Before they head back to their convent in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, Dr. Patrick Blaney tells the Missionaries of Charity to keep him in their prayers — and he doesn't collect a dime
Blaney, 62, a deacon at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Westmont, fills cavities, extracts teeth and cements crowns as a gift to religious clergy, nuns and other spiritual advisers. A longtime dentist with a modest yet modern three-room office in downtown Westmont, he has served many of his patients for decades.
"Clergy have a special place in my heart," Blaney said, adding that he started catering to clergy as soon as he graduated from dental school at Northwestern University 36 years ago. "I didn't consider that really a burden. … It was a reward in itself."
But his rationale for providing the complimentary care has evolved over the years. Blaney, who was raised in suburban Evergreen Park and west suburban Downers Grove, said he took after his father, an electrician who would wire and fix anything for anybody who asked.
Likewise, Blaney couldn't imagine charging a priest to cap a broken tooth, even when he worked for someone else.
He has had his own practice since 1986 in Westmont, where he and his wife, Jan, live in an apartment attached to his dental office.
But after traveling to Haiti in 2005 to volunteer in a dental clinic, he experienced a moment of conversion. Seeing the happiness and gratitude amid abject poverty, he realized he had to live out his faith more radically.
Suddenly every filling, every dental bridge, every trip to Haiti — at least 20 since then — became an act of ministry. Every morning, his mostly Catholic and evangelical employees pray before seeing the first patient.
"My patients should feel like God is loving them through me," he said.
Blaney believes his patients have helped guide him too.
The Missionaries of Charity have shared the spirituality of their founder, Mother Teresa, who encouraged humanity to "do little things with great love."
And a Protestant pastor in the dentist's chair gave him crucial advice when he became a deacon and started preaching in August: to simply enjoy the privilege of sharing the Gospel.
"As you listen to him, he's been called by God to do what he's doing," said that pastor, the Rev. Patricia Handley, 78, the associate pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook.
"His journey has really been putting one foot in front of the other as God has opened doors for him."
Blaney doesn't know how many thousands of dollars he has given up over the years.
"If I'm going to keep track of every penny, the Lord is going to keep track of everything I owe him," he said. "If I have a free heart, he will be generous with me."
Of course, like most dentists, Blaney encourages his patients to take better care of their teeth and gums. Even clergy sometimes forget to brush and floss religiously.
But the Rev. Gerald Tivy, 78, a retired priest now living in Northlake, said Blaney doesn't nag or scold.
"His spirituality and Christianity are just part of him, and they boil over in everything he does," said Tivy, who became Blaney's patient when the priest served as the administrator of Holy Trinity years ago. "He does it in a very kind, gentle way. It's almost as if he's patting you on the back and saying 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"