On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.


In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.


Prolife? Give, don’t gloat.

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which effectively overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

There’s a lot of vitriol on social media right now—on both sides. I’m trying to stay out of the way of that, but I think it’s important to consider constructive responses to the situation, rather than destructive reactions.

If you’re prolife, don’t take the opportunity to gloat today.

Instead, take the opportunity to give.

Crisis pregnancy centers and organizations such as Good Counsel Homes that offer housing, educational, and work opportunities to women can use your funds, your time, your donations of goods, and your prayers.

What kinds of things can you give?

  • diapers (especially the larger sizes)
  • wipes
  • baby formula
  • bedding
  • clothing
  • supermarket gift cards

To find a crisis pregnancy center near you, google “abortion alternatives” followed by your zip code or “pregnancy center near me.” It’s that easy! Then reach out and find out how to make your donation.

For people who say that helping babies is all well and good, but what happens when the kids outgrow the cribs but still need food, clothing, shelter, and daycare? The St. Vincent de Paul Society has them covered. This organization helps individuals and families by providing funds for food, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and more. You can donate funds or gift cards forlocal supermarkets.

You can also budget for extra groceries each week and make donations to your local food pantry. Summer, in particular, is a time of greater demand at food pantries, because children are out of school and missing the breakfast and lunch they often received there. Be sure to include some kid-friendly, easy-to-prepare options.

If you think about it, the most prolife thing anyone can do is to carry out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Maybe you can’t do all of them. But you can do some of them. You can do at least one: pray for the living and the dead. But I’m sure you can find a way to do others, no matter your current situation.

Be creative! A group of musicians from my parish tonight will be taking advantage of today’s beautiful weather and visiting a homebound parishioner—and we’ll bring the music with us. Usually we call her during our weekly rehearsal and sing to her, but we wanted to do something more. She’ll get a mini-concert, featuring the music we’ll sing at Sunday Mass. That work of mercy costs us nothing but our time. And she was thrilled, when I called her at lunchtime, to tell her I’d be stopping by later with a surprise.

Now is the time to begin the work of building a post-Roe America,” the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated.

Be a giver, not a gloater—today and every day. That’s how we build a post-Roe America.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Stencil

"When it's better not to know" (FranciscanMom.com)

When it’s better not to know

This morning at Mass, we heard the readings for the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn. My pastor used the optional reading: Matthew 18:1-5, 10-14.

In his homily, he spoke about our desire for physical perfection: how people spend billions of dollars and devote countless hours to the pursuit of physical beauty.

Father then mentioned that people’s desire for physical perfection has extended toward their own children, that he has encountered many women who confided that they were advised that their unborn child might have some imperfection, based on a prenatal test, and that they resisted the doctor’s gentle (or not-so-gentle) suggestion to abort their child — only to have their child born perfectly healthy. How many others were there, he wondered, that had not approached him (or his fellow priests) to discuss this? How many others took their doctor’s advice at face value?

Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

How many children were sacrificed on the altar of perfection on the basis of an inaccurate prenatal test?

A friend of mine had that test and received that unwelcome news that something might be wrong with her child. She spent the rest of her pregnancy agonizing, wondering if her child would be ok. Today, that child is a young teenager, a leader in her school, a hard worker, an honor student, and a talented baker. Who knows what else she’ll be capable of as she grows up and explores her interests?

I didn’t hear the rest of the homily, because I started wondering what would happen if prenatal tests were developed that could pinpoint conditions that were not congenital, but ones toward which an unborn child were genetically predisposed.

What if there had been a test that would have told me that my youngest child would develop Type 1 Diabetes sometime during his childhood?

It wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker for me. But for someone who has been conditioned to expect perfection at any price, it might be.

I know how my life has been changed because TheKid is in it, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world (much as I may rant about his legendary talent for missing the school bus).

What if there had been a test?

So what?

He’s still my child. Taller than me, but still my child. Not perfect by any means (diabetes or no diabetes), but still my child.

If I had known, what would I have done different? Not too much, but there would have been a whole lot more worrying.

I was considered “advanced maternal age” when I was pregnant with TheKid, and I refused all testing for anything that couldn’t be fixed before birth (at that time, that means I agreed to an ultrasound to rule out spina bifida and a blood-glucose test to rule out gestational diabetes).

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

… and whoever received one child such as this in my name receives me (Matthew 18:5)

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Fierce like Francis

While all Secular Franciscans follow the same call, to live a Gospel life in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, every Secular Franciscan follows this call differently, according to his or her own abilities and state of life. Every Secular Franciscan has a particular way in which we can say that he or she is like Francis.

Eileen was fierce like Francis.

