A Doctor Looks at Jesus
By Cheryl Dickow
Posted June 27, 2008
As many of the regular Catholic Exchange visitors may have noticed, there is a book quietly calling for your attention in a number of different spots on the site. The book is Letters to Luke by Joe Holoubek and I recently enjoyed both reading the book and having Dr. Holoubek’s daughter, Martha, participate in the online study I moderated for Catholic Exchange.
I found the book beautifully written and revealing on many levels. It seemed at once historically accurate in the way in which the characters lived and moved and spoke during the time of Christ, while also clearly being a work of fiction that allowed the reader to get involved in the characters and storyline. I loved the format and found myself picking it up and quickly seeing Dr. Holoubek’s own love of his Catholic faith come flooding through. It wasn’t just enough for me to enjoy reading the book, I wanted to know more about Dr. Holoubek, who has since passed away. I asked Martha for an interview and she graciously agreed.
CE: Letters to Luke, by your father, Joe E. Holoubek, MD, truly seems like a labor of love. In reading it, I feel that your father’s love for your mother shines through in the main characters Joseph and Elisa. Tell me a little about your father, may he rest in peace, and his writing this beautiful book.
Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald: He did write the book, in part, to pay tribute to my mother, Dr. Alice Baker Holoubek. That’s why we call Letters to Luke three books in one: a historical novel, a love story, and a book-length parable.
Affectionately called “Dr. Alice” and “Dr. Joe,” my parents practiced medicine together for more than 40 years. She was one of the first women graduates of LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He was a consulting cardiologist and internist who played the lead role in founding LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport.
But they were as widely known for their devotion to each other and the Church as for their professional and civic achievements. In the ‘50s they began a study of death by crucifixion, and over the years gave more than 300 presentations on the sufferings of Christ at Calvary as seen by a physician.
After retirement, they took about forty courses in Bible studies, church history, and theology at Greco Institute, the adult education program of the Diocese of Shreveport. What they learned from those studies–and a 1978 trip to the Holy Land–clearly fed my father’s imagination.
About 15 years ago, he fell gravely ill and dreamed he was in first-century Nazareth. He was in the synagogue when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and angered the crowd, but he did not defend Him.
The guilt my father felt after he recovered lingered until he started putting his emotions on paper. The result, many years later, was Letters to Luke, a book about two young Jews trained in the healing arts who become friends and followers of Jesus. Mother was the model for Elisa, a brave, brilliant, and very spiritual young woman.
CE: Your father delivers his amazing story in a vibrant and thoughtful way that has won a number of recognitions. Tell me about these awards and what they meant to your father, already an accomplished physician.
Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald: My father had published more than 50 articles in professional journals on such topics as cardiology, ethics, and health care of the clergy and religious. But he had never attempted fiction. When he reread parts of the Letters to Luke, he still couldn’t believe he had written it. He gave credit to the Holy Spirit.
Of course, winning two national awards would be a thrill for any writer, but especially so for someone in the later years of his life. He was 88 when we published Letters to Luke and 89 when it won the Writer’s Digest Award for Inspirational Literature and the Independent Publisher Award for Religious Fiction. He died in May 2007 at the age of 91.
CE: I love the way the book is made up of letters and found it especially wonderful to read a few letters here and a few letters there, each providing me an opportunity to feel “present” in the story. At times I almost forgot it was a book as I really felt as if I were reading someone’s letters. The book is unlike any other that I’ve read because it is at once a history lesson while also being about love. It is about witnessing and conversion while also being almost prayer-like. Tell me how your father came about this particular format and your role in editing the work.
Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald: “I didn’t know anything about writing novels,” Dad used to say, “but I knew how to write letters.” As a consulting cardiologist, he had often written letters to other physicians. And he actually courted Mother by letter. They were living 1,100 miles apart, in Omaha and New Orleans, and wrote each other every during their internship year.
So Dad took on the persona of Joseph, a physician of Capernaum, and began addressing Luke of Antioch, the physician and future writer of the gospel, as if he were a friend and colleague. He writes of setting up practice, seeing patients, learning new forms of treatment. Then one day a mysterious healer comes to Capernaum. He has no medical training, but works powerful cures with words and the touch of a hand. Joseph eagerly shares news of these miracles in letters to his friend Luke. And so unfolds a story grounded in the gospel of Luke.
Dad spent a couple of years writing the book, put it on the shelf, then revised it three or four times. Finally I decided it was too good to be put back on the shelf and deserved a wider audience. I carved out spare time from my journalism career to edit and publish the book.
Dad did all the difficult work; all I did was give it a good polish.
CE: It has been my great pleasure to read Letters to Luke by your father and I pray that his memory and love for his faith will live on in the success of this special book.
Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald: Thank you, Cheryl. He and I came to understand that Letters to Luke is a work of evangelism. Some readers find their way back to God. Most tell us they feel as if they too have become friends with Jesus. And certainly they understand, as never before, the physical sufferings of Jesus at Gethsemane and Golgotha.
My prayer is that everyone who reads Letters to Luke feels the healing power of His love and forgiveness.
[Letters to Luke is distributed through Baker & Taylor and CCC of America. Copies may be ordered online at http://www.letterstoluke.com/ or through your local bookstore: ISBN 0975376624 (paperback); ISBN 0975376616 (linen cover); ISBN 0975376608 (hardcover).]