Holy Name Friar Speaks at NYMC Commencement

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NEW YORK, N.Y. — Telling the newly-graduated health professionals to love their patients as well as their vocation, Daniel Sulmasy, OFM, spoke at the May 27 commencement of New York Medical College, where he has been professor of medicine and director of the Bioethics Institute since 1998.

“I pray that each and every one of you will always practice with love,” he told the 369 graduates of the allied health fields. “No other reason for doing so is worthy of you or the time you have spent here learning this craft.”

Dan’s message also reflected his Franciscan roots, as he quoted Hippocrates’Precepts, “Whenever the art of medicine is loved, there is love of humanity.” He also drew from the words of American poet William Cullen Bryant, the college’s first president.

Receiving an honorary doctorate at graduation, held at Carnegie Hall in New York City, was bittersweet for Dan, who left the Valhalla, N.Y.-based college, along with his position as the Sisters of Charity Chair in Ethics at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, in May to join the University of Chicago.

Leading Medical Ethicist
Dan, both a friar and a doctor, will hold a newly-endowed professorship in the Department of Medicine and will teach ethics in the university’s Divinity School.

Dan is a leading U.S. medical ethicist, often called upon as an expert on topics such as extending life and stem cell research.

He was recruited by the university to expand educational programs in medical ethics, among other reasons. The university’s new combined degree program in ethics will allow a student to earn both a medical degree and a doctorate in ethics, and a one- to two-year fellowship in ethics after medical training, he said.

While Dan taught only medical students at New York Medical College, at the University of Chicago — because of his position in the Divinity School — he will also teach students who will go on to be professors of medical ethics.

“The biggest opportunity that I’ll be able to have — that I could not do at New York Medical College — is to train teachers of medical ethics,” said Dan.

As a doctor who entered the Order of Friars Minor after his medical internship, Dan is pleased that more students are now interested in ethics.

“Our programs will be for doctors who have an abiding interest in ethics or for medical students who were philosophy or theology majors,” he said. “Through experience and training, people often become interested in the myriad of questions that face us, such as when to discontinue a ventilator and what to do about embryonic stem cell research.”

Dan expects the new program will attract students to the university at a time when medical ethics is especially pertinent. “Medical ethics is interdisciplinary,” he said. “It was difficult to do that in a place that was only a medical college. At the university, people will come specifically to train in ethics. It will be a draw.”

When HNP Today caught up with Dan by phone, he was planning to build the new department, hire an administrative assistant and research assistants, remodel an office and build a 4,000-volume library. The collection, which will also need space built to house it, consists of many books given to him during his years at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Transitioning from New York
While his new position takes him to Chicago, Dan remains part of Holy Name Province. He sees his new role at the university as part of a special ministry assignment. He now lives at St. Joseph’s Friary, a house of studies like the Province’s Holy Name College, for approximately 18 members of three Midwestern OFM provinces: Assumption,John the Baptist and Sacred Heart. These friars study at nearby Catholic Theological Union. The friary is located in Hyde Park, the section of Chicago where President Barack Obama used to live and work.

While in New York, Dan lived at All Saints Friary in Harlem, where his brothers recently took him out to dinner to celebrate his new job. “They gave me a Bose alarm clock/CD radio. They has seen my old beat-up Sears alarm clock and out-of-date boom box and didn’t want me going to a new assignment with them.”

While Dan embraces his new home in Chicago, he said he will always be a New Yorker at heart. “I will never trade New York pizza for (Chicago) deep-dish pizza and will never give up rooting for the Yankees.”

The Queens native looks back on his years in New York fondly, even the rigorous 27 sessions of ethics classes for faculty at New York Medical College that often started his day at 7 a.m. “New York Medical College is a leader in ethics programs — especially for the rigor of it and the fact that the medical student curriculum spans all four years. It’s not the first program, but it’s one of the best.”

He added: “New York City was terrific. New York Medical College was very good to me, and I’m very grateful to the Sisters of Charity for the endowed chair at St. Vincent’s Hospital. We did a lot with a small operation.”

In addition to his college and hospital appointments, Dan served on the Empire State Stem Cell Ethics Committee and the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, appointed by former governors George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer.

Arriving in the Windy City in spring, and not winter, was a blessing for Dan.

“I’ve already noticed one thing. I need to get coats with button-down collars. The wind today kept slapping my collar up against my face.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.