March 6: William W. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine, 1911, 1953

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

William W. Mayo

Charles F. Menninger

William W. Mayo, with his two sons, William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo, built St. Mary’s, the first general hospital in Minnesota. When a devastating tornado struck Rochester, Minnesota, in August 1883, the Mayos joined with the Sisters of St. Francis to respond to the disaster. This partnership between the Episcopalian Mayos and the Roman Catholic Sisters raised a few eyebrows, but became well known for a new type of patient care that emphasized the whole person, spiritually as well as physically.

Building on a vision of doctors working as a team with other medical professionals, not as solo diagnosticians, the Mayos aggressively opened their doors to other doctors and medical researchers. St. Mary’s Hospital and what would become The Mayo Clinic became a model for integrating person-centered medical care with the best in cutting edge scientific and medical research. The Mayo Clinics continue today as outstanding centers for patient care and medical research.

Charles F. Menninger, together with his sons, Karl and William, were pioneers in establishing a new kind of psychiatric treatment facility in Topeka, Kansas, founded in 1925. They played a major role in transforming the care of the mentally ill in ways that were not only more medically effective, but were also more humane. Among the notable accomplishments of the Menninger Clinic has been its advocacy for better treatment and a more informed public policy in support of the needs of the mentally ill.

In 1973, Dr. Karl Menninger wrote the influential book Whatever Became of Sin? The work looks at sin—personal, corporate, and systemic—and insists that recognizing sin, within us and among us, is a key component in personal and relational health. He believed strongly that naming sin and dealing with its consequences contributes positively to good health in persons and in communities. The book was a standard textbook in theological seminaries for a generation or more.

The work of the Mayos and Menningers was transformative because of their commitment to treating the whole person—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.


I     Divine Physician, your Name is blessed for the work and witness of the Mayos and the Menningers, and the revolutionary developments that they brought to the practice of medicine. As Jesus went about healing the sick as a sign of the reign of God come near, bless and guide all those inspired to the work of healing by thy Holy Spirit, that they may follow his example for the sake of thy kingdom and the health of thy people; through the same Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II     Divine Physician, we bless your Name for the work and witness of the Mayos and the Menningers, and the revolutionary developments that they brought to the practice of medicine. As Jesus went about healing the sick as a sign of the reign of God come near, bless and guide all those inspired to the work of healing by your Holy Spirit, that they may follow his example for the sake of your kingdom and the health of your people; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38:1-8

Acts 5:12-16

Luke 8:40-46

Psalm 91:9-14

Preface of the Epiphany

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

16 Responses to March 6: William W. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine, 1911, 1953

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect. There are just too many words in this collect. It needs a re-write.

    Readings. Psalm: Why not include verses 15 & 16 to finish the Psalm?
    Apocrypha reading: This is the ‘doctors’ reading – God bless them. My son is a doctor himself. But, it seems a little self-serving for this commemoration.
    Gospel: 17 verses – This is unusually long for HWHM Gospels.

    Bio. Why are these honorable men in HWHM? It just seems odd to me to include them.
    The last paragraph needs to be the first paragraph to tell us who they are and why they are important. There is no information regarding their births or deaths either.

    • Michael Hartney says:

      D Littlepage,
      Would you please include the brackets in the title printed in the hard copy of HWHM which indicate those commemorations that are for Trial Use during the triennium 2009-2012? Otherwise it appears that every every commemoration is equal in status.

  2. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    I, too, am puzzled about these two people, Certainly their contributions to medicine are significant, but the writer gives no information about how their faith may have informed their work. Menninger’s book is I guess an indication that he regarded psiritual health as important, but surely that’s not unique.

  3. John Morrell says:

    I too do not understand why these gentlemen are included. They are certainly important to the development of modern medicine. and no doubt were sincere Christians, but were not, so far as I can tell primarily driven a desire to promote the faith.

    Surely physicians are well enough served by their traditional patron, St. Luke (October 18th), without adding these men to the calendar.

    At least the Mayos were Episcopalians. That is a refreshing change after our recent long string of Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Jews and Anglican turncoats to Rome.

  4. Monte Mason says:

    Explanations of such commemorations as these must necessarily be brief, so it is difficult to know how much material is conflated into only a few sentences. Yet from what very little I know about the doctors Mayo and St. Mary’s in Rochester, it is enough to suggest that there is a possibility that the story is a bit too overgeneralized. But, since I have already admitted to a limited knowledge, I hope to be proved a bit, too, um, overgeneralized myself.

    Nevertheless, did the Mayo brothers having already started their own group practice, really build St. Mary’s, or were they in the right spot to encourage the nuns to build? I was under the impression that the good sisters came up with the idea on their own.

