Hastings is a town of 24,000 people in the agricultural heartland of south-central Nebraska. The birthplace of Kool-Aid and home of an Ore-Ida potato factory is not exactly a prime travel destination. Still, dotted with antique shops, outdoor parks and bird-watching spots, Hastings embodies the look and feel of rural Americana. In this setting, the Moscati Health Center, along with the AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center and Central Nebraskans United for Life (an American Life League Associate group), work together to defend their community against the culture of death.
The Moscati Health Center is named for St. Joseph Moscati, an Italian physician who died in 1927. Recognized at a young age for his excellence in the medical profession, Dr. Moscati believed that since patients have souls as well as bodies, the health of the body depends upon the soul remaining in a state of grace. Therefore, Dr. Moscati devoted his life to caring for the bodies of his patients and saving their souls. Canonized by Pope Paul VI, Dr. Moscati was cited as an example of living a life of “harmony between science and faith.”
Dr. Michael Skoch, medical director of the Moscati Center, said, “As people of faith ourselves, the Moscati staff believes that spiritual health is the foundation for physical and emotional well-being.” Thus the staff begins each day in the chapel adjacent to their office (which previously served as a girls’ school and a seminary), where they pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
A self-described Kansas farm boy, Michael Skoch grew up in the Catholic faith and developed a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. He attended the University of Kansas and completed his residency in Wichita in 1987. He trained in a Catholic hospital but learned “non-Catholic” ways of medically managing fertility and pregnancy
After becoming a board-certified family physician, Skoch joined a family practice in Hastings with four other physicians—none of whom were Catholic—and spent 12 years there. He arrived with a full complement of medical skills, including the practice of contraceptive medicine. Like many Catholics, especially Catholic medical professionals, Skoch had suppressed the conflict between contraception and his faith, and he expected that it would remain suppressed, tucked away so as not to interfere in his life or his medical practice. The Holy Spirit, however, quickly moved into the picture with other plans.
During Skoch’s first year in Hastings, Fr. Joseph Walsh, an assistant pastor at one of the local parishes, contacted him at the urging of local natural family planning practitioners. Fr. Walsh gently, but firmly, advised Skoch that he would have to change his practice and stop prescribing contraception or stop receiving Communion. By the end of that first year, Skoch had, with the grace of God, stopped prescribing contraceptives. But it was not until 10 years later that Skoch become more uncomfortable with his practice and became increasingly aware that, perhaps, the Holy Spirit wanted more.
One of the most profound moments of discernment occurred in October 1999, while Skoch was attending a symposium in Pittsburgh. He received word that his pastor, friend and confessor, Msgr. John McCabe, had passed away. Dr. Skoch had had the privilege of caring for Msgr. McCabe during his illness; the priest’s passing was a deep loss that moves him to this day. Although he was away from the monsignor when he died, Skoch believed his friend’s holy death was a source of grace for the survivors. During the symposium, which was organized by the group One More Soul to outline a vision of Catholic health care in the new millennium, Skoch experienced what he calls the “spiritual springboard” for his decision to ultimately leave his practice.
Taking a leap of faith
Despite fears, Skoch told his partners in January 2000 that he was leaving the practice. It appeared to be a major gamble. However, Skoch opened the Moscati Health Center on July 1, 2000 in a small office adjacent to the local hospital, and the majority of his patient roster followed. Today, the practice occupies 12,500 square feet, has more than 10,000 patient records on file and employs two advanced practice registered nurses, two psychologists, a licensed mental health practitioner and a working staff of 22 full and part-time employees.
“Life without contraception is both beautiful and livable,” said Dr. Skoch. It’s why he does what he does.
For those patients who still want to contracept, Dr. Skoch tries to plant a seed of faith and introduces the idea of fertility management through natural means. Of course, sexual abstinence is recommended and encouraged for the unmarried. Time, support and compassion are always offered to those with questions and concerns. For the most part, Skoch finds patients to be open-minded with a willingness to listen to the truth, even if they sometimes have difficulty accepting it—so many conversions have taken place at the Moscati Health Center.
In addition to general family medicine, Dr. Skoch delivers, on Providential location The Crosier Professional Park began as a school for girls established in 1889 by the Visitation Sisters. In the late 1940s, the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross, more popularly known as the Crosier Fathers, turned it into a seminary. Declining vocations to the priesthood throughout the 1960s and 70s left the seminary nearly vacant and it again changed hands when a local developer purchased it in September 2000. The former monastery was converted into a professional center, although the chapel remained, maintained by the diocese, and it was in July 2001 that Moscati Health Center moved into its current home. average, 50 to 60 babies each year, praying the Memorare for every patient in labor. Many of these children are born to mothers who visit the AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center located upstairs from his offices. Since his arrival in Hastings and the opening of Moscati, Skoch has been involved with the pregnancy center and has offered ultrasound expertise to their clients. Again, following the example of St. Joseph Moscati, the health center staff makes every effort to support these women.
The pro-life efforts bearing fruit in Hastings, not only at the Moscati Center, but also at the AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center and with Central Nebraskans United for Life (see related story), are prime examples of what determined pro-lifers can do.
Indeed, we must remember that we are united in the mystical body of Christ; one that is made up of many members. By God’s grace, through the collaborative efforts of pro-life people everywhere, a culture of life will be established and flourish—even in the most seemingly rural areas of the world.
The Crosier Professional Park began as a school for girls established in 1889 by the Visitation Sisters. In the late 1940s, the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross, more popularly known as the Crosier Fathers, turned it into a seminary. Declining vocations to the priesthood throughout the 1960s and 70s left the seminary nearly vacant and it again changed hands when a local developer purchased it in September 2000. The former monastery was converted into a professional center, although the chapel remained, maintained by the diocese, and it was in July 2001 that Moscati Health Center moved into its current home.
Two other pro-life outreach groups help make a difference in Hastings, Nebraska
Like most pregnancy care centers nationwide, AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center is a nonprofit organization designed to offer free and confidential help. AAA provides a wealth of information on all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting. They help expectant mothers with emergency needs, community referrals, material resources and mentoring programs. More importantly, the caring and dedicated volunteers at AAA offer emotional support in a compassionate environment. Every one of the nearly 500 clients assisted each year is treated as the unique and special individual God made him or her to be.
AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center is, in turn, assisted on an annual basis with a fundraising banquet sponsored by Central Nebraskans United for Life. Mike Dycus, cofounder and president of CNUFL, takes a personal interest in the AAA Crisis Pregnancy Center since his wife, Deb, directs the center. But Mike said his interest in pro-life work comes from his relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church. His major conversion some 12 years ago allowed him to truly experience the love and mercy of God. Mike said that his deepened relationship with the Lord led him to serving Christ in the very least among us—the preborn.
Operating with four officers and 15 volunteers, CNUFL’s primary activities include prayer at the Hastings Family Planning Clinic once a month, providing pro-life programming for public television viewing, distributing pro-life resources to local schools, publishing a quarterly newsletter, assisting with the needs of the CPC and sponsoring the annual banquet.
At a banquet this past April, American Life League’s president, Judie Brown, was CNUFL’s guest speaker. She spoke about CNUFL’s next project—the scourge of contraception. CNUFL has plans on the horizon to conduct an area-wide educational campaign concerning the connection between contraception and abortion. Contraception was the driving force behind CNUFL’s formation five years ago when other local “pro-life” organizations refused to publicly oppose it. Mike and his colleagues saw this position as a denial of the liberating truths in the Gospel. “Our mission,” said Mike, “could be summed up in these words: pray, educate and defend truth.”