Despite the many difficulties, health crises, and hardships she endured in her later years (or maybe because of them), Eileen was not about to waste time thinking but never acting. She challenged us: are we doing enough? Are we praying enough? Are we listening to God enough? What is God telling us to do?

Sometimes Eileen would come to a Secular Franciscan gathering and ask bold questions, seemingly out of nowhere. But those questions were born of her deep faith and constant prayer. When she was not physically able to do more, she always prayed and contemplated.

In Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, Pat Gohn noted,

The good of the Gospel is that it leads us to new life in Christ and, ultimately, eternal life in heaven. This gospel of life has a very practical application for Christians. A woman’s influence in the world consists of being a guardian of life. We give witness to it in our very nature, and that should extend to the moral leadership we have wherever we live and work. (161)

Indeed, Eileen was a mother and grandmother, giving witness to the gift of life; but her work did not stop there. Eileen had a deep concern for the unborn, and she participated in the March for Life as she was able. Throughout the year, she worked to keep the cause of the vulnerable unborn in the public eye by writing letters to the editor of our local newspaper, many of which were published.

St. Francis had many fierce moments in his life: his embrace of the leper, his journey to Egypt with the aim of converting the Sultan, his refusal to stay in the fine monasteries he’d advised the brothers not to build, his renunciation of his father’s wealth. Some might call these reckless moves, but they were not at all reckless. They were born of faith and prayer and a wish to live up to very high ideals. They required courage and fierceness.

The dream of Pope Innocent III: Francis holds up the Lateran Basilica with his shoulder. Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Early in his ministry, St. Francis traveled to Rome to receive papal approval of his rule of life. Pope Innocent III hesitated in granting this approval, thinking that Francis’ way of life was impractical. But according to legend, Innocent dreamed he saw Francis propping up the Basilica of St. John Lateran with his shoulder — and this convinced him to give his blessing to the Franciscans. It’s fitting, then, that we celebrate Eileen’s life today, on the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the first physical church building and the symbol of the Church that Francis had set out to rebuild.

Not all of us are courageous enough to be fierce like Francis. But Eileen was, and all of us who knew her are better for her boldness.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

fierce like francis

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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Housing Fight Concerns More than Affordability

children not welcome seniors only
Map: Google Maps. Title added in Canva.

I opened the local newspaper yesterday and read that my town is embroiled in a legal battle over affordable housing. (I’m going to quote heavily because the article will be behind a paywall soon.)

The nonprofit advocacy group alleges that the Township Council is trying to skirt its affordable housing obligations by claiming there isn’t enough vacant space for substantially more low-income homes or apartments, even though the Planning Board recently approved the development of two large age-restricted housing projects. Neither included affordable units.

The spokesman for the Fair Share Housing Center noted that Delran is “intent on locking out working families.”

But the mayor’s comment reveals that there’s more to the story.

“We felt those (age-restricted communities) would have a minimal impact on schools and be good for Delran,” Mayor Ken Paris said Thursday.

This is all about the impact on the schools–it’s not really about affordability at all.

My town doesn’t want to add any housing that might wind up housing children.

And they’re not ashamed to say so.

From what I’ve seen in the past, few towns are interested in building houses that are not age-restricted. No one wants to add children to the school population.

Council President Gary Catrambone said the township has been working for years to keep development at a minimum to help control property taxes and school overcrowding.

That’s their plan for keeping taxes down (a plan which, by the way, isn’t working out so well here): they’ll welcome children only to existing housing. People who want to buy brand-new houses will have to find some other town in which to live.

That plan says a lot about the local government’s priorities (and the priorities of the people who run local government and the people who voted for the mayor and town council.

Delran officials countered that their intent in approving age-restricted housing was to keep the township affordable by expanding its tax base without overburdening the school system with new children.

In a town that’s full of playgrounds and soccer fields (and building more of both all the time), no one seems too eager to welcome the children who would use those amenities. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before our playgrounds turn into dog parks.

Dogs–and seniors–are still welcome here, after all.

Children are the future; there doesn’t seem to be much future here.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

"#WorthRevisit: It's Not Magic" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (Franciscanmom.com)

#WorthRevisit: Booties and Diplomas

The story of a pregnant high-school senior who wasn’t allowed at her own graduation ceremony has been all over the news.

For many years I was a homebound tutor for several local school districts. I have plenty of experience with pregnant and postpartum high-school students.

I do enjoy the one-on-one work with a student who is too ill/injured/postpartum/pregnant/anxious/depressed to attend school. (Yes, I’ve had students in each of these categories–as well as a few discipline cases and a couple of malingerers.) There are students I’ve only taught for 2 weeks or so before they return to school. Most of them, I never hear about again.

