty years. The new has replaced the old, many times over. Yet there is also a sense in which the different components of that map, even the oldest buildings, are each marked by being of the best that their generation produced and even unto our day retain something of the real excellence of their time.
The Mater is a hospital with a long tradition of excellence. Today excellence in health care takes on new dimensions where the fruits of advanced medical research render possible totally new frontiers of care for patients. The Mater University hospital is an example of care, of medical education and research which makes it world class. The staff, in all its components, shows a common commitment to keep it world class in every detail of its life. People remain however at the centre of the care of this hospital and we can never be satisfied with where we are.
People remain at the centre of the care of this hospital. That is what inspired Catherine McCauley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine McCauley was a woman who set out to do simple good things with determination. With limited resources she set out to improve the world in which she lived and especially to improve the conditions of the less privileged. She and her early companions were not armchair commentators on the social conditions of the Dublin of her day. They were out on the streets of Dublin day by day seeking and meeting with the marginalized; they were there alongside the marginalized helping them to realise their aspirations.
In the midst of all the modern technology it is the individual person and his or her hopes and aspirations which must always remain at the centre of a hospital’s attention. Every aspect of this hospital has to be centred on the person. I always remember many years ago a nurse recalling how in the early years of her career, she would carefully place a simple lighted candle at the bedside of a dying person, as a sign of respect for the life of a unique person at the end of his or her earthly journey. And she quickly added: “if you tried that today with all the technology around the patient, you would probably blow up the entire hospital”.
Technical excellence must always be accompanied by signs of care and concern about what is happening with the patient in the depth of his or her existence. Each patient experiences his or her encounter with illness in a different way. Sickness is a profound reminder of human fragility. A sense, in a moment of sickness, of being treated and respected in the depth of our personal identity can transform the most anxious moments of our lives and bring us something of that deeper light we long for at such moments.
One of the biographers of Pope John Paul II asked him how he felt in the hours and days after the attempt on his life, as he struggled to survive. He said that he had written his doctoral thesis on the theme of the “active person”, the person who shapes his or her life as an active subject. Yet he found that he was being treated – with the best of intentions – as an object: people talked about him, decided about him, did things with him and yet what he really wanted to know what was happening within and around him and to be part of it. That is what being human being is about, even at our weakest moments.
Mater Misericordiae! Mother of Mercies. Mercy is something which goes beyond anything that our consumerist world, where everything is measured, can offer. Mercy is about a real encounter between two people. The Gospels are anxious to note that what marked the Good Samaritan when he encountered the man on the roadside is not just his sense of good citizenship or duty: it was compassion, mercy. The Good Samaritan did not just do the right things: he entered into a relationship with the other. Mercy is not looking down on someone, but an encounter between two people, different in their power and authority relationship, where the fragility and precariousness of the one who is weakest is what determines the nature of that encounter. Mercy is that gift which changes our understanding of human relationships, and reminds us of the fundamental exchange which we call human solidarity. When the concepts of mercy and compassion enter into the relationship between the healer and the one to be healed, we realise that the ability to heal and the need to be healed, the experience of strength and the need to be carried, are not the attributes of one against the other, but are common to both.
The sick are not objects of our care. They are people, men and women and children, who in their weakness and insecurity teach us something about what life is about which our self-assured society so often overlooks.
Mercy is not just the name of the Mater Hospital; it is and must remain its chief characteristic. It is not just the characteristic of separate individuals. The second reading reminds us of how it is the variety of gifts that build up the body of Christ. The history of the Mater Hospital is the history of great pioneers, but also of the gifts of a vast team of men and women dedicated to the care of the sick and proud of what they do and of the institution to which they belong. The Mater Hospital is also a voluntary hospital. Over the last one hundred and fifty years medical excellence has been enhanced by a spirit of public service of those who have supported it financially and in its governance. The Mater Hospital has served the community; it has also been served by the community. Part of its excellence is in the way it belongs within the community
The Mater is a hospital which has emerged from and maintains and will bring into the future its specifically Catholic tradition, not in the sense of an ideology but of a real understanding of human dignity and human solidarity which springs from the Christian faith. Jesus Christ revealed to us who God is not by a clinging to the outward signs of power and authority, but through emptying himself out of love for others. May Dublin’s Mater Misericordiae Hospital, the Mater, continue to deepen that Christian spirit and develop it as a service to the entire community for many more years to come, as Catherine McCauley and her companions did in such a creative and courageous way in her time.
Annette O Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin, 087 8143462