We All Lost a Friend in Fr. Joe

Those of us who work in healthcare lost a cherished friend recently with the passing of Fr. Joseph Kukura. And while they may not know it, New Jersey’s poor and vulnerable citizens lost a hard-working advocate as well.

Fr. Joe, as we affectionately called him, was president of the Catholic HealthCare Partnership, an organization that provides support and services to New Jersey’s Catholic hospitals. Healthcare was his ministry, and he was especially committed to ensuring that New Jersey’s vulnerable and underserved residents had access to the healthcare services they need. He believed strongly in New Jersey’s charity care program – where all the state’s hospitals provide care to the poor and uninsured, regardless of their ability to pay. And he was a vocal advocate for the state to fulfill its obligation to those charity care patients by ensuring that hospitals receive an adequate level of reimbursement for that care – knowing that hospitals count on that funding to continue their caring missions.

Fr. Joe also was a respected healthcare ethicist, serving as an ethical consultant and as a member of the ethics board of many New Jersey hospitals. He artfully matched the Church’s tenets and teachings with many important issues in healthcare today. On the sensitive subject of stem cell research, he spoke loud and clear, noting that the Church supports ethically responsible research using umbilical cord and placenta blood. And he soothed the concerns of many families and healthcare practitioners alike with his counsel on end-of-life care, noting that life is sacred but it’s also fragile – and there is indeed a time when death must come.

Fr. Joe’s office is located at NJHA. To us, he was many things. He was a colleague, he was a friend, he was an avid golfer and Giants fan, and he was always there for us when we needed him personally or professionally. As the word travels regarding Fr. Joe’s passing, I have heard so many wonderful stories about how he has touched people in so many different ways, often in their time of need. I consider myself a better person for having known him, and I am not alone.

Mike Maron, president and CEO of Holy Name Hospital and a longtime friend of Fr. Joe’s, said he spent many hours talking with Fr. Joe about the mysteries of faith and life and death. Mike shared with me a poem that he and Fr. Joe both enjoyed, which neatly summed up Fr. Joe’s ever-positive attitude as his illness progressed.

“Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room….
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again."

Rest in peace, Fr. Joe.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 17:33

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