A half-century ago, two teenage boys – one in San Antonio and one in New York – entered Catholic high school seminaries to study for the priesthood. Neither would go on to be ordained, but both would go on to have a major impact on health care in San Antonio today.
At roughly the same time, 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn, Kevin Moriarty, CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries, also attended Catholic schools, from the first grade through college graduation, including several years in the seminary.
Their Catholic education would inform the careers of both men as they rose to the top levels of San Antonio’s health care leadership.
George Hernández, University Health System
Growing up on San Antonio’s Southside, Hernández learned about generosity and caring for others in his own home and in Catholic schools.
“Growing up on the Southside in St. James parish, we were not well off at all,” Hernández said. “My dad was a warehouse worker at Kelly [Air Force Base] for 30 years. We had food and shelter but no extras. With five children to care for, my mom always made ends meet, but it was from her that I learned to help others.”
“My mom took in a six-week-old infant of a relative who had died and raised her as her own, just like my other natural siblings. We have always called her our sister,” Hernández said. “When I had outgrown my clothes and my sisters theirs, mom always gave them away in good condition to others. My mom’s and dad’s generosity was my first example of caring for and serving others.”
Hernández attended Mass every day at St. James’ grade school and with his family on Saturday and Sunday.
“Between that and being in Catholic school with the nuns, then with priests and brothers in high school and college, it’s hard to miss Jesus’ message of care and compassion for others,” Hernández said. “We are judged by how we treat the least of our sisters and brothers.”
The late Rev. Joseph Nowak was an early inspiration to enter the seminary.
“I still remember Father Nowak repairing the church roof himself,” Hernández said. “He was a great role model. I also remember one of his sermons when I was a child when he said, ‘Coming to Mass on Sunday is important, but it’s what you do out in the world between the Sundays that makes a difference.’ I have never forgotten that to this day.”
Growing up in the 1960s, Hernández admired his parish priests and wanted to be like them, so he entered St. John’s Seminary in 1966, staying through 1971.
“When I left the seminary, I told the director that although I was leaving my study for the priesthood, I was not leaving behind my vocation to help and serve others,” he said.
After graduating from St. Mary’s in 1974, Hernández attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He returned to San Antonio to serve in various governmental legal positions for San Antonio and Bexar County.
Hernández became associated with University Hospital in 1990 as an attorney on the district’s hospital executive team and became the hospital’s executive vice president in 2000. He was selected in 2005 as the hospital’s CEO.
“I can’t help but see the hand of God in bringing me to this position. I never saw myself with a career in health service,” Hernández said. “Yet I have been given the opportunity to serve others throughout my life – as I had hoped when I first studied to be a Catholic priest.”
Hernández, now 65, makes it clear that his position is a nonreligious leadership role in a tax-payer-funded entity.
“My job is not a Catholic job or a religious job,” he said. “But there is no way I can carry out that role and live my life other than with the Catholic influence in my life. And that influence causes me to look at what happens here at the hospital: healing, care, and compassion.
“My family and my Catholic formation and education have brought me to this point in my life. It is who I am and how I see the world.”
Kevin Moriarty, Methodist Healthcare Ministries
Less than a few hundred yards away from Hernández’ office in the South Texas Medical Center is the office of Kevin Moriarty, who also believes that it was his Catholic education and formation that brought him to his current role as the CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries.
In grade school, he was taught by missionary nuns, who imparted lessons learned from ministering abroad. He also saw around him the needs of the poor, the sick, and the elderly.
“They were right there in front of us every day,” he said. “So, on one hand we had the heroic stories of those who went off to the mission lands, but then we also shown how we could be missionaries for good right in our own neighborhoods.
“From my earliest school memories, I had the sense that this is a good way to live – to be there for others.”
His seminary experience began at age 12, at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary of the Immaculate Conception.
“This was a seminary where you lived at home and continued to do things with your family, with friends and in the parish,” he said. “We went to dances, and I had a girlfriend.”
When the director of the seminary told Moriarty at the end of his junior year that he would have to decide whether he wanted to enter the priesthood, a path that would include giving up his girlfriend. Moriarty transferred to a Catholic high school in Brooklyn and attended St. Francis College.
“After sixteen years of Catholic education, I was hard-wired to see the world through a social justice lens,” Moriarty said. “I knew that my life would be one of serving God by serving others in a personal way. I could never have imagined how that would unfold.”
After graduating in 1971, Moriarty joined the Peace Corps, serving as a teacher in the African nation of Liberia. There Moriarty encountered the healing ministries of the worldwide Methodist church. He was taken to the local Methodist clinic after being burned in a flash fire.
Moriarty became friends with the clinic staff and helped in their work. “I saw that the nurse I was assigned to help had a whole lot more sense of purpose and focus in her life than I had in mind,” Moriarty said. “It was then that I thought about pursuing a ministry in health care for the first time.”
After returning from Africa in 1973, Moriarty earned a master’s degree in health care. While visiting cousins in San Antonio, he applied for and got a job with the City of San Antonio to begin health and human services planning. He stayed for 20 years, growing the department and instituting new programs to improve the lives of San Antonians.
“During those years, my mentors were San Antonio’s community faith leaders: Reverends Claude Black, Buckner Fanning, and Louis Zbinden, Archbishop Patricio Flores, and Rabbis Samuel Stahl and David Jacobson,” Moriarty said. “This kept me in touch with my belief that healing and health care are ministries, even in a secular organization.”
In 1996, Moriarty submitted his résumé to be considered for CEO of Methodist Healthcare at the suggestion of fellow San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAF) board member Betty Murray Halff, who also was on Methodist’s board. He got the job.
“Here I was, 25 years after being treated for burns through the generosity of others in a Methodist clinic in Liberia, Africa, taking over as the CEO of a major Methodist health care operation,” Moriarty said.
“Looking back, I see the hand of God at work at every step along the way in my life, giving me the opportunity to give back. In Methodist health care, we participate in the healing mission of Jesus Christ, in a real, tangible, in-the-world way.”
At 67, Moriarty is preparing for his recently announced retirement. Asked what he plans to do next, Moriarty responded, “Whatever it is, it will be serving others. I can do no less.”
Both Moriarty and Hernández reflected on the parallel paths that led them to where they are today – serving San Antonio and surrounding areas through medical services leadership. Both credit role models in their Catholic faith tradition, along with their personal faith, for the continued quest to serve God through serving others.
“There is no way the Holy Spirit was not active in my life – whether I wanted it or not” Moriarty said with a laugh and broad smile.