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In Memoriam: A powerful letter from a dying Black priest to his doctor

Reprint of a defiantly hopeful (and staunchly Catholic) letter from a Black priest in DC, who passed in 2009 from cancer.

(Catholic Standard)

Editor’s note: On December 31, 2009, Fr Sam Craig of the Archdiocese of Washington, 77, passed on into eternal life after an extended battle with cancer. He was the first Black priest to serve at St Francis de Sales Church, a predominantly Black congregation and the successor of the oldest parish in DC.

Below is a letter he penned to his doctor during his illness. It is reprinted here with the permission of Restoration, the official newspaper of the Madonna House Apostolate.

Dear Dr. [REDACTED],

First of all, I want to express my admiration for your caring professionalism. This might seem strange for a layman to compliment a professional, but I do not think you and Dr. [REDACTED] are aware of how many doctors had disappointed me before I encountered you two.

The other day, one of the staff related to me the conversation she had with you. She said that you expressed a concern that I do not seem to really appreciate the seriousness of my condition.

Usually I do not entertain a discussion with others when they misinterpret my reaction to what is occurring in my life, especially when my reaction has no bearing on their life.

However, because of my admiration for you, and because it makes a difference to me what you perceive, I would like to share with you a little of my philosophy of life.

This philosophy has guided me through much of my 73 years of living. It would require a book for me to fully describe this 73-year journey, but let if suffice to say that I have experienced, like everyone, alternate moments of discovery, of confusion, of misguided anger, of understanding, of joy, of love, of frustration, and of hope.

Having experienced the succession of and repetition of all these emotions, I have arrived at a lesson that can be succinctly stated: “I am not afraid to die.”

The unawareness by others that I live by this philosophy, often causes them to misinterpret my reactions to life as nonchalance or denial.

It is not a surprise to me that you could interpret my actions in this way. I can imagine that when you have to give a diagnosis of an illness as potentially fatal or terminal, such news must often be received with great sorrow, disappointment, and fear.

I have not adopted my lack of fear of dying in defiance of life, nor have I arrived at it from a stance of defeatism or pessimism. Rather, I have come to understand in my “Walk” that this life is not all there is to Life. Moreover, it is a truism that we all have to “walk the talk.”

When we Catholics celebrate the Mass on Sunday, we recite the Profession of Faith. To me, the closing line in this Creed is most pertinent in our journey through this life, for it says:

“We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

We humans are quick to hurl the epithet of “hypocrite” at one another, especially toward the ordained clergy who are often accused of not “walking the talk.”

However, I have always maintained to my congregation that I consider it to be a supreme hypocrisy to boldly proclaim this line in the Creed and then proceed to live as though I am frightened as hell of death.

None of us can be certain of how others will eulogize or memorialize us once we have crossed over the “bar.” But I will be satisfied if I have left just one person with this agenda for life:

Live with conviction, for the person who does not stand for something will fall for anything.

Learn with an insatiable appetite, for he who thinks he has nothing else to learn is among the living dead.

Love with all the passion you can muster, for it was this for which we were all sent.

Whatever the future holds, Dr. [REDACTED], thank you for passing my way.


Fr. Sam

Letter to My Doctor by Fr. Sam Craig, our associate priest who died of cancer - Madonna House Apostolate
Dear Dr. ——–, First of all, I want to express my admiration for your caring professionalism. This might seem strange for a layman to compliment...

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