    • You’re right about St. Mary’s Hospital. It was built by the Catholic Sisters of St. Francis, under the direction of Mother Alfred Moes. She persuaded the sisters in that teaching order to become dedicated to the sick as nurses in the hospital. Dr. W.W. Mayo was at first against the idea of a hospital in Rochester, MN.

      I wrote the only biography of W.W. Mayo ever written, “I Started All This: the Life of Dr. William Worrall Mayo.”

      Dr. W.W. Mayo did, however, establish the ethos of the Mayo Clinic, which is accurately described in today’s post.

      Judith Hartzell

  5. John LaVoe says:

    William W. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine, 1911, 1953
    TITLE: It seems odd to commemorate “and their sons” without naming them in the title. It’s not like there are so many we couldn’t fit them all in, nor that we never name more than two individuals per title. Are they worth commemorating, or are they just relatives of someone worth commemorating? How would it be titled if instead of sons they were second cousins or mothers-in-law? Name the sons in the title!
    GENERAL: I want to affirm the comments about the lack of “holy” in this description, and disagree with the sentiment sometimes expressed that only Episcopalians/Anglicans be considered (among post Reformation candidates), although I will repeat my sense that SOME guideline should be adopted indicating how far inclusiveness extends (e.g., Quadrilateral, Canon law, Trinitarian, non-lethal use of Kool Aid, etc).
    BIOGRAPHY: What we have here is something akin to an account of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with generalities thrown in about how important computer development has been, thanks to its “pioneer” Bill Gates, but lacking anything about the “holiness” for which HWHM is named. If it were an exam we’d send it back with the comment, “not responsive to the question.” I’m first to recognize that lay people aren’t called to be “church mice” in carrying out their vocation in the world (including physicians), but HWHM still has the burden of framing their life (including, in most cases if not all, their work) as their living of the baptismal covenant. Besides their role as part of “the church scattered” (vocation, activity, contribution to society, etc.) we should AT LEAST tell something about their having, and maintaining, their role within the “church gathered” (“in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,” — among others). On this ground this biography fails. It’s a somewhat awe-struck description of their institutions, and that’s all.
    In terms of the description that is given, I am exasperated with generalizations that are void of information, and indeed are value judgments in disguise. Examples:
    1) “a new type of patient care that emphasized the whole person, spiritually as well as physically.” In the first place, I doubt that nobody previously thought of caring for patients “spiritually as well as physically” in all the centuries of civilization – so I doubt it was “new.” In the second place, this is not a uniquely Christian option; every culture brings its ideology to its major endeavors regardless of how they define (or defame) “spiritual.” Homeopathic traditions come to mind as examples. Celts, Pagans, etc. are likely to have done this in their several ways. But mostly, I object that this tells us ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how or what the Mayos and Menningers did that was specifically different (or Christian). Empty words! It’s more the stuff of “advertising copy” than of hagiography.
    2) “a model for integrating person-centered medical care with the best in cutting edge scientific and medical research.” What’s the alternative to “person-centered” care, bed spring centered care? This reads like a melodramatic pseudo-documentary intended to endear an institution to a clientele. I’m not knocking the Mayo Clinic, just the ad agency that wrote this description for HWHM. (“The Mayo Clinics continue today as outstanding centers for patient care and medical research.”) Ditto.
    3) Menninger: – a “new kind of psychiatric treatment facility” Can we have a clue? Do we have to guess? WHAT “new kind”? — “They played a major role in transforming the care of the mentally ill in ways that were not only more medically effective, but were also more humane.” What did they do, lower the voltage? I’m annoyed with these information-less assertions. ONE example — anything — would satisfy me. If we’re not going to tell anything specific, the whole write-up could just be, “take our word – they’re inspiring and holy.” – “Among the notable accomplishments of the Menninger Clinic has been its advocacy for better treatment and a more informed public policy…” Am I being hypercritical or doesn’t everyone in that discussion think their own ideas advocate for “better treatment” and “more informed public policy,” regardless of which ideas they espouse? These are truisms, not informational statements. The same goes for, “… in support of a major role in transforming the care of the mentally ill in ways that were not only more medically effective, but were also more humane.” My Fair Lady put it well, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of [empty] words.”

