The first modern doctor to be declared a saint died today in 1927. Giuseppe Moscati was a medical practitioner, scientific researcher and university professor. As a consequence of his mothers’ death after suffering from diabetes he became one of the first doctors to experiment with insulin in his treatment of the disease, and established associations with the first foreign business companies that had started experimental production of insulin, a pioneer of modern endocrinology and biochemistry. He developed an outstanding reputation for his dedication and care of the local people in Naples, particularly the poor - this is the story of his life
Giuseppi Moscati was born in Benevento in 1880 in Southern Italy; a marble statue has since been erected in why Benevento's cathedral. However, as a young man, immediately upon receiving his medical degree, he moved to Naples and would spend much of the rest of his life in the city. After training, Moscati, joined the staff of the Ospedale degli Incurabili, eventually becoming an administrator of the Hospital. During this time, he conducted medical research when not performing his duties at the hospital. He started to establish his reputation as an exception doctor, when he won recognition for his actions in the aftermath of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. One of the hospitals for which he was responsible, at Torre del Greco, was located a few miles from the volcano's crater. Many of its patients were elderly, and some were paralytics as well. Moscati oversaw the evacuation of the building, getting them all out just before the roof collapsed due to the ash. He sent a letter to the general director of the Neapolitan hospital service, insisting on thanking those who had helped in the evacuation, yet not mentioning his own name.
When cholera broke out in Naples in 1911, he was given the responsibility by the civic government with performing public health inspections, and researching both the origins of the disease and the best ways to eradicate it. This he did quickly, presenting his suggestions to city officials. Besides his work as a researcher and as a doctor, Moscati was responsible for overseeing the local Institute of Anatomical Pathology. In the institute's autopsy room, he placed a crucifix inscribed with Chapter 13, verse 14 of the Book of Hosea, Ero mors tua, o mors (O death, I will be thy death).
Dr Moscati’s faith underpinned his professional career in deep way, during his summers in Avellino as a boy, he would see his father serve at the altar in the local chapel of the Poor Clares whenever they attended Mass. After receiving the sacrament of confirmation as a young man he met Caterina Volpicelli who would become his most important spiritual guide later in life. Her family belonged to a famous Neapolitan aristocratic family and she would be declared a saint 22 years later than Dr Moscati. The doctor took private vows of chastity and also a vow to practice charity in his daily work. He understood his practice of medical science as a way of alleviating suffering rather than a way of making profits, which made him popular amongst the poor and would retire regularly for prayer. He attended Mass daily, and would sometimes use a patient's faith, as well as the sacraments, in his treatments. This now could be considered a sophisticated and wholistic approach to healing in some quarters, however in mainstream professional medicine in more multicultural secular countries, this is often judged to be invasive and exploitative.
Dr Moscati refused to charge the poor for their treatment, and was known to sometimes send a patient home with a prescription and a 50-lira note in an envelope. Before his death his reputation amongst the local people of being a miracle-worker was slowly growing; some said that he could accurately diagnose and prescribe any patient merely by hearing a list of his symptoms, and that he was responsible for many improbable or even in some cases impossible cures. His method of diagnosis has echoes of an interesting mystical phenomena in some of the desert fathers of the early church - of cardiognosis – knowledge of the heart – a profound ability to understand what was often hidden through their ability to listen. Reports of his good works continued well after his death, with further reports that he interceded in impossible cases. He was canonized on 25 October 1987, by Pope John Paul II. His canonization miracle involved the case of a young ironworker dying of leukaemia. The young man's mother dreamed of a doctor wearing a white coat, whom she identified as Moscati when shown a photograph. Not long after this, her son went into remission and returned to work.