Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Father Stan Malnar MD: ‘I see goodness, generosity, commitment, self-sacrifice and the care of others in the name of the gospel’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 2, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Stan Malnar M.D.Father Stan Malnar MD is director of Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Maternity Clinic. (IR photo)

Being both a priest and a physician is, for Father Stanley Malnar MD, the most natural thing in the world. Looking back, he sees his life as “a whole series almost of accidents” in which God was clearly involved.

Quiet-spoken and thoughtful, the 59-year-old priest/physician smiles readily. He remembers well the days when, in the early 1960s, he decided that he wanted to become a priest.

Father Malnar grew up in Alaska, where his dad was a civil servant on a military base. “We would see priests of different dioceses and Religious communities” in Alaska, he recalls, “and for me the whole discernment process of going in the seminary and becoming a priest was probably 10 minutes. I approached a priest when I was a junior in high school and said that I wanted to be a priest. He asked me if I knew the difference between Religious and diocesan priests. I didn’t, but I said I did, out of the hesitation of that moment.

“He said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘Diocesan.’ I didn’t know. I had never lived in a diocese. All I knew was that my grandfather and aunts and uncles lived in Kansas City, and so I thought that meant that I would go to school in Kansas City, and I would be near relatives because I knew there was no seminary in Alaska. I told the priest that I wanted to study in Kansas City, and he said, ‘Good, we’ll get the papers.’ That was the end of the conversation.”

And that was the first “accident.”

Young Malnar wanted first to become a priest; that was his dream. He studied for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. Then another “accident” happened. The summer after he was ordained a deacon, in 1971, he was assigned to the Menninger Foundation, in Topeka, Kan., to complete a program in Clinical Pastoral Education.

“Out of that,” Father Malnar explains, “the clinical director of the program suggested that I go into medicine. I had thought about further studies but hadn’t seriously considered it, and certainly not medicine. If I hadn’t had that experience I would not have pursued it. And that happened by accident because I wasn’t initially scheduled for that summer of Clinical Pastoral Education.”

The more Deacon Malnar thought about it, the more doing medical studies sounded like a good idea, but at that time the Archdiocese of Kansas City was not open to the idea of a priest also becoming a physician. So Stanley Malnar looked around to see what his options might be, and he spied the future Archbishop of Seattle, then serving as bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Mont.

“I approached Bishop (Raymond) Hunthausen,” Father Malnar says. “We visited about it, talked about the possibilities, and I transferred dioceses.” He was ordained a priest in 1972 and spent the next two years in a parish before entering pre-med at Carroll College in Helena. He was then accepted by the University of Washington Medical School.

Seminarian Malnar had received a bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas Seminary College, Denver, in 1968. When he received his Master of Theology degree from St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, he graduated magna cum laude.

Father Malnar earned his medical degree in 1981, when he also received the Mason Clinic Award for Clinical Excellence. In 1984 he completed an internship in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver, where he was named Family Medicine Resident of the Year by the Colorado Academy of Family Medicine. Then came two years of residency at the same institution. He completed an Obstetrics fellowship at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Medical Center from 1984 to 1985. “My specialty,” he says, “is family medicine, and my special interest is OB.”

Father Malnar served as co-coordinator, with another physician, of a family medicine clinic in Kalispell, Mont., from 1985-1989. When the other physician left to complete a residency program elsewhere, Dr./Father Malnar moved to Spokane, where he worked for Group Health Northwest from 1989-1999 while serving on a volunteer basis at Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Maternity Clinic. In 1998, SHMC gave him its prestigious Sister Peter Claver Award, and in 1999 he was asked to become Director of the Maternity Clinic, a position he holds today.

Since there are physicians-in-training completing a residency in Family Medicine at SHMC, Father Malnar also holds the position of associate clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington Medical School. On weekends, he often helps out in Spokane-area parishes, filling in for an absent priest or lightening the pastor’s load.

Blending the roles of priest and physician has never been difficult for Father Malnar. “It has been a great gift and a great privilege,” he says. “It has allowed me a window into people’s lives, the priesthood and medicine, so that I see goodness, generosity, commitment, self-sacrifice and the care of others in the name of the gospel. I see that in physicians and nurses and all those who care for people and do it as a vocation and a kind of ministry.”

Father Malnar has been deeply impressed by the unique spirit and charism, or gift, of the Sisters of Providence, who founded Sacred Heart Medical Center. His small office in the SHMC Maternity Clinic now houses the desk and two chairs that were used by the late, legendary Sister Peter Claver, the Providence Sister who was president of SHMC from 1964 until 1988, and then as a senior executive until her death in 1991.

“What has made priesthood and medicine different for me – medicine has allowed me to see models who care for others in the healing ministry,” Father Malnar says. He sees “people who give their lives to others in parish ministry, day in and day out. It has been a great grace.”

Are there ever situations where, functioning as a physician, he is called upon to serve as a priest, or vice-versa?

“Sometimes I pray with people. Not always. I don’t have a hesitation to do that if it seems to be right. I don’t do that all the time, nor do I introduce myself in one way or the other. Sometimes a patient who knows me from a parish where I help out will ask for me.”

Father Mallnar’s big enthusiasm, as a physician, is the Maternity Clinic at Sacred Heart Women’s Health Center, where he works fulltime. In 1984, an OB/Gyn Residency program at SHMC ended, and so did the services that this program had provided for pregnant women staying at St. Anne Children’s Home.

The Maternity Clinic was in operation by 1989, and that is when Father Malnar began helping out there. The Maternity Clinic, he explains, “looks to women who cannot easily find care within the community. Funds to support the clinic come primarily from Sacred Heart Medical Center and Medicaid. Whatever resources are available that can help support the clinic,” the priest-physician says, “we try to help women to apply for that.

“The first question isn’t, ‘Do you have insurance or not?’ but ‘Do you need care?’ And then, if they qualify for any insurance – and many women do – we try to help them take advantage of that. I think you could say from the state’s point of view, they know that the economic concern of not offering that help (would mean that) the women would come in later for care and it would be more complicated; the cost of their care would be an immense burden and would fall to the public to take care of.”

A typical day for Father Malnar is filled with out-patient pregnancy care, and the services of the Maternity Clinic are pro-life in the most practical ways possible.

About 75 percent of the women who come to the Maternity Clinic are unmarried. “Most are young women, ages 17, 18, into their 20s,” he said. “Most are poor. Many work but don’t have health care insurance or other kinds of benefits associated with their work. There is a higher percentage of high risk patients compared to other practices.”

For 16-20 percent of the Maternity Clinic’s patients, drug abuse is part of the picture. Forty percent are smokers. About a third of the patients have experienced some form of abuse during their lives, “and that is divided evenly between physical abuse in the environment and sexual abuse,” Father Malnar said. “It’s geared more toward a younger patient population that is less well educated. About 50 percent have a high school diploma or are working towards a GED.”

Father Malnar emphasizes that this profile of Maternity Clinic patients may sound quite negative, but he begs to differ. “I see wonderful patients,” he says. “Everyone deserves care. No one should have to look for care or have to struggle to find care. Forty-six million people have no (medical) insurance in this country, and that is profound.”

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