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A loving approach to healing

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — Marianist Brother Bob Donovan has combined his love for Christ and his desire to help heal the human body into a fulfilling ministry. He is a family physician and the medical director of the Center for Respite Care and the Cincinnati Health Care for the Homeless Program. His patients affectionately call him “Brother Dr. Bob.”

“I always wanted to be a physician and a priest,” Brother Bob said. “There’s something about helping people and working with the human body. It’s all kind of wrapped together.”

Marianist Brother Bob Donovan is the medical director of the Center for Respite Care. (Courtesy photo)

Brother Bob explained that when it comes to health and wellness, the wellness component can be an art form for patients to maintain. The compassion and care for people’s health is “the way of Jesus,” he said.

“With Jesus, faith is about forming a relationship with people. It’s an integral part with getting people better,” Brother Bob said. “Getting better is so much more than handing someone a pill. Faith is how I live my life. People know my faith by what I do.”

Medical colleagues and the Center for Respite Care’s board of directors and staff honored Brother Bob’s work with the homeless and his commitment to God on March 12 at the Green Diamond Gallery in Montgomery.

The Cincinnati native graduated from St. Xavier High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati. He attended medical school at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo. As a physician, Brother Bob never gave up his desire to serve God through religious life. In the mid-1980s he visited various religious communities, but nothing clicked, he said.

“I felt nudged to help people who had less access to medical care,” Brother Bob said.

At the suggestion of the archdiocesan Vocation Office, Brother Bob was introduced to the Marianist order, in which he made his final vows in 1988.

Brother Bob served as part of a steering committee made up of the medical and nonprofit community to create the Center for Respite Care in Avondale. The facility, with 14 beds, assists 150 homeless men and women each year, works in conjunction with the Cincinnati Health Care for the Homeless Program. Patients typically receive care at the respite center for 30 days. During that time, patients are given referrals to help address issues surrounding their homelessness.

“We work with the whole person,” said Mary Beth Meyer, executive director of the Center for Respite Care. “We have a high success rate because we’re able to get them to a mental health treatment facility or a drug abuse treatment center. If you’re homeless, you’re wondering where your next meal will come from. You don’t have time to think of overarching issues like mental health and drug abuse.”

During patient check ups, Brother Bob has been known to counsel and pray with men and women. He said he doesn’t proclaim anything to his patients. “They see it in me, and that’s Jesus coming through,” he said.

Afterwards, the soft-spoken doctor with the kind demeanor spends time answering patients’ questions while they recuperate from their illness.

“Anytime he walks by and I have questions, he goes through and explains the do’s and the don’ts of my illness. He’s a constant help,” former patient Greg said, speaking on the condition of partial anonymity. He has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, depression and Hepatitis C.

Meyer, who worked with Brother Bob for seven years, said she didn’t know of Brother Bob’s vocation until months after meeting him. When she noticed his Bible in his brief case, he told her about his call to religious life.

“When I first met him, I was struck by his gentleness, kindness and compassion. It comes through,” Meyer said of Brother Bob. “He really cares about his patients. He may have seen them before (through Cincinnati Health Care for the Homeless) and he remembers them by name and he remembers their condition. He puts his all into every patient.”

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