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Gino G. Papola, doctor with a faith and a cause, dies at 91

GINO GAETANO PAPOLA was not only a busy physician, but a devoted Catholic who found time to lecture around the country on the sanctity of life.

GINO GAETANO PAPOLA was not only a busy physician, but a devoted Catholic who found time to lecture around the country on the sanctity of life.

He also was a regular visitor to the Vatican, where he was honored by two popes, met Mother Teresa (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) and other Catholic dignitaries and clergy.

He received Communion from Pope John Paul II and was honored with the Knighthood of St. Gregory by John Paul II and Pope Paul VI.

Dr. Gino Papola, who served leadership roles at St. Agnes Hospital, had his private practice for many years in Upper Darby, was two-term president of the International Association of Catholic Physicians, an Army veteran and devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather, died Christmas Eve. He was 91 and was living in a nursing facility in West Brandywine, but had lived in South Philadelphia, Drexel Hill and Bryn Mawr over the years.

Gino was a tough South Philadelphia native who suffered for years with complications from diabetes but never complained or felt sorry for himself. His response when anyone asked him how he was doing was: "No problem."

"He had a lot of guts," said his son, Dr. John S. Papola. "He was a great man."

Gino G. Papola was born in South Philadelphia to Gino A. Papola and the former Raffaela DiSilvestro, both of whom had immigrated in 1909 from L'Aquila, Abruzzi, Italy.

He attended South Philadelphia High School and went on to Temple University School of Medicine.

World War II was raging and the military needed doctors. Gino signed up, and one of his assignments was caring for wounded veterans at a base in Illinois. He was discharged with the rank of captain.

After graduating from Temple in 1944, Gino opened an office on Englewood Road in Upper Darby, where he also resided.

His late cousin, Dr. John DiSilvestro Jr., was his mentor in adult medicine when he joined the medical staff at St. Agnes Hospital in South Philadelphia in 1952.

He spent the next 50 years serving the South Philadelphia community at the hospital, while having evening office hours three times a week in Upper Darby.

In 1944, he married Marie DeStefano. She died on Christmas Eve 1959. Two years later, Gino married Dr. Mary Longo, who was also on the staff at St. Agnes Hospital. She died Nov. 19.

For many years, Gino worked day and night to care for his patients, but still found time for other pursuits. He was director of the St. Agnes School of Nursing, and, as his son put it, engaged in "countless gratis administrative and clinical roles."

This kind of dedication earned him honors, including the St. Agnes Achievement Award for Excellence and Dedicated Service, in 1996. He was president of the hospital medical staff and served on the board and on numerous committees.

Early in his medical career, Gino became involved with the National Federation of Catholic Physicians. His "energetic involvement," as his son put it, led him to become president in 1970.

Gino was devoted to the anti-abortion cause and was an early member of the Pro-Life Society, taking his belief that life begins at conception on lecture tours here and nationally.

This activity led him to the International Association of Catholic Physicians, of which he served two terms as president.

"He traveled the world with my new mom for 30-plus years, lecturing, debating and writing on medical ethics in everyday practice," his son said.

In February 2000, he led the Delegation of Physicians to Rome on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and received Communion from Pope John Paul II.

He received the Knighthood of St. Gregory, the highest honor given to nonclergy, from Pope Paul VI and later from John Paul II.

Gino was a lector at Sunday Mass at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 10th and Dickinson streets, and a eucharistic minister at St. John Neumann, in Bryn Mawr.

Gino was a "perpetual student," his son said. He was a historian and book-collector, specializing in American history, the founding fathers and the life of Abraham Lincoln.

"He was a proud, fluent, bilingual Italian-American," his son said. "He loved and frequently visited his cousins in Italy. He loved photography, political debate, economics and being a Scout assistant and camper with his sons."

"He was Anita's shining knight, long before the popes knighted him," John Papola said, referring to his sister, Anita Cellucci.

"He was blessed with the mutual love of his family, friends, patients, colleagues and clergy."

Through his long illnesses, "his only concern was the future of his family," John said. "He taught us how to live, love, and how to die."

Besides his son and daughter, he is survived by two other sons, Gino and Frank; a brother, Alfred; 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 11:30 a.m. Friday at St. John Neumann Church, 330 Highland Ave., Bryn Mawr. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. John Neumann Church, 330 Highland Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010.