by Father William J. Byron, S.J.
The attention of the world is focused on the spread of Ebola. Here in the U.S., concern is high even though the outbreak of actual cases is quite low and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to be on top of the situation.
But a Philadelphia physician has decided not to sit on the sidelines; she is headed to Africa to lend a hand.
An October Page One headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer reads: “The Ebola Outbreak: Answering the Call.” The story was about the decision of Trish Henwood, a 34-year-old doctor who had taken her new job in July as an emergency room physician at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with the title of “director of global health initiatives.”
She is going to Liberia to do what she can for a month with ultrasound technology to battle the epidemic.
“It just became clear that other people were not taking up the torch, and it felt like it needed to be done,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
“I realize risks are associated with it, but they are calculated risks, and I feel like I have the right training and background.”
Good for her.
Henwood went to the Academy of Notre Dame H.S. in suburban Philadelphia and then on to Georgetown University for a bachelor’s degree and later to Villanova University for some premed preparation for a summa cum laude medical degree at Thomas Jefferson University.
Somewhere along the line, she picked up the right motivation for a career targeted on meeting the essential medical needs of others. Perhaps she got it at home – she’s one of seven children. Upon hearing of her decision to go to Liberia and get on the frontlines with Ebola, her father told her, “This is what you’re made for.” That brought tears to her eyes.
The Inquirer referred to what she is doing as “answering the call.” And as Henwood would know from her Catholic education, a call is a vocation. She is not simply responding to calls for help from Africa; she is called and has been called, from her mother’s womb, to love both God and neighbor. She is a call.
Quite literally, she is a vocation proving herself faithful to God’s plan for the best possible world where each of us is called to use our talents to care for our brothers and sisters, especially for those in need.
That’s what they teach at Catholic institutions such as Georgetown and Villanova, and that’s what Henwood assimilated along the way.
“She’s a shining example of a humanitarian,” said Jill Baren, her supervisor at Penn, who believes the doctor’s good example will prompt others to make similar moves.
This is decision time for many young Americans looking toward college and career. Those who fit into the Catholic cohort should be looking at their respective futures through the vocation lens.
Each one of them is called; each one is a vocation. Each has something unique to give. Clarity of vision and quality of career choice for them will put meaning over money, service over prestige and sacrifice over personal security.
They can learn a lot from the example of Henwood, who has the right values in place and who would, I’m sure, appreciate the prayers of all of us for a safe return to Philadelphia.
Jesuit Father William J. Byron is a university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.