"The Holy Physician of Naples": Medical doctor, professor, biochemistry pioneer, and humanitarian.
Giuseppe Moscati was born in 1880 in Benevento, Italy, the seventh of nine children, to pious, aristocratic Italian parents. His father, Francesco, was a well-known lawyer. In 1884, the family moved to Naples where he served as a Chairman of the Court of Appeal.
The family vacationed each year in his father’s native region of Avellino, and the family attended Mass at the chapel of the Poor Clare nuns where their father served at the altar.
On December 8th 1888, Giuseppe received his First Holy Communion from Monsignor Enrico Marano, in the Ancelle del Sacro Cuore in Naples (Church of the Maids of the Sacred Heart). That day was the beginning of his Eucharistic life, which was one of the secrets of Dr. Moscati’s sanctity. 1
Following the completion of his elementary education 1889, Giuseppe entered high school and from 1889-97 attended the Vittorio Emanuele Institute. He began his medical studies in 1897, the same year his father died, and on April 4th 1903 received his doctorate from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Naples. He graduated "summa cum laude."
Immediately he began working at the Ospedali Ruinity degli Incurabili (Hospital of the Incurables), and he became an administrator. Subsequently, he continued his studies and conducted medical research.
On April 8, 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupted and Giuseppe heroically rescued the patients trapped inside the hospital at Torre del Greco. which was located very close to the volcano’s crater, just before the roof collapsed.
In 1911 there was an outbreak of cholera in Naples, and Giuseppe worked day and night treating the poor, without charge. He is well known for showing great respect for the dead, and allowed the faithful to follow in procession singing hymns of the Church while the bodies of the dead were removed from the streets.
He also worked to prevent cholera from spreading. The civic government had Giuseppe perform public health inspections, and research the causes of the disease and the best ways to eradicate it. Most of those ideas were put into practice during his lifetime.
Also in 1911, Giuseppe became a member of the Royal Academy of Surgical Medicine and earned his doctorate in physiological chemistry. His brother Alberto died on June 12th, 1914, and Giuseppe mourned the loss of his brother for the rest of his life. His mother died of diabetes, which at that time was incurable, in late 1914. She said to her surviving children after having received the sacraments before she died, "My dearest, you let me die satisfied. Always avoid sin, which is the greatest evil of life." 2
Giuseppe provided some insight into the sanctity of his parents through a letter he wrote to a woman who had lost her mother. "As a boy I lost my father and then, when I was an adult, my mother. Now, both of them always stand by me. I feel their sweet company. Whenever I try to imitate them, always so good and upright, I feel their encouragement and if I deviate they incite me to do the right thing, just like they used to tell me when they were still living..." 3
Italy entered World War I in 1915. Professor Moscati asked for voluntary enlistment, but instead was assigned to care for wounded soldiers at the militarized Incurabili Hospital. He visited and treated approximately 3000 soldiers, and is remembered for having treated and affectionately consoled the wounded.
St. Giuseppe Moscati was very dedicated to his studies and proved himself to be not only a brilliant diagnostician, but a caring and charitable doctor. He is perhaps most known and loved for his bedside manner, and began a revolution in medicine that changed and improved the way doctors treated their patients. He was a medical pioneer, and among the first to stimulate the heart through what is now known as CPR. He was one of the first doctors in Naples to experiment with insulin to treat diabetes. He was respected and admired for his extraordinary courage and compassion, but was also accused of witch doctoring because of his methods, which were unconventional at the time.
Giuseppe was also a forensic surgeon and Director of the Pathological Anatomy Institute, known for being a master of conducting autopsies. He placed a Crucifix along with the sentence "Oh Death, I will be your death" on the wall in the Anatomic Room. In addition, from the time he earned his degree in 1903 to the year 1916, he wrote 27 scientific publications.
A pivotal event occurred when Giuseppe cared for a terminally ill woman who was the friend of a friend. She was afraid to stay at the hospital, so he took her into his own home and cared for her there until her death. Patients subsequently began going to his home for medical care. His patients received money and food along with their prescriptions. Giuseppe and his sister Anna ("Nina") sold most of their family's belongings to continue helping care for sick people in need.
Nina assisted her brother Giuseppe in his vital work serving the sick. Their brother Eugenio remarked, "In doing good, he had Nina as his ally." 4
Giuseppe Moscati died suddenly in 1927 at the age of 46, leaving behind a tremendous legacy of being Christ to those in need. His body was interred in the Church of Gesu Neuvo, now known as the Church of St. Giuseppe Moscati. His Eminence Cardinal Ascalesi remarked at his interment, "The doctor belonged to the Church. It was not those whose bodies he had cured, but whose souls he had saved who were waiting to greet him when he left this earth."
His sister Nina survived him by four years.
Giuseppe Moscati wrote this letter in 1919:
"When I was a boy I looked with interest to the Incurabili hospital as my father showed me that far from the house terrace. It inspired me pity feelings for the pain without name, calmed in those walls. A beneficial dismay took me and I started to think about the frailty of all the things, and the illusions passed, as falling flowers of the orange groves surrounding me. Then I was completely fallen in my starting literary studies, and I did not suspect or dream that, a day, in that white building, to whose large windows patients were hardly visible, as white ghosts, I would have held the supreme clinical degree. […] I will try, with the God help, with my minimal strengths, to deserve your complete trust, and to collaborate to the economic reconstruction of the old Neapolitan hospitals, so well deserving in term of charity and culture, and nowadays so poor." 5
Pilgrims continue to visit his office and humble examining room, where hundreds of plaques on the walls provide testimony of the cures granted by God through the intercession of this extraordinary man who practiced heroic virtue by living in imitation of Christ.
Dr. Giuseppe Moscati was beatified on November 16, 1975, and canonized on October 25, 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
St. Giuseppe Moscati's life story is presented in the beautiful movie "St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor" (Ignatius Press: 2010). The Italian film has English and Spanish subtitles and is almost three hours long (177 minutes). It is clearly stated in the insert that the film has taken liberties by adding a love interest and a rivalry with a friend and colleague. While some reviewers have taken exception with this deviation from the truth, they provide us with the opportunity to think about our own choices as St. Moscati did, and to examine if we will and how we will choose to serve God using the gifts He has given us.
Be sure to see this very special movie, more than once, and learn more about this exceptionally loving. beautiful man.
Sources: www.catholiceducation.org; www.moscati.it; www.wikipedia.org; www.suite101.com.
First picture: www.moscati.it/Eng.html
Image of Alberto Moscati: www.moscati.it
Image of St. Giuseppe as a young man: www.suite101.com.
Image of Nina Moscati: www.moscati.it/Eng.html
Crucified Jesus with St. Francis: Joseph Karl Publishing.
St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor DVD copyright 2010 Ignatius Press.