Members of the medical profession care for patients’ mind and body. If the patient is lucky, they also find a physician who is concerned for their soul, as well.
Medical professionals, who are part of the Bismarck Catholic Physicians Guild, not only help heal people’s mind and body, but want to help in their path to heaven. By acknowledging the dignity of life at all stages, these physicians make sure their practice upholds the principals of the Catholic faith.
The local Catholic Physicians Guild was founded on Feb. 3, 2010 by Bishop Paul Zipfel's letter of intent allowing the guild to execute on their charter. Six physicians, who are members of the Catholic Medical Association, were needed to grant the charter to operate as a guild.
White Mass on Oct. 19
Members of the medical profession are acknowledged and blessed during a special Mass each year known as the White Mass. This year’s White Mass will be held on Monday, Oct. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. It’s open to the public. Here, members of the guild sign an oath on the altar affirming their commitment to practicing their faith personally and professionally.
Retired orthopedic surgeon from Bismarck, Dr. Ray Gruby, says that the oath signing is a very powerful moment. As one of the original members and the group’s president, Dr. Gruby explains that it’s a time for Catholics in the medical fields to reaffirm their vocation and ministry carried out in the spirit of Christ.
Gruby converted to Catholicism nine years ago and became aware of the Catholic Medical Association, a national group. Here, he discovered a world of physicians serving as an apostolate of their profession and their faith.
“It’s a culture where Catholic views are appreciated, instantly accepted and understood as a common mission,” Gruby says.
Adding guild members
This common mission motivated Gruby to approach Bishop Zipfel as well as his fellow colleagues in the medical profession. One of the first he talked to was his former partner, Dr. Ralph Kilzer. The pair had come together in 1977 to form Bismarck Orthopedic Associates that became what is known today as the Bone and Joint Center.
Gruby said some doctors were not receptive to transforming their practice to match the Catholic beliefs. However, they found many who were open to the idea and it became a joint effort. “It’s a personal approach first and foremost, and a discernment of the spirit,” he explains.
Dr. Kilzer is among the original six members and remains today. Another of the original six members back in 2010 is Dr. Louise Murphy, a family practice physician at Mid Dakota Clinic in Bismarck. She also serves as a board member for the guild.
Dr. Murphy, a practicing Catholic—born and raised—admits she didn’t completely grasp the magnitude of her commitment to her faith. Years ago, she attended a prayer retreat given by Msgr. Tom Richter who approached her about the Bismarck Catholic Physicians Guild. She considered it, but when she was confronted with the oath that included not prescribing contraception to her patients, it caused her to pause. At the time, her personal life didn’t reflect the Catholic beliefs, so she had to seriously consider if she could commit to such a drastic change.
It wasn’t until a few talks with Fr. Josh Waltz, who was the chaplain at St. Mary’s Central High School at the time, when Dr. Murphy truly came home to her Catholic faith both personally and professionally. He explained the sanctity of human life in the context of the faith and something just clicked with Dr. Murphy.
With excitement, she went to the nurses in her practice the very next day and put an immediate halt to prescribing contraception and, instead, began to explore options for Natural Family Planning methods supported by the Church. From there, her faith blossomed to gain an even greater appreciation for life at all stages.
“As a physician, when you practice within the context of your faith, you realize the patient is not just a body, but has a soul,” Dr. Murphy, who has been practicing for 29 years, notes. “Medical school forms physicians to practice medicine in a scientific way. But, your medical decisions are different when you are practicing the science of medicine through the eyes of our faith.”
From a range of disciplines
The Bismarck-Mandan guild includes many different medical professions from anesthesiology to dentistry and mental health to pharmacy.
Integrating faith and medicine becomes a natural fit for members. Bismarck psychologist and guild member, Dr. James Link says he’d long desired to integrate Catholic faith and spirituality within his work and practice. “I have an educational background in theology, in addition to my doctorate in psychology, so the integration of the two disciplines has always been a strong interest of mine.”
Dr. Gruby says whatever the medical professional’s discipline, the interaction with the patient changes when looking at it through faith. “When we shake the hand of the patient when we first meet them in that exam room, it’s not a contract, it’s a covenant,” he says.
That covenant comes into play with all levels of care—and at all stages of life. “One of the main tasks that I'm presented with each day in my work with patients is trying to alleviate suffering, Dr. Link explains. “Our Catholic faith has so much to offer in regards to helping individuals to find meaning in the suffering, offering another ‘way’ to think about themselves and the world around them, and highlighting the critical role of offering forgiveness and mercy towards oneself and others.”
Formation of future physicians
Dr. Gruby, who said he’s known he wanted to be a doctor since he was in the sixth grade, misses the interaction with patients since he retired about 10 years ago. But, through the Bismarck Catholic Physicians Guild, he can remain involved in the formation of the physician, who he says is to be formed as closely to Christ as possible.
He wants the guild to remain a resource for pre-med students, reaching out to them as they are building a foundation to becoming practicing physicians. He’d also like to see the guild become more visible for other physicians to see it as an opportunity to join a community of like-minded professionals practicing their faith through their profession.
Dr. Link says when the opportunity to serve as a member of the Catholic Physicians Guild arose, it seemed to be a natural extension of his work. “It only helps to further ground me in the integration of science, practice, and faith here in our own diocese. More importantly, it helps me to connect with other professionals seeking to live out their Catholic faith amidst their professional lives in a very meaningful and concrete manner and to offer mutual support.”
Dr. Murphy also found comfort in that community that provided support for her as she transformed her practice a few years ago, especially when some decisions are counter-cultural. “I needed that company, that support from others. It’s also great to have a firm base of authority figures within the faith that reinforces what I’m doing as a physician,” she adds. “There’s a sense of excitement that I can do what God wants and have confidence in what I practice in medicine.”
For more information on the Bismarck Catholic Physicians Guild go to the diocese website at