Washington State CMA

CMA History

His Eminence William Henry O'Connell, Archbishop of Boston, founded the first Catholic Physicians Guild in 1912 in Boston in order to educate physicians in Church doctrine related to the practice of medicine. In 1927 R. A. Rendrick, M.D. began a guild in Brooklyn, New York by convening physicians and a chaplain for a retreat using the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. The purpose of the retreat was to strengthen the physicians Catholic spirituality and to encourage growth in holiness. In the next year the idea of the Catholic Physicians Guild began to spread throughout the boroughs of New York City and to other cities of the eastern United States, as many physicians began to gather with a chaplain for spiritual formation.

By 1932 the dream of a national organization of Catholic physicians came to fruition. With the leadership of Dr. Rendrick the National Federation of Catholic Physicians Guilds (NFCPG) began in New York City as a unification of the existing seven guilds. The federation's objectives were to foster the Catholic physicians' faith and relationship with God and His Church, the physicians' knowledge and practice of moral and ethical medical principles and the solidarity among its members. To achieve these objectives the NFCPG formed a Board of Directors who hosted an annual meeting, organized North America into ten regions and appointed regional directors who were given the task of forming local guilds throughout North America.

The purpose of the local guild was to provide spiritual counsel and moral guidance to the local Catholic physician members to enable physicians to become more aware of their dependence on God, truly Catholic in their practice of medicine and more Christ-like in their works of mercy. The locus of each guild was a moderator or chaplain who functioned as the spiritual father and director to the members. Guilds met for the celebration of the Mass, spiritual retreats, for Recollection and Contemplation and for bioethical seminars. The October 18th Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of physicians, was the high point of the guilds' yearly activities. White Masses [so named for the white coats of the physicians] were celebrated for Saint Luke in hospitals, chapels, parish churches and Cathedrals and everywhere that the physicians routinely gathered with their chaplains.

Simultaneous with the foundation of the NFCPG was the birth of the Linacre Quarterly, a journal of the philosophy and ethics of medical practice designed to inform subscribers of Catholic principles applied to the pertinent medical and scientific issues of the times. The name Linacre Quarterly was chosen to honor Thomas Linacre M.D., a physician and priest in 16th century England who had served as the private physician of King Henry VIII. Dr. Linacre founded the Royal College of Physicians and through it regulated the practice of medicine in England. He was well known for his scholarship and high ideals of scientific medicine and Catholicism.

Initially the responsibility for the Linacre Quarterly was shared by the member guilds with each guild taking its turn at submitting all the articles for one issue to a designated local editor. This created a Brooklyn issue, a Boston issue, a Philadelphia issue; etc. This continued until 1944 when Rev. J.J. Flannagan, S.J. became the editor of the Linacre Quarterly and articles were submitted for each issue from across North America. The circulation of the Linacre Quarterly continued to rise, reaching a high point of 10,300 in 1965. The first Linacre award was given in 1957 on the occasion of the Silver Anniversary of the NFCPG to Rev. J.J. Flanagan, S.J., editor of the Linacre Quarterly for his outstanding scholarship, journalism and contribution to the journal.

In 1948 there were 11 member guilds in the NFCPG. In 1950 the annual meeting in Atlantic City was attended by 13 guilds. By 1957 there were 60 guilds; and in 1960 there were 92 member guilds in the US and Puerto Rico, and Canada, with a total membership of 6,110. The 100th guild, Rochester, Minnesota, was welcomed in 1961 at a grand celebration in New York City. In 1963, the Federation was the sixth largest medical organization in the U.S., with a membership of 7,000. The high mark was a total physician membership of more than 10,000 in 1967.

Guilds varied in size from 6 to 600 members. The largest guild was in Boston; the smallest was in Monroe, Louisiana. Some guilds formed around physicians practicing at a specific hospital; other guilds were composed of physicians in a city, a diocese or a state. In 1961, for instance, there was one guild for Catholic physicians in Arkansas, eight in Louisiana and 12 guilds in New York.

Member guilds of the national federation officially were known as Constituent Guilds. Physicians in a Constituent Guild were known as Constituent Members of the national federation. If a physician lived in an area not served by a guild, he was eligible to join as an Individual Member. If a physician belonged to a guild that wasn't a Constituent Guild, he was eligible to join as an Associate Individual Member.

Constituent Guild members paid dues directly to the national federation, and the local guild received back from the Treasurer an amount equal to the local guild dues. In 1950, annual dues were $1 a year. That was raised to $5 in 1956 and to $25 in 1965.

