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BENJAMIN-REACTION (SECOND UPDATE) Jul-14-2009 (640 words) With photos posted July 13 and 14. xxxn

Nation called 'fortunate' to have Alabama physician as Obama nominee

By Trista Turley
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said July 13 she thinks "this nation is so fortunate to have Regina (Benjamin) as surgeon general."

The Daughter of Charity made the comment in reaction to President Barack Obama's announcement earlier that day that he was nominating Dr. Regina Benjamin, 52, to be the next surgeon general of the United States. The Senate must confirm the nomination.

Benjamin, a Catholic, is founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala. The town is largely composed of the working poor and features a diverse population of whites, African-Americans and Asians.

Benjamin is renowned for her outreach to the poor, seeing patients regardless of their ability to pay for her services. When her clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Georges in 1998 and again by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benjamin personally financed a significant portion of its reconstruction.

Benjamin grew up attending Mass at the Shrine of Holy Cross Church in Daphne, Ala., which is in the Mobile Archdiocese. Benjamin's mother helped found the historically African-American parish on land procured by Benjamin's grandmother.

The family worked to establish the parish after growing tired of the segregation laws that forced them to sit in the back of their previous church. For years the parish was run by the Josephite priests and today is staffed by the Missionary Society of St. Paul.

Benjamin is now a lector at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile.

She holds a medical degree from the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and a master's degree in business administration from Tulane University in New Orleans.

In 1995 Benjamin became the first African-American woman and the first physician under 40 to be elected to the board of trustees of the American Medical Association.

"If you look at her resume, she could have made a ton of money," Sister Keehan said. "Instead she chose to stay in one of the poorest communities in Alabama to take care of people."

Pope Benedict XVI awarded Benjamin the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, a papal honor, in 2006. She also began a three-year term on the CHA board that year.

Retired Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile said Benjamin was nominated for the papal honor "first of all for her strong Catholic faith." Archbishop Lipscomb said Benjamin has been a strong supporter of Catholic education and has served on her parish council. The archbishop added that Benjamin's compassionate care for the poor also was a significant factor in her receiving the honor.

"In the medical profession she has been outstanding, particularly for poor people," he told Catholic News Service July 14.

Archbishop Lipscomb said he was pleased with Benjamin's nomination as surgeon general.

"I was delighted," he said. "She is a person who has a great sense of responsibility and is authentic in her Catholicism."

The archbishop's sentiments were echoed by Msgr. Michael Farmer, chancellor of the archdiocese and rector of the cathedral.

"I'm very happy with her being nominated," Msgr. Farmer told CNS in a phone interview July 13. "She's a very good woman and a very good doctor."

The priest said he asked parishioners at a Mass at the cathedral that day to pray for Benjamin, noting that the job of surgeon general will not be an easy one.

In his announcement of Benjamin's nomination, Obama indicated that his nominee for the post will be an instrumental voice in his push for health care reform in addition to her duties of promoting public health awareness.

Since her nomination was announced, conflicting reports have circulated on the Internet regarding Benjamin's stance on life issues. Archbishop Lipscomb told CNS that, to the best of his knowledge, her positions are consistent with those of the church.


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