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The Brief History of the Catholic Medical Association

By Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, MD, PhD

First of a Series

The National Federation of Catholic Physicians Guild, now known at the Catholic Medical Association, began in 1932 as a unification of existing guilds. The objective of the NFCPG was to foster the Catholic physicians' knowledge and practice of moral and ethical medical principles while forming solidarity among its members. To achieve this objective the NFCPG promoted the formation of local guilds and the guild functions of St. Luke's Day Mass, celebration of a White Mass, Days of Recollection, and retreats.

In 1948 there were eleven guilds in the NFCPG; in 1957 there were 60; and in 1960 there were 92 affiliated guilds in the USA, Canada and Puerto-Rico with a total membership of 6,110. In 1965 the guild membership of over 10,000 when Rochester, New York joined as the 100th guild.

The responsibility for the Linacre Quarterly was shared by the member guilds with each guild taking its turn at submitting all the articles for one issue to a designated local editor. This created a Chicago issue, a Boston issue, a New York issue; etc. In 1965 the circulation of the Linacre Quarterly (the sole Medical-Moral Journal published) was 10,000.

Guilds varied in size from 6 to 600 members. The largest guild was Boston; the smallest was in Monroe, Louisiana. Some guilds formed around physicians practicing at a specific hospital; other guilds were composed of physicians in a city, a diocese or a state. In 1960 there was one guild for the physicians of the State of Arkansas and for the most highly organized State, Louisiana, there were eight guilds. The member guilds of the NFCPG were officially known as Constituent Guilds. Physicians in a Constituent Guild were known as Constituent Members of the NFCPG. If a physician lived in an area not served by a guild, he was eligible to join as an Individual Associate Member. If a physician belonged to a guild that was not a Constituent Guild, he was eligible to join as an Associate Individual Member.

The constituent guild members paid dues directly to the NFCPG and the local guild received back from the Treasurer an amount equal to the local guild dues. In 1950 the NFCPG dues were $1.00 per year. In 1956 the dues were raised to $5.00 and in 1965 the dues were set at $25.00.

The Constitution and By-Laws of the NFCPG created a representational organization governed by a Directorship. The Board of Directors was composed of the executive committee (the officers of the Board), Regional Directors, Episcopal Advisor a (bishop) and the Moderator (a priest). The United States, Puerto Rico and Canada formed ten regions with each region represented by two Regional Directors. The tasks of creating guilds, of organizing local and regional meetings and of acting as the liaison between the NFCPG board of directors and the local guilds were given to the Regional Directors.

Each Constituent Guild elected a delegate for a one-year term. The guild delegate represented the guild at the annual national meeting with the right of one vote in all matters before the General Assembly and in the election of officers and Regional Directors.

The Constituent Guilds of each region nominated candidates for the office of Regional Director. The Regional Directors were elected at the annual meeting by the officers and guild delegates and served a term of two years on the Board of Directors. If there were not enough Constituent Guilds in a region to nominate candidates, the Board of Directors made the nominations. The Board of Directors had the power to appoint two Regional Directors to fill vacancies.

Any group of six or more Catholic physicians in the same general area could make a request to become a Constituent Guild of the NFCPG. The Regional Director forwarded to the executive director the guild application with recommendations for each physician stating that he was in good standing in his medical practice and in his parish. The executive secretary then submitted the guild application, the Regional Director's recommendation and all other pertinent information to the Board for action at the annual meeting.

Part II

Upon its inception in 1932 the NFCPG met once each year ~ the American Medical Association meeting. The reason to met at the AMA meeting was convenience: the vast majority of physicians in the early decades of the 20 century attended the AMA meeting. The AMA functioned in much the same way that specialty medical associations function today. For one week medical scientific papers were presented for physicians to become current on research and practice On the Friday of the AMA meeting' the NFCPG conference was held. This began with an officer's meeting and Holy Mass At the general meeting each guild delegate gave a report of his guilds' activities of the proceeding year. A dinner for the physicians and spouses was held on Friday evening. In 1950 the NFCPG met in Atlantic City' New Jersey with 13 local guilds represented and about 15 physicians in attendance

The first year that the NFCPG met at a separate time and place from the AMA was 1956. The Detroit Guild sponsored the meeting and for the first time a conference with speakers on current medical moral issues was added to the regular program. Also added was an evening banquet with a guest speaker. The following year the annual meeting was held in New Orleans and the tradition of a conference on medical moral issues in the city of the NFCPG president was established.

The first four presidents of the NFCPG served a four year term. In 1948 the term was shortened to two years and in the last decades the term of officers has been one year. From 1932 until 1944 the president of the NFCPG presided over the administrative activities of dues and membership from his own local office The records and administrative functions shifted location with each new president In 1944 the NFCPG set up permanent headquarters in the offices of the Catholic Hospital Association (CHA) in St. Louis This was the beginning of the twenty-one year association with the Catholic Hospital Association. The CHA maintained the financial and membership records for the NFCPG. The executive director of the CHA served as the Moderator (chaplain) of the NFCPG, as editor of the Linacre Quarterly and organized the NFCPG annual meetings.

Both the CHA and the NFCPG came under the supervision of the Social Action Department of the National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The relationship between the NFCPG and the NCCB was characterized by mutual respect and cooperation for twenty years. Physicians of the NFCPG were regularly invited to the White Houseto brief the administration on the Catholic perspective on current medical-ethical issues.

To Be Continued...




The Catholic Physicians' Guild of Chicago 

The Chicago branch of the Catholic Medical Association

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