Every once in a while I run into one of my students, who lived here in town and had a baby girl during her senior year of high school. I was paid to be her English tutor, but I also did a good bit of informal encouragement; this young mom was breastfeeding her daughter, keeping up with her classes, and handling quite a bit of the housework. She later married the father of her baby and they have another child as well; now she’s a stay-at-home mom, although she did work quite hard when her little girl was young, managing a Domino’s Pizza. Her resilience, determination and dedication served her and her family well, and it touches my heart that every so often, SHE recognizes ME. She is eager to tell me how things went for her family and I love to hear how well they are all doing.

I remember that student so well. I held her 10-day-old baby while this student took a test on Shakespeare. My student was mortified when the baby threw up all over my sweater; as I’d had several years of motherhood under my belt (and was wearing layers), I just shrugged off the sweater and went on with the test. She was from the same Catholic high school that all 3 of my kids attended (my youngest is a student there now).

There’s nothing magic about a faith-based high school that will make it immune from problems like drinking or drugs or bullying or teen pregnancy.

What is different about a faith-based high school is the way it should be supporting a teen in any of those situations. Support does not mean condoning their actions but it certainly means helping them accept the results of their actions with grace.

Audrey Assad observed on Twitter, “How many teen girls at that school will quietly get abortions because they watch how maddie’s being treated and talked about by the school?”

Moms who give birth and then go on to finish high school do not have it easy. Many times they have it even tougher at home than your average student, and the fact that they rise to the challenge of their circumstances is not grounds for punishment.

If we claim to be prolife, what do we do for high-school students like this one? Banning her from graduation is not the answer.

Not even close.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Exercise Your Freedom While You Still Have Some

I thought it would be good to revisit a prolife post today. Because just the other day, a grand jury indicted the prolife investigator behind the videos that broke this summer, exposing Planned Parenthood’s black-market baby-parts side business. The prosecutor in this case has a conflict of interest, but that doesn’t matter to those who perpetuate the lies behind the abortion industry.

That in the same week that prolife people commemorate the sad anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Prolife leaders worry that others will be scared about speaking up after David Daleiden’s indictment.

Worth revisiting today is my commentary on a homily I heard at my parish during the Fortnight for Freedom in 2013:

Our parish is blessed to have three deacons whose faith very obviously animates and guides them, who are not afraid to keep it real and who speak simply from their own experience. Each deacon, of course, has different stories, different strengths, different gifts that benefit our parish.

Deacon T is an attorney who is well-read, well-informed and well-spoken. He is not afraid to discuss difficult topics from the pulpit.

He made me think of Pope Francis when he began his homily by stating that he didn’t have all his notes because his computer printer had broken–and that he was sure Satan was behind that technical difficulty. (But guess what, Satan–Deacon T managed without those notes, because the force of grace will always prevail.)

Deacon T spoke very plainly about the leading cause of death in our country. It is not car accidents, cancer or heart attacks. It is abortion, which kills more people each year than the “top 2 causes of death” put together. He had the numbers to prove it. He spoke about how our tax dollars pay for this–and how it is absolutely against what we as Catholics believe. He spoke about how, if we are to follow Jesus as he called us to do in this Sunday’s Gospel, we need to take action to prevent government actions like the HHS mandate that rob us of the freedom to live as we believe. He spoke about the tragedy of millions upon millions of lives lost, and how we do not know how those lives would have touched others.

If you can’t go for big gestures (and many of us can’t), there are plenty of small ways you can advance the cause of life.

  • Pray. And then pray some more.
  • Vote–with the presidential election coming up this fall, carefully consider your chosen candidate’s prolife record. Can you, in good conscience, support someone who’s pro-abortion?
  • Check out Ways to Honor a Baby (whose life was ended by abortion) at 50 Million Names for some great ideas. Many of these are things kids can do! See more about 5o Million Names at my Tech Talk at CatholicMom!
  • Help your local pregnancy crisis center or Good Counsel Home. I try, each month, to purchase a box of diapers for the local pregnancy crisis center. (And I buy the big sizes, because many of the moms who use the resources at this center have older babies, and everyone donates newborn stuff. That’s a protip from my friend Arline, who volunteered at the pregnancy crisis center for decades.)
  • DAVIDSLABEL2016_1024x1024
    Image via Lifeboat Coffee.

    Buy some coffee. Seriously. I buy Lifeboat Coffee, which donates 10% of the proceeds from each purchase to the prolife charity of the customer’s choice–and there are plenty to choose from! Right now, they’re offering an “I Stand with David” blend; $30 a pound is a premium price, but 100% of the proceeds on this coffee goes to support David Daleiden’s legal defense and his colleagues.

What are some other things you and your family can do to speak up–and to help women and babies in danger of abortion?

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!