The Constitution and By-laws of the NFCPG created a representational organization governed by a Directorship. The Board of Directors was composed of the executive committee (the officers of the Board), Regional Directors (two for each region), Episcopal Advisor (a Bishop) and the Moderator (chaplain). The U.S. and Puerto Rico and Canada were divided into ten regions, with each region represented by two Regional Directors. The tasks of creating guilds, of organizing local and regional meetings and of acting as the liaison between the NFCPG board of directors and the local guilds were given to the Regional Directors.

Each Constituent Guild elected a delegate for a one-year term. The guild delegate represented the guild at the annual national meeting with the right of one vote in all matters before the General Assembly and in the election of officers and Regional Directors.

The Constituent Guilds of each region nominated candidates for the office of Regional Director. The Regional Directors were elected at the annual meeting by the officers and guild delegates and served a term of two years on the Board of Directors. If there weren't enough Constituent Guilds in a region to nominate candidates, the Board of Directors made the nominations. The Board of Directors had the power to appoint two Regional Directors to fill vacancies.

Any group of six or more Catholic physicians in the same general area could accept the NFCPG Charter and apply to become a Constituent Guild of the NFCPG. A Regional Director would forward the request to the executive director, along with recommendations for each physician stating that the doctor was in good standing in his medical practice and parish. The executive secretary then submitted the guild application, the Regional Director's recommendation and all other pertinent information to the national Board of Directors for action at the annual meeting.

Beginning with its inception in 1932, the national federation met once a year at the American Medical Association's annual meeting, mostly for convenience as the vast majority of physicians in the early decades of the 20th century attended the AMA meeting. The AMA functioned in much the same way that specialty medical associations function today. For one week medical scientific papers were presented for physicians to become current on research and practice. On the Friday of the AMA meeting, the NFCPG conference opened with an officers meeting and the celebration of Holy Mass at which any deceased members of the national federation were remembered. At the general meeting following Mass each guild delegate delivered a report of his guild's activities of the proceeding year. A dinner for the physicians and spouses was held Friday evening.

The first year the NFCPG met at a separate time and place from the AMA was 1956, when the Detroit Guild, under President Paul Muske, M.D., hosted the 1956 meeting in Detroit. Also in 1956, a conference with speakers on current medical moral issues was added to the regular program, along with an evening banquet with a guest speaker. The following year, the annual meeting was held in New York City and the tradition of a conference on medical moral issues with an evening banquet in the city of the national federation president was established.

The first four presidents of the national federation served a four-year term. In 1948, the term was shortened to two years; in the past few decades the term of officers has been one year. From 1932 until 1944 the president of the national federation presided over the administrative activities of dues and membership from his own local office. The records and administrative functions shifted location with each new president.

In 1944 the national federation by invitation set up permanent headquarters in the offices of the Catholic Hospital Association in St Louis. This was the beginning of the 21- year administrative association with the Catholic Hospital Association. The executive director of the CHA served as the Moderator (chaplain) of the NFCPG, as organizer of the NFCPG annual meetings, as editor of the Linacre Quarterly (the sole medical-moral journal published at that time) and maintained the financial and membership records for the NFCPG. The health care of priests and religious was a particular concern for both the NFCPG and the CHA, and together they formed a program to meet these needs.

Both the CHA and the NFCPG came under the supervision of the Social Action Department of the National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The Bishops relied upon the physicians of the NFCPG for expert opinions on medical issues. In addition the White House regularly asked the NFCPG for briefings on the Catholic perspective on current medical-ethical issues.

The 25th anniversary of the foundation of the NFCPG was celebrated on June 5th, 1957, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. His Eminence Francis Joseph Spellman, Archbishop of New York City, welcomed the physicians and blessed them on the occasion of their Silver Jubilee. Pope Pius XII sent a letter of congratulations, affirmation, encouragement and an apostolic blessing. [See appendix for the letter of Pope Pius XII]. The Honorary Committee for the Silver Jubilee included His Eminence Cardinal Spellman, then-Most Reverend Richard James Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, W. Averell Harriman, the governor of New York State and Robert Wagner, the mayor of New York City.

The NFCPG returned to New York City on June 28, 1961, to celebrate the affiliation of the 100th guild, the Guild of Rochester, Minnesota. Cardinal Spellman again welcomed the physicians with his blessings and prayers [See appendix for Cardinal Spellman's prayer, the certificate of the 100th Guild and the roll call for 1961].

The relationship with the CHA fractured in 1965, when the CHA endorsed socialized medicine, which the NFCPG opposed. The executive committee of the NFCPG made the decision to dissociate from the CHA. Robert Herzog was hired to serve as the executive secretary of the NFCPG and administrative headquarters were moved to Milwaukee.

A strain in the relationship with the National Catholic Conference of Bishops began in 1964 over contraception. In 1964 the NFCPG co-sponsored with the Family Life committee of the NCCB, a conference in Washington, DC on Natural Family Planning that was attended by more than 200 Family Life Diocesan Directors. During the conference a subgroup of attendees drafted a letter to be sent to Pope Paul VI asking him to endorse the use of the contraceptive pill. After a debate in the general assembly, a substitute resolution was adopted to develop a special commission composed of an equal number of Catholic physicians and family life diocesan directors to study human life, natural family planning and abortion. The Commission met four times a year in Chicago for years. The physician component strongly supported Humanae Vitae, while many of the Family Life Directors openly supported contraception.

In the years subsequent to the 1968 promulgation of Humanae Vitae, the national federation was torn apart, with successive presidents elected from opposite sides of the contraception controversy. At the national meeting in Miami in 1968, the majority vote of the general assembly supported the Holy Father and Humane Vitae. This so inflamed the president of the NFCPG that he resigned and many guilds separated from the NFCPG. Eventually the strong guilds from Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, New York and Boston, as well as a multitude of smaller guilds, became virtually inactive. The membership of the NFCPG declined to as low as 300 physicians and two Member Guilds: Chicago and Philadelphia. In the next three decades the national federation, although significantly reduced in size, continued its yearly annual meeting and, through the hard work of physicians loyal to the Catholic Church and her Magisterial teaching, remained vital.

The international organization of Catholic physicians known as the Federation of International Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) also known as the World Catholic Medical Association, met in New York City in 1998 in a joint program with the newly renamed Catholic Medical Association (CMA). George Isajiw, M.D., of the Philadelphia Guild, was president of the CMA in 1993,and as a member of the international federation's Board of Directors in 1998, served as the program chairman and organized the New York meeting when Richard Watson, M.D., was president of the CMA. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and His Emminence John Joseph O'Connor presided over the White Mass for physicians.

In 1997, the NFCPG'S board changed the name of National Federation of Catholic Physicians Guilds to the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) to reflect the fact that its membership consisted almost entirely of Individual Members. Chicago and Philadelphia continued as the only Member Guilds and they didn't elect delegates to the general assembly. The 20 Regional Directors were appointed by the Executive Committee and primarily served the national organization rather than their regions. By 2000, most Regional Directors had no idea of what their job description had been at the foundation of the organization. Existing throughout the U.S. and Canada were a few Catholic Physicians Guilds unaffiliated with the CMA and most often unknown to the Regional Directors. Many of these guilds had no members belonging to the CMA, while others had a few members in the CMA.

As the new millennium dawned, the CMA board recognized that being too centrally focused was problematic, leading in part to the failure to serve physicians at the local level. The Regional Directors were once again encouraged to function in accordance with the original Constitution and By-laws, with the primary focus on the creation of local Guilds. Consequently many of the independent Guilds have become Member Guilds, and many new guilds have been formed. The President of FIAMC, Dr. Gianluigi Gigli attended the CMA Executive Directors Retreat in January 2003 to encourage and to affirm the importance of fostering the local physician's guilds.

With the springtime of the new Millennium, the revitalization of the Church and of Catholic Physicians has begun. Catholic Physicians again are seeking to learn of the high ideal of God's call (vocation) to be physicians practicing medicine in conformity to Christ the Divine Physician. The CMA is challenged to be the voice of truth for all physicians and for the community; to keep the field of biotechnology in conformity with God's Law; to promulgate the Catholic concepts of person, rights and the common good as applied to the practice of medicine; to defend the sacredness and dignity of life at all stages; and to teach the Catholic norm of morality rooted in its source and authority of the natural law, divine positive law and the Magesterium. This is the orthopraxis, or right action of the Catholic physician.

Tradition teaches that orthopraxis cannot be separated from orthodoxy. While the current concept of orthodoxy is right doctrine, the Fathers of the Church understood orthodoxy to mean the authentic adoration and glorification of the Lord, the right relationship with God. To be in right relationship with God (orthodoxy) would naturally result in the right action to please God (orthopraxis) [Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Greatest Mystery, Inside the Vatican, Aug-Sept 2002, p.12]. The founding doctors of the CMA (NFCPG) understood this principle and initiated the formation of physicians through spiritual retreats and spiritual counsel.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II sent to the CMA annual meeting Most Reverend Javier Lozano Barragan (now Cardinal Barragan), the Prefect for the Vatican Congregation for the Care of Physicians. In his presentation, "The Identity of the Catholic Medical Doctor," Archbishop Barragan told the physicians assembled in Pittsburgh: "The vocation of the physician is a calling by God (Latin vocare: to call. God calls and the medical doctor responds by professing an oath of responsibility and obligation to God for the care of human life. Professional responsibility at the medical level means an agreement that is written as a dual encounter between man and God (Greek syngrafein: to write together). From the sacredness of the medical profession springs the Hippocratic Oath, the oath not to do harm to the patient, to act always in his best interests, to maintain confidentiality and to be totally in favor of life at all stages. This is not an oath made to a patient; it is an oath addressed directly to God. The medical profession is a vocation born from the medical doctor's love of God and it is God, the highest of Love and Good whom the medical doctor follows in this profession."

Archbishop Barragan continued to explain that the physician, the priest and the judge are the only three categories of professionals (the vocations who profess an oath to God) recognized by God throughout history. Physicians are not "workers" or "providers"; they are professionals and as professionals their profession must be guarded and promoted as a profession to God. Archbishop Barragan told the CMA, that as an association of physicians, for physicians and directed by physicians, it must promulgate the professional identity of the physician as the unique vocation responsible to God for the care of mortal and eternal life.

The Catholic Medical Association strives to serve, to form and to teach its apostolate of Catholic physicians as it did in the beginning through Member Guilds formed in conformity to the CMA. It is the intention of the CMA to have local Catholic Physicians Guilds in every state, diocese and parish in North America in order to carry forth the mission of forming the identity of the Catholic Physician as Icon of Christ the Divine Physician.

NW CMA History

In 1957 there were four Constituent Guilds of the national federation in the Northwest: Great Falls, Montana, Vancouver, British Columbia, Eugene, Oregon and Portland, Oregon. By 1961, the Guild of Tacoma, Washington was added to the list.

The Northwest Region (Region VIII) of the CMA covered the huge landmass of Washington, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Hawaii and British Columbia until 2002 when the CMA Board unanimously agreed to form a new Region that would include all of Canada. British Columbia formerly part of Region VIII shifted into the new Region XI, the Region of Canada. This was done to facilitate communication among Catholic physicians in Canada and to invigorate the formation of Canadian CMA guilds.


The Guild of Oregon was formed in 1950 as a Constituent Guild of the national federation by four Catholic Physicians: Leo Meienberg, M.D., Ernie Albers, M.D., John Murphy, M.D., and Paul Zuelke, M.D. Anxious to receive moral guidance on medical/ ethical issues, the administrators of the two Catholic Hospitals in Portland proposed that their chaplain serve as the first chaplain of the Guild. The four founding physicians served consecutively as President. The original mailing list was obtained by canvassing the pastors of all local parishes for the names of physicians in their parishes, who were then invited to join the Guild. The Guild boasted 40 physician members for most of the next five decades, a small number compared with the five hundred members of the Boston Guild but a big number for Oregon, the least Catholic-populated state in the U.S.

The guild meetings held quarterly were educational sessions with a presentation on a subject of medical ethics given either by a member of the guild or by an invited expert. Annual events included a White Mass and a brunch on St Luke's Day and a banquet with guest speakers in the fall and in the spring.

Contraception was the intense moral debate of the 1960s but with the help of Chaplain, Fr. Alfred Williams, the Oregon Guild marched in step to Magisterial teaching. Fr. Williams attributed his capacity to responsibly and effectively lead the Guild through the difficult decade to his attendance at the annual national federation meetings. Fr. Williams also served as chaplain for the University of Oregon Medical School and Hospital. Recognizing the need for a parish church for the University medical community, Fr. Williams and the guild raised funds, purchased land adjacent to the University Hospital and Medical School and built St. Elizabeth of Hungary rectory and church. The church was dedicated in November 1958 and continues to be the parish for Catholic medical students, interns, residents and medical staff.

In 1977, after twenty-five years of service to the medical community, Fr. Williams retired. The Guild continued under the spiritual leadership of diocesan priests until the mid-1980s when a Benedictine priest and monk from Mt. Angel Abbey became the Guild Chaplain. The Benedictine spirituality left its particular imprint on the formation of Catholic physicians for the ensuing decade. A weekend Lenten retreat at the Benedictine monastery became an annual event for physicians and spouses at which the physicians learned to regard their medical work as Opus Dei, the work of God.

As with so many of the other Member Guilds of the CMA no one recalls exactly why the Guild ceased to send its Chaplain to the annual CMA meeting or when the Guild dropped out of the CMA or how all Guild functions ceased in the early 1990s. The Guild was all but inactive when His Emminence Francis Eugene George, then the Archbishop of Portland, working with dedicated Catholic physicians revitalized it as an Independent Guild in 1996. These physicians became active members of the CMA and brought the North West into the sphere of influence of the national organization. On March 6, 2004 the Portland Guild Board of Directors ratified the Charter of the CMA and again became a Member Guild of the CMA.


In the early spring of 2000 A.D. the Northwest Regional Directors: Drs. Thomas M. Pitre, Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre and Howie L. Bright, began the work of starting a Catholic Physicians Guild in Seattle, Washington and hosting a Northwest Regional Conference. Seattle, a large metropolitan area with many Catholic physicians had never had a Catholic Physicians Guild and could serve as a hub for many future Northwest Regional conferences.

To accomplish the goal, the first objective was to engage a local physician to serve as the nidus for the formation of a Catholic Physicians Guild and to help in the organization of the Regional Conference. The Regional Directors found a pro-life physician, Jan R. Hemstad, M.D., who was interested and willing to be involved in the formation of a Catholic Physicians Guild and in organizing a Regional Conference.

In 2001 the Northwest Regional Directors Thomas M. Pitre, M.D., Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, M.D., Ph.D. of Oregon, and Howie L. Bright, M.D., of British Columbia joined with Jan R. Hemstad, M.D., of Seattle to form a Guild in the State of Washington. Instrumental to the formation of the Guild was Fr. Joseph Hattie, O.M.I. who had been the Chaplain of the Vancouver, British Columbia Guild in the 1990s. Fr. Hattie, with foresight and spiritual direction, encouraged the Northwest physicians to form the new Guild. Most Reverend Alexander J. Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle, formally inaugurated the Catholic Physicians Guild of Washington State on May 19, 2001. The blueprint for a biannual regional meeting was created with the first meeting in Seattle in 2001; the second regional meeting was held in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2003.

The theme of the conference was selected--The Catholic Physician: A Vocation as Icon of Christ the Divine Physician-- and the keynote speaker was engaged, Robert Spitzer, S.J., the President of Gonzaga University. A date was set for the following May 2001, based upon the availability of the main speaker.

A letter was then sent by the Regional Directors to Most Reverend Alex J. Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle to introduce the concept of forming a Guild and to gain his approval and support for the Regional Conference. A meeting to discuss this with the Archbishop was requested. Two additional speakers were engaged for the conference and a tentative program outline was drawn up and presented to the Archbishop at a meeting of the Regional Directors, the Seattle physician and Archbishop Brunett. The Archbishop enthusiastically approved the program with speakers and offered to host the Friday night reception at the opening of the Conference. He also offered to celebrate Mass on Saturday morning for the conference attendees.

Other physicians were contacted in the Seattle and Tacoma area that would support the new Guild. The Regional Directors called a meeting with the local physicians to present the purpose of a Catholic Physicians Guild and to inform them of the Regional Conference to be held in Seattle in the spring. Assignments of duties and a timetable were laid out. Subsequent to this meeting, the Seattle Physicians formed a Board of Directors for their new Guild.

The President of the CMA was informed of the conference and was invited to host the 2001 Spring Board meeting of the CMA as part of the Seattle Conference and in support of the formation of the Washington Guild. The CMA President, Charles P. Prezzia, M.D., accepted the invitation. The schedule of events then included the CMA Board of Directors meeting on Friday; Archbishop Brunett's Reception Friday evening; Opening Mass on Saturday morning celebrated by Archbishop Brunett; an all day conference on Saturday; a Banquet and keynote speaker on Saturday night; a Mass celebrated on Sunday morning by the Episcopal Advisor of the CMA, Bishop Robert Vasa followed by summary remarks by the three conference speakers. There were over 175 attendees at the conference and the Washington Guild was formed with 60 new members.