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  • Reverend James Squire

Dr. Ernest Rosato


I recently posted a blog about people who have provided me with strength as they modeled it for others as well. I received a response from Rafe Rosato. It immediately recalled my relationship with his father, Dr. Ernest Rosato, one of the premier surgeons at Penn as well as across the nation. He trained many who have continued his healing ways.  Gerry, Ernie’s wife, and he sent all their children to EA. I think that there were nine. Ernie is a Penn icon who died when he was seventy-four.


The Rosato family had undergone tragedy with the death of their daughter, Sarah, from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a deadly cancer.  Their daughter Catherine went from Penn to Harvard Law and has a family. I often kid Rafe about the day that I was at Penn on a Saturday for a symposium. I was wearing an EA sweatshirt and was stopped on a bridge overpass by several coeds who stopped me and asked if I knew Rafe. When I said that I did, they swooned as people do for Taylor Swift. Rafe is strikingly handsome. He has logged more air miles than anyone I know and was recently promoted to administration in his company.


I must confess that the Rosato family are some of my favorites particularly for the memories they provided me. The girls were models of behavior. The guys not so much as they had more energy than any one person should have. I found them delightful.


I received a call from Ernie asking to meet with me. I could always depend on his picking up on his cellphone no matter what he was doing. He knew that I never called him about the weather.  When he entered my office, he sat in silence and looked around. Then he turned his head and looked me directly in the eye. I will never forget that moment when he declared, “Jim, I have been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I want you to help me get to the other side.”


You have heard of the book, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Album, chronically a journey during Morrie’s illness. For Ernie and me it was Thursdays with Ernie to describe our periodic meetings over two years.


As is often the case I took so much more from those meetings than Ernie received from my spiritual guidance. His soul was an open book! I always gave him homework of a prayer, thought, or piece of scripture for him to reflect on and for us to share when he came for a session. It came as no surprise to me that his favorite piece of scripture was the story of the Good Samaritan because that is the scripture that he lived out in his life.  He was the last stop for many who came to him, and he never refused anyone.


The content of our sessions together is too personal to share. Suffice it to say, he courageously opened his soul to look at what that end would mean to him and to pack his spiritual bags for the journey.


Ernie was a sharp dresser. He took pride in that. Ernie thought outside of the box particularly in his parenting of his kids with Gerry. His children were wildly popular at EA and would show up to dinner with their friends in tow. Gerry never knew how many would be there and she wanted to have enough food. As she and I stood on the sidelines watching a game, Ernie called and told her that the kids should make reservations by three or don’t bring a friend. The kids attended each other’s games as a gesture of support.


What you need to know about Ernie is the esteem with which he was held by his medical students. He was chosen faculty member of the year for sixteen straight years. He took his name off the ballot, and his medical students wrote it in anyway. His famous line while teaching was, “Now why did you do it that way?”


During one session with me Ernie was worried that there would be too many speakers at an evening to celebrate his life. He was afraid that it would be boring. Vicki and I were present for the event. I think that there were more like eighteen speakers who celebrated him as reflecting the best in humankind. In terms of flow, the evening passed as though we were there for minutes instead of a few hours. I remember that it just felt great to hear the accolades pouring forth. It made me feel great to be a human being.


The cancer took its toll. The thing that bothered him the most was not pain but the fatigue that ensued because of an intense chemotherapy routine.


When Ernie died, we had the service at the Class of 44 Chapel at EA. In a traditional Ernie priority way, he wanted the time to be such that residents doing interviews and staff could attend. One thing struck me the morning of the service. When I entered the chapel there was a loan woman sitting in the back. I greeted her. She was one of Ernie’s patients that others had given up on having surgery. She took a train and several buses to get to the chapel. Vicki took her to the cemetery for the interment. She was one of those lost souls who never forgot what he did for her as the world passed her by. No wonder that he chose the Good Samaritan as his favorite biblical anecdote. He accepted all of humanity into his surgical room.


A week after the service, the Chief of Surgery at Penn sent me a framed picture of him on the one side and Ernie on the other side of a resident symbolizing Ernie’s stature as a teacher. The inscription read, “The last Surgery That He Performed, October 3, 2011. The picture hangs in my home office. I learned so much from Ernie about spirituality and being a person of courage and strength. He knew that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.

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