“John, why are you hurting me?”
The voice Dr. John Bruchalski heard calling him was the clear voice of a woman: a gentle motherly voice that was filled with sorrow. He looked around the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where he stood, to find its source. He was acutely aware of the crowd crushing in around him: sweaty, tired people cycling in and out for hourly Masses.
The words didn’t come from anybody he could see, but they drew his heart and his eyes to the picture of Mary. The obstetrician stood several feet away from Our Lady of Guadalupe’s famed portrait in the church built to honor her at Tepeyac Hill, just north of Mexico City. The image, which miraculously appeared on the cloak of a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego in 1531, has remained intact and vibrant ever since.
Dr. Bruchalski had fallen away from Mass attendance years earlier, but the picture of Mary compelled him to stay in the Church. As he gazed at her, the message—and her question—struck him deeply. He sensed immediately what was bringing her pain. She wanted him to stop performing abortions.
Promises to Keep. The trip to Tepeyac Hill was the beginning of a change of heart for the ob-gyn. He returned to the Church and soon left his traditional medical practice to start a practice of his own. He promised Mary that it would respect the consciences of pro-life doctors and patients and provide compassionate care to families from all economic backgrounds.
And so, in 1994, Tepeyac Family Center started small, with Bruchalski seeing patients in his basement. After a few months, the clinic was large enough to move into an office space. Over the years, the staff and patient count have continued to tick upward. No matter how it grows, though, Tepeyac keeps a personal touch that flows from an awareness of the value of every human life.
Staff members pray together in the mornings and make a point of treating patients cordially and respectfully. Tepeyac Family Center’s family-planning services are based on Catholic moral teaching and natural fertility methods. Its hospice program addresses the needs of very sick babies, both inside and outside the womb. And as Dr. Bruchalski promised Mary, Tepeyac serves all women and families who come for help, regardless of their ability to pay.
Treating the Whole Person. Erica Sawyer [not her real name] was one of those patients. Erica got pregnant unexpectedly at a time in her life when she was unmarried and living with her mother. She didn’t know if the baby’s father would be around to help, and the thought of having the baby alone was terrifying. Her mother reassured her: “God is going to lead you to the right doctor who is going to deliver this baby.”
Erica did an Internet search for nearby obstetricians and, without much thought, called one of the first entries to appear: Tepeyac Family Center. She went into her first appointment feeling nervous but immediately realized that her mother’s words were coming true. Every staff member treated her with love and dignity. Dr. Bruchalski even had a prediction about her unborn child. “He told me my son would be a great prophet. He didn’t know I had already picked the name Jeremiah.”
At each visit and sometimes in between, the staff checked in on Erica with words of encouragement. And when her mother died, several weeks after Jeremiah’s birth, they mourned with her and kept in touch.
Erica got married and returned to Tepeyac for her next pregnancy. This time, she had gestational diabetes and other health complications, so the staff scheduled appointments for her with outside specialists. The birth was difficult and ended up being a cesarean section. Dr. Bruchalski, who was scheduled for a vacation day, came in to comfort Erica. She remembers crying hard. “He was like a dad that I didn’t have. He kept telling me, ‘It’s going to be okay.’”
Erica says the doctors and staff at Tepeyac Family Center care about the whole person as well as the family involved. They administer more than medicine and clinical care—they show people love.
That’s because Dr. Bruchalski, his doctors, and staff listen with open hearts to mothers like Erica. A patient may not have supportive family members. She may be carrying fear, guilt, or shame. But with each word of encouragement and assurance of practical help, she is more able to embrace the challenges before her.
The acts of listening, loving, and accompanying women are transformative. Dr. Bruchalski believes they are the essence of a health care philosophy that focuses on ministering to people as Christ would.
Leaps of Faith. Tepeyac Family Center now serves nearly four thousand patients a year. Up to 40 percent of those families are unable to pay their full bill. This can put a strain on the clinic’s finances, but it’s part of the mission. At Tepeyac, medicine is viewed as an act of mercy, a form of grace undeserved but given freely. In fact, its financial-aid program is called Divine Mercy Care.
It took a leap of faith to start the clinic, and even now, Dr. Bruchalski relies on God’s merciful providence to keep it going. Friends and patients of Tepeyac have rallied around the cause, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations each year. At critical moments when the center was in jeopardy, they have seen amazing answers to prayer.
Once, Dr. Bruchalski confided to a patient that his malpractice insurance had tripled. This was unexpected because the clinic had never dealt with a single malpractice claim. He told her they had one week to raise $220,000 in order to keep Tepeyac’s doors open. The patient went home, told her husband, and they set up a phone bank over the weekend. By Monday morning, they had raised the full amount—plus an extra ten dollars.
Listen, Love, Accompany. When he announced the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said, “No one can be excluded from God’s mercy.” This year, he is inviting us to witness to the tenderness of God toward those who are suffering or feeling alone.
Remembering how Our Lady of Guadalupe inspired him, Dr. Bruchalski relies on Mary’s intercession to be a missionary of mercy in his work. But showing mercy is something each of us can do, he says. In our own life situations, we can listen, love, and accompany the people in our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and everywhere we go.
Just as God called Mary to be the Mother of Mercy, he calls us to be bearers of his mercy, shining his love into the darkest places. For us, as for Mary, all it takes is that first yes—God will do the rest.
Patty Whelpley and her husband have five children and live in Northern Virginia.