    The final paragraph simply tells that KM wrote a book that received a lot of attention in seminaries. So did Billy Graham, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, and (as I was reminded recently) Louie Lamour. “Whatever Happened to Sin” is not a great concern right now – the question for HWHM should be, Whatever Happened to “Holy”?
    COLLECT: “Divine Physician” has some precedent, although I can’t quite place it, nor find it in scripture. The ending says “through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit” – but “you” here is meant as God the Father, even though the prayer’s addressee is “Divine Physician,” which (I believe) refers not to God the Father but to God the Son. So it’s not a Trinitarian closing as it stands. (The easy fix is to substitute “the Father” for “you” in the closing.) Those are the good parts.
    The rest of the collect is garbled. It thanks God for the M&Ms, “and the revolutionary developments that they brought to the practice of medicine.” I still don’t know a single “development,” based on the write-up, never mind if they’re “revolutionary” or not. Then, “As Jesus went about healing the sick as a sign of the reign of God come near…” opens the next sentence. With such an opening one would expect something approximating “so may abc (somebody else) do xyz (something similar to what Jesus did).” That’s not what we have. Instead it turns into the horribly wordy and foggy, “bless and guide all those inspired to the work of healing by your Holy Spirit…” (It could instead be “may those in the healing profession do xyz,” “may those in the field of medicine do xyz,” or, “so may those called to serve you in the healing arts do xyz”). It could finish the xyz thought with something like, “be channels of your healing grace and signs of your gift of eternal life.” Instead, it abandons the symmetry of “as Jesus did x, may (ABC) do xyz,” ending instead with, “that they may follow his example for the sake of your kingdom and the health of your people.” As the great bard once so eloquently averred, “yuck.”
    Gospel: Begin at 42b (“As he went, the crowds pressed in on him”). Verse 40 unnecessarily introduces the crowd, which is mentioned in context at 42b. Verse 41 introduces Jairus, whose story is omitted by virtue of the present ending verse. The reading only tells of the woman, and the conclusion of her story requires the addition of 47-48 (sorry Michael). I suggest changing from Luke 8:40-46, to Luke 8:42b-48. (See 46, 47, 48, below.)
    46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me;
    for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”
    47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling;
    and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she
    had touched him,
    and how she had been immediately healed.
    48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
    The other readings seem to lose their theological moorings. There are better choices. Remember the connection to the message of God’s good news, not just the AMA’s good news.
    CONCLUSION: As it stands, this is not adequate for HWHM because of deficiencies in bio, collect, readings and title.

    • Lin Jenkins says:

      An additional note on the names being commemorated: of Menninger’s 3 sons, only 2 went into medical practice with him. Karl is mentioned; Will was also part of “the firm,” but Edwin went into sales. Charles Menninger is consistently referred to as “C.F. in the Menninger clinic’s publications.

      And I agree with pretty much everyone posting: these men may have been pioneers but they weren’t especially unique, not were they “holy” in any sense that I can see. I think this wildly scattershot approach to choosing honorees does TEC a disservice. How do these gentlement stack up against the many heroic men and women in medicine who toiled selflessly to save others, often at the cost of their own lives? The Martyrs of Memphis (September 9) come to mind.

      I hope that when the evaluation of those named in HWHM comes around, this commemoration will be dropped.

    • John LaVoe says:

      “Yuck” should have been “yucketh.”

  6. Suzanne Sauter says:

    I agree with John LaVoe’s comment about the “advertising agency” quality of the bio written for Dr. William W. Mayo and the Mayo Clinic. Once the Mayo Clinic was a model for salaried physicians and the group practice of medicine. Now the “Mayo Clinic” includes a medical school, schools of graduate medical education, hospitals and multiple practices in at least three locations. The Mayo Clinic has become a multi- billion dollar health care system. I realize that during the health care debates of two years ago that the Mayo health care system was held up as a model for good quality, less expensive medical care. The bio-psycho-social approach to medicine was, if not innovative, an important change in the culture of medicine during the 20th century. Medicine was focused on disease, if not bed springs. Therefore issues physicians now think about receive more consideration. Examples might include the ability to afford the medication prescribed or if a person can really remember to take a medication more than once or twice a day. Also, the Mayo brothers were primarily surgeons. It was Dr. Henry S. Plummer who joined the Mayo Clinic practice who really designed many of the systems that made the Mayo Clinic unique in its use of consultative and collaborative medical practice during the first half of the 20th century. None of these seem to be a reason to include the Mayo family for commemoration.

    The Menninger approach to psychiatry was to introduce “milieu” therapy to the United States. In “milieu therapy” patients are encouraged to form therapeutic communities for extended periods of time. This has been largely replaced with pharmacological therapy and outpatient support groups. For many behavior disorders, the group approach can be very helpful. Again I have to agree with the above comments. I do not see how this fits with “holy men.”

  7. Keith Charles Edwards says:

    Why not? We Episcopalians are like firemen. We never turned down a call, yet.

  8. Celinda Scott says:

    Suzanne, that’s all very interesting. Thanks! Question: how are “therapeutic communities” different from “outpatient support groups”?

  9. Michael Weylandt says:

    I’d also just like to point out that the beginning of the Rite I collect should have “thy” instead of your. That said, I agree with all those who vote for a re-write.

  10. Nigel Renton says:

    Much though I appreciate the life and work of these doctors, it seems a stretch to include them in our sanctoral calendar. I further find that my usual concern for dates and place of birth and death would be out of place with a group of five persons.

  11. Pingback: March 5 – Drs. Mayo and Menninger : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: