Catholic Medical Association guild taking shape

Diocesan group is growing in size, elects officers, chooses patron saint

By Dan McWilliams

The new guild of the Catholic Medical Association in the Diocese of Knoxville took a step forward with an April 13 meeting at the Chancery office in Knoxville in which new officers were elected and a patron saint was chosen.

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, medical director of the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, led the meeting and was elected president of the guild.

Dr. Phil Hanneman, a pulmonary and critical-care physician at Blount Memorial Hospital in Maryville, was elected vice president. He is a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville. Dr. Gail-Marie Walter, a family physician in Lenoir City and a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Farragut, was elected secretary. Dr. Mallory Trevino, a physician with Summit Medical Group and a parishioner of the cathedral, was elected communications manager. Physician assistant Callyn Henry of the cathedral parish was elected treasurer. Father Adam Royal, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa, was named chaplain for the guild.

“We’re getting to our last steps of becoming an official charter guild for the Catholic Medical Association, so being able to elect our officers and get formally established is the next step,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “Once we get our bylaws set up and get our final approval letters out, then we should be able to establish as a formal guild here in the diocese.”

Thirteen people attended the meeting at the Chancery plus a 14th via Zoom.

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, DO, center, leads discussion during a guild meeting. Also pictured are Sister Celeste Mary Poché, RSM, and Dr. Phil Hanneman.

“I was very excited about the attendance and even more excited that there are many more people who want to be part of the guild who weren’t able to come tonight,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “I think it’s up to 35 now who are interested in being a part of the guild.”

The Legacy Clinic director, who is a physician, spoke about what the guild means for the medical community of Knoxville and beyond.

“It means a place of support, for being able to pray together and support one another in living the faith in medicine,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “It shows, I think, a strong desire to come together as Catholic physicians and to support one another and lead one another to Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Hanneman believes the CMA guild is a good idea.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to bring together a lot of individuals with shared backgrounds and also with an opportunity to promote the faith and develop our faith life in that way,” he said.

Dr. Trevino said, “It’s very exciting to come together, being able to have fellowship with other Catholic physicians and health-care providers.”

“I’m with Summit Medical Group, and I knew with all the physicians we had, there had to be some Catholics among us, so I sent out the e-mail about tonight’s meeting,” she added. “Several Summit docs came who I’d never even met before, but I knew their names, so it was nice to meet together in person, put a face with a name, and realize that we’re fellow Catholic physicians.”

She laughed about being elected an officer.

“That did happen. Look for me on Facebook and Instagram,” Dr. Trevino said. “We’ll get a Knoxville Catholic Medical Association page up and running so we can keep in touch.”

Dr. Walter is “very, very thrilled” about the guild.

“I’ve kind of been wanting this to happen here for a long time, because I’ve been communing with some Catholic women physicians on retreats in Nashville for years, but it would be very, very nice to have that local presence here,” she said. “You feel like an island sometimes, trying to be a faithful Catholic out in practice. It’s really nice to come together with other health-care providers who are wanting to be strong in their faith and wanting to just live their faith and not check it at the door when you walk in your office.”

Some of those attending the meeting were pleasantly surprised at the turnout of fellow members of the medical profession who share the same faith.

“The meeting today was certainly a good opportunity also to see that there are in fact a lot of really active Catholics out in the East Tennessee area and certainly more so than I would have realized otherwise,” Dr. Hanneman said.

Dr. Walter agreed. “Absolutely. It was nice to see all the faces in the room,” she said.

The guild during the meeting officially adopted St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962) as its patron.

“St. Gianna was an Italian pediatrician, wife, and mother who is a beautiful example of living out the faith in her vocation and her profession as a Catholic physician,” Sister Mary Lisa said. “Due to medical complications during her fourth pregnancy, she was encouraged to have an abortion but instead chose to save the life of her child. We pray to follow her example of respect and care for every human life entrusted to our care.”

St. Gianna is the patron of doctors, mothers, wives, families, and the unborn.

The guild previously held a retreat on the Eucharist led by Father Gerard Dennis Gill of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the Chancery on Nov. 5, 2022.

For more information on the guild, e-mail Sister Mary Lisa at For more information on the Catholic Medical Association, visit

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