Be sure you know the medical doctor, professor, biochemistry pioneer, humanitarian, and exceptionally loving man who truly lived and served in imitation of Christ.
Giuseppe Moscati was born in 1880 in Benevento, Italy, to pious, aristocratic Italian parents. He was the seventh of nine children. His father, Francesco, was a well-known lawyer and his mother, Rosa De Luca dei Marchesi di Roseto, came from nobility. In 1884 Francesco moved the family to Naples, the city where Giuseppe spent most of the rest of his life.
The family vacationed each year in Avellino, and attended Mass at the chapel of the Poor Clare nuns where Francesco served at the altar. On December 8th 1888, Giuseppe received his First Holy Communion from Monsignor Enrico Marano, in the Ancelle del Sacro Cuore (Church of the Maids of the Sacred Heart) in Naples. That was the beginning of his Eucharistic life, one of the sources of Dr. Moscati’s sanctity. 1
In 1892, when Giuseppe was thirteen, his older brother Alberto, a lieutenant in the artillery, fell from his horse during a military parade. He sustained a significant head injury which resulted in recurring epilepsy. Giuseppe spent a great deal of time helping care for his injured brother, a sure sign of his true vocation in life. What he witnessed through his brother's care led Giuseppe to become interested in medicine and make the vital determination that the healing power of religion was more successful in treating patients than man-made remedies.
Following the completion of his elementary education 1889, Giuseppe entered high school and from 1889-97 attended the Liceo Vittorio Emanuele Institute in Naples. He began his medical studies in 1897, the same year his father died. On April 4, 1903 he graduated “summa cum laude” with a doctorate from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Naples.
Immediately after graduation, Dr. Moscati began working at the Ospedali Ruinity degli Incurabili (Hospital of the Incurables), where he became an administrator. He also continued his studies and conducted medical research.
On April 8, 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupted. In a genuine act of selflessness, Giuseppe heroically rescued the patients trapped inside the hospital at Torre del Greco, which was located just a few miles from the volcano’s crater, just before the roof collapsed from the weight of the ash.
In 1911 there was an outbreak of cholera in Naples. Giuseppe worked day and night treating the poor without charge, giving witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is well known for showing great respect for the dead. In an outpouring of Christ’s call to love our neighbor in humility and simplicity, he allowed the faithful to follow in procession singing hymns of the Church as the bodies of the deceased were removed from the streets. Giuseppe also labored to prevent cholera from spreading by performing public health inspections while researching the causes of the disease and striving to eradicate it.
Also in 1911, Giuseppe became a member of the Royal Academy of Surgical Medicine and received his doctorate in physiological chemistry. His brother Alberto died on June 12, 1914; Giuseppe mourned the loss of his brother for the rest of his life. His mother, who was diabetic, died in late 1914 from the disease, which was untreatable at that time. She said to her surviving children after receiving 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 insight into the sanctity of his parents in 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
In 1915, Italy entered World War I. Professor Moscati asked for voluntary enlistment but was assigned to the care of wounded soldiers at the militarized Incurabili Hospital. He is remembered for visiting, effectively treating, and consoling approximately 3000 wounded soldiers. In 1919 he became director of one of the local men’s schools and continued teaching. In 1922 the professor was given a libera docenza in clinical medicine, which gave him the credentials to teach at institutes of higher education.
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 Christlike 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. Giuseppe was respected and admired for his extraordinary courage and compassion, but was also accused of witch doctoring because of his methods, which were at the time unconventional and cutting-edge.
Giuseppe was a forensic surgeon and director of the Pathological Anatomy Institute as well, and known as a master of conducting autopsies. Additionally, he wrote 27 scientific publications from the time he earned his degree in 1903 to the year 1916.
A pivotal event for Giuseppe and for so many others occurred when he cared for a terminally ill woman at his home until her death. She was the friend of a friend, and had been afraid to stay at the hospital. Subsequent to this, people started going to his home seeking medical care. The doctor gave his patients money and food in addition to 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
God called Giuseppe Moscati home to his eternal reward on April 12, 1927, at the age of 46. The holy physician of Naples left behind an extraordinary legacy of sharing the love of Christ with those in need. His body is interred in the former Church of Gesu Neuvo, now known as the Church of St. Giuseppe Moscati. His Eminence Cardinal Ascalesi remarked at Giuseppe’s 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." 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 to the cures granted by God through the intercession of this extraordinary man who practiced heroic virtue by living in imitation of Christ.
The Holy Physician of Naples lived to the fullness of St. Paul’s words, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important as yourselves. Each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone also for those of others.” Philippians 2:3-4. He is a saint who left us a most profound example of humility and an ability to use one’s God-given talents to truly serve others.
Dr. Giuseppe Moscati was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on November 16, 1975. The miraculous healing of a young ironworker with terminal cancer was St. Moscati’s canonization miracle. The man’s mother dreamt of a doctor wearing a white coat and subsequently identified him from a photograph as Giuseppe Moscati. Not long after that, the man was cured and returned to work. He was canonized on October 25, 1987 by Pope John Paul II and is the first modern doctor to be declared a saint. His feast day is November 16.
St. Giuseppe Moscati's life story is presented in the beautiful movie St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor (Ignatius Press: 2010). The timeless Italian film (177 minutes) has English and Spanish subtitles. The movie highlights Dr. Moscati’s vocation as a physician in Italy where he mended people’s sick and injured bodies as well as their spirits with acts of kindness.
It is so well done, and St. Moscati’s life story so worth knowing, you will want to see it over and over again. The film deviated from fact by adding a love interest and a rivalry with a friend and colleague. These fictitious accounts aptly provide viewers the opportunity to consider their own choices and examine if and how they will serve God using the gifts they have been given.
Be sure to see this very special movie, more than once, and learn about the medical doctor, professor, biochemistry pioneer, humanitarian, and exceptionally loving man who truly lived and served in imitation of Christ.
About the Authors
Michele Bondi Bottesi is a mother, award-winning Catholic author, psychologist, and publisher at Joseph Karl Publishing. Visit her blog, God is at Work in You! at www.godisatworkinyou.blogspot.com.
Paul A. Ray is a Catholic author and speaker, and creative director at Joseph Karl Publishing. Visit his blog, Tongues as of Fire! at www.tonguesasoffire.blogspot.com.
Andre J. Bottesi is a high school student and award-winning Catholic author.
The authors thank Nancy Carabio Belanger (www.littleflowerbook.com) for copy editing the article.
www.catholiceducation.org; www.moscati.it; www.wikipedia.org; www.suite101.com.
Giuseppe Moscati: www.moscati.it/Eng.html
Nina Moscati: www.moscati.it/Eng.html
Jesus & St. Francis: Joseph Karl Publishing
St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor DVD Copyright 2010, Ignatius Press.