Written by Peter G. Sánchez
Away from the classrooms and library, the textbooks and the flash cards, the three medical students of Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, enjoyed a brief break last Sunday evening at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Lindenwold.
Jared Furtado, 23, a second year student, and Jacob Havens, 25, and Regina Thaddeus, 28, both third year students, worshipped at 5 p.m. Mass, and then enjoyed a dinner of pizza and wings with Father Adam Cichoski, the parish’s parochial vicar, in the church offices.
Conversation began with weekend plans, the holidays, the new semester, exams, sports and study habits, and then shifted to the main focus of the gathering: the students’ faith, how they find comfort and solace in God amidst their hectic and stressful schedules, and the challenges in living out what they believe in a culture that can seem so antithetical to Christian belief.
The occasional gathering at the parish for medical students is part of the church’s mission to “minister to all,” said Father Cichoski, adding that these times for faith and fellowship bring “dignity and respect” to the young men and women who spend nearly all their waking hours attending classes or studying for the next make-or-break exam.
The brief respite and encouragement from these church gatherings — including Bible study and reflections on church documents such as Saint John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” (“The Splendor of Truth”), which outlined fundamental elements of Catholic moral teaching — is much appreciated.
In a campus culture where support for such moral wrongs as abortion and euthanasia are common, these students are challenged to defend their faith, and gatherings such as last Sunday’s provide them with a boost.
“Seeing students here, who believe what I believe, motivates me,” said Thaddeus, from North Jersey’s Bergen County.
Before beginning classes, Thaddeus was apartment-hunting in the area, and the cradle Catholic noticed Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, located a half-mile from the medical school. She introduced herself to Father Vince Guest, the pastor, and soon he began celebrating Masses on the school campus during Holy Days of Obligation.
Last fall, the opportunity arose to begin gathering at the parish, and expand the outreach and support.
“My faith helps me through every day,” Thaddeus emphasized. “I know that through every class, every exam, it’s going to be OK, because God is looking out for us.”
Describing their motivations for entering the medical field, Furtado, from Morris County in North Jersey, says it was seeing his grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Her death had a lasting impact” on my family, he said, and he wants to do what he can to help others and their families in times of need.
Havens, a native of Salem County here in the Camden Diocese, likes the idea of “knowing patients well, and caring about them.”
In a medical school culture that can lead to anxiety and depression for many students who are worried about grades and class status, Havens keeps a healthy worldview, which he credits to his faith.
“School is not what makes us valuable,” he says; it is God’s ever-present love that reveals our true selves. “Self-worth is important,” he added.