Matercare International’s Dr. Robert Walley meets with Pope John Paul II. Photo courtesy of MaterCare International

Matercare names maternity hospital in Kenya after St. John Paul II

  • May 15, 2014

A Kenyan hospital specializing in maternal care that was co-founded by a Canadian doctor is being credited as the first health care facility in the world to be named after St. John Paul II.

On April 27, within an hour of Pope John Paul II’s canonization, Dr. Robert Walley and Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo of the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo announced that a local hospital will be named St. John Paul II Maternity Hospital.

Walley is the executive director of MaterCare International, a Canadian organization of Catholic health care professionals caring for mothers, their newborns and unborn babies.

In 2005, he received an e-mail from Bishop Luigi Locati, the then-bishop of Isiolo, who invited Walley to visit him.

“He asked me to tell him what to do about maternal mortality and suffering mothers,” said Walley. “From the obstetrical point of view... most of the deaths occur during the last three months of pregnancy, during labour and delivery or a week afterwards.”

Walley was interested, but said he couldn’t visit the bishop at that time because he was heading for Rwanda. But Locati wouldn’t take no for an answer. Walley says the bishop replied almost immediately: “If you want to go to Rwanda, you have to go through Nairobi (Kenya).” Isiolo is just north of Nairobi.

Just around the time Walley and Locati started planning for the hospital, Pope John Paul II had died, and the pair thought the hospital would be “a marvelous memorial” to the late pontiff.

“He gave his life for motherhood. Mary was his champion,” said Walley of John Paul II. He describes the pontiff as a father figure.

When he found out John Paul II was “on the fast track” to sainthood, Walley said they held off on their renaming plans until the right time.

But tragedy would strike three months later when Locati was murdered. So this year when Walley and Mukobo announced at Mass that the hospital would be named after St. John Paul II, they also announced that the hospital would be a memorial to Locati. Parishioners erupted in applause.

The hospital has been known as the Apostolic Vicartiate of Isiolo MaterCare Maternity Hospital and has been running for the past year. The hope is that the hospital will see 1,500 babies delivered annually. It serves rural women and children and also specializes in fixing obstetrical fistulas, which occur when mothers become incontinent as a result of obstructed labours and inaccessibility to caesarean deliveries. Fixing fistulas means stopping a lifetime of humiliation for these women.

“What mothers want is the best of health care,” said Walley, and St. John Paul II became a champion for that cause.

Walley met St. John Paul II about half a dozen times. In 1985, John Paul II named Walley consulator to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

“The Holy Father and many others thought there was an urgent need to have an organization, a professional, obstetrical voice for the Church of specialists like me, who supported and practised what the magisterium was saying in terms of maternal health care and (Pope Paul VI’s papal encyclical) Humanae Vitae,” said Walley. And so MaterCare was established as a result.

“He said the Church has never needed you (obstetricians) so much as it does now. That is what he said to us in 2001,” said Walley. “And he said, you have to do the work of the Gospel of Life professionally and do it well. But then he said it’s up to the whole Church to help you.”

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