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The Making of a Catholic Physician: In Memory of Dr. Kevin Murrell

May 21, 2024

By Dr. John Littell

 

How is it possible for any one man to impact the life of another in so many ways, despite limitations of time and distance, enabling the other man to become the best husband, father, son and physician, in short becoming the best person that he could be?

My relationship with Dr. Kevin Murrell over the past thirty years is all the evidence I need to prove that, with God, all things are truly possible.

In the spring of 1993, while on active duty as a family physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, I was provided a “benny” trip to the Virgin Islands to perform physicals for Army Reservists living there.  My fellow family doc and I were advised that we could bring our spouses with us, yet both had recently given birth and were not able to accompany us.

Consequently, I had ample time to visit with my friend, who brought a copy of the Linacre Quarterly with him on the flight.  Borrowing his Linacre for a good read, I quickly noted that one of the officers of the CMA was one Dr. Kevin Murrell of Augusta, GA – where we both were stationed at that time.

On returning to Augusta, I phoned Dr. Murrell at his office in the VA Hospital, Psychiatry Unit, and it was there that we first met, in the spring of 1993.  The local Catholic Physicians’ Guild had monthly meetings on First Saturday mornings and it was there that I also had the opportunity to meet and befriend several other Catholic physicians –– all practicing in civilian practice.

It was during those meetings that I was challenged to stop prescribing artificial contraception and performing vasectomies.  “Are you a Catholic physician or not?” was the question I needed to answer.  It took but a couple of meetings with Kevin Murrell and these other fine Catholic physicians to realize that I wanted to be like them and embrace completely the teachings of the Catholic Church on contraception and sterilization.

But the story of my relationship with Kevin Murrell was only beginning.

When the Augusta Guild of Catholic Physicians hosted the 1994 Annual Educational Conference, Kevin asked if I would be able to serve as chaperone for the visiting speaker flying in from NYC – none other than Father Benedict Groeschel!  Hence, I had the opportunity to spend precious time with this most Holy Servant of God during those few days.

It was during one lunch meeting at a nearby diner in Augusta, GA that I shared with Kevin my frustration with my father. I honestly had tried to disown him as my father several years after his divorce from my mother, and had a major argument with him just recently during my last visit to NY to visit him and the rest of my family.

“There is only one Commandment that comes with a promise”, Kevin gently reminded me.  “Honor your mother and your father, for your days will be long and your life with be good”.

After more counseling from Kevin, I resolved to call my father and apologize for my angry words.  That single act led to a complete transformation of my relationship with my father, with whom I remained close until he died peacefully on Good Friday, 2023.  (Of note, my father over subsequent years apologized often for having not been a better father – and even apologized to my Mom for not being a better husband – all after I chose to follow Kevin’s advice and reconcile with him.)

During my years in Augusta, GA, I also found that the anger within me (stemming partly from my parent’s divorce and the loss of my brother to a DUI driver during my internship four years earlier) was spilling over into both my professional and personal life.  Kevin was an invaluable resource to me during those months, reminding me that, on arriving home from work, I need to take off my white coat and put on a white apron, so as to serve my wife rather than expect her to do it for me…. Words of wisdom which have served me well to this day (and preparing to celebrate 35 years of marriage).

Kevin always enjoyed children (as evidenced by the incredible testimonies given by his children and grandchildren after his funeral), and insisted that I call him as soon as our third child was born.  So, when Claire Marie arrived shortly after 3 AM in May of 1995 , I called Kevin with the good news.  He arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital within an hour and prayed for both my wife and my new daughter before giving me a big hug and returning to his home.

After leaving the Army in 1995, my family and I departed for rural Montana, where I served in the National Health Service Corps as the lone physician for the entire county.  The story of the persecution I unexpectedly encountered there is detailed in the book “Physicians Healed” (from One More Soul).

Ultimately, my experience in Montana strengthened my resolve to remain a Catholic, truly Pro-Life physician despite facing even more adversity during my subsequent two years in rural Michigan.  Eventually, I was recruited to Florida by two Christian Family Physicians and thankfully able to care for patients in my own Catholic Family practice.

Yet this would not have been possible had it not been for that one man, who profoundly impacted my life.

Thank you, My Lord God, for letting me come to know your love and the infinite Love of Your Son through this one great man, Kevin Murrell.