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Mom fueled Dr. Andonie’s desire to help poor

Dr. Jack Andonie has a special affinity for the poor in New Orleans. He said he could directly relate to their plight, recalling his father abandoning his mother and siblings when he was a child growing up on Dryades Street.

His yen to help others whether through medicine or his Catholic faith has led him to work with pre-Cana conferences, the Serra Club, Christ the Healer trips to Nicaragua to provide medical care, Catholic medical associations and, his latest endeavor, the Ozanam Inn.

On Nov. 18, Ozanam Inn will honor Andonie and his wife Priscilla for their efforts at their annual gala, the organization’s major fund-raiser of the year.

“He has become a very strong advocate for the homeless and needy in the city,” Deacon Biaggio DiGiovanni, executive director of Ozanam Inn, said. “Because of his help, we thought to honor him. He has been so supportive and helpful getting things done for the homeless.”

Busy hands for the Lord

Andonie, 74, said he is always looking to affiliate with Catholic causes and learned more about the work of Ozanam Inn after Catholic Foundation’s Peter Quirk introduced him to Ozanam Inn’s Claiborne Perrilliat.

“He was very welcoming,” Andonie said of Perrilliat.

After a visit to the inn, where he served food and met with the homeless a few times, Andonie asked what he could do. Perrilliat mentioned that LSU Medical Center had a clinic before Katrina that had provided medical care to Ozanam Inn’s clients, but it didn’t reopen after the storm.

Through connections as chair of the health committee at LSU Medical Center (where he is involved with 10 Charity hospitals in the state), Andonie met with Steve Nelson and Dr. Cathi Fontenot and worked out the details to revive the clinic.

Deacon DiGiovanni said Andonie’s involvement was critical in restarting the affiliation of the LSU Medical Clinic and Ozanam Inn after Hurricane Katrina.

“It eventually did open, and it’s doing extremely well,” Andonie said.

Got dental care activated

He did the same thing with LSU Dental School, contacting its dean, Henry Gremillion, to provide dental care for Ozanam Inn’s clients.

“One of the areas lacking in this community is dental care,” Deacon DiGiovanni said. “He knew the dean at LSU Dental Center and was instrumental in making a contact there on how dental service could be administered to the homeless population, and he stayed active.”

“As a result, one day a week, homeless men are transported to LSU Dental School, and they are taken care of,” Andonie said. “I feel very good that that has been accomplished.”

Mother’s faith was anchor

Even though the Andonie family had it rough, Andonie said his mother’s faith never wavered, taking her children to St. Mary’s and St. Alphonsus churches.

“I saw her struggle, and the more she struggled, her faith became stronger,” he said.

“God will provide” was her mantra, something that proved providential when he was selected to receive the only Loyola University scholarship awarded to a Redemptorist High School student. He couldn’t have afforded college, otherwise, he said.

“While I was worrying, ripping my hair out wondering how I was going to pay for college, my mother knew I would get the scholarship,” he said.

Andonie said she told him, “God is going to take care of you; you are going to college.”

And, he did.

“She had such great faith that it rubbed off on me,” Andonie said.

The scholarship put Andonie on the path to attend medical school at Louisiana State University and attain his life-long dream of becoming a doctor. He worked part-time jobs during college, medical school and his internships to stay afloat.

He met his wife in an elevator at Charity Hospital, where she was a nurse. “We’ve been going up and down ever since,” is her favorite phrase. Not having much money in the early years of his medical practice, Priscilla worked as his nurse.

Fueled to succeed

Andonie said many naysayers told him that as a youth from his poor background he would never make it as a doctor. He was determined to prove them wrong.

“It was a challenge, but with God’s help and a wonderful mother who encouraged me, I did it,” he said.

 He credits his mother’s faith and that of his wife – a Catholic convert – to his strong faith. He has three children, all of whom were raised Catholic.

Andonie doesn’t rest on his laurels. He’s currently forging an association between Xavier University’s School of Pharmacy and St. Vincent de Paul’s free pharmacy to expand the pharmacy hours and find a source to provide the pharmacy with much-needed drugs.

He’s also working on the new medical center and trying to develop with LSU Medical Center a major hyperbaric clinic and a regenerative medicine clinic that uses adult stem cells to help more than 100 diseases.

Never afraid to advocate

He said he was among the first ob-gyns to use epidurals in New Orleans to help his patients. He also was the medical doctor for St. Vincent’s Infant and Maternity Guild in the late 1960s and early 1970s, delivering 50 to 60 babies a month at Hotel Dieu for women who couldn’t afford care anywhere else. He said his mother emphasized his faith and told him to conduct his work at Catholic hospitals, which included Mercy and Hotel Dieu.

“I always felt I needed to do the right thing for whomever I was involved with,” Andonie said. “In my practice of medicine, I was going to do what was necessary to give the best medical care. I’ve never worried about taking risks as long as it was in the best interest of patients.”

“The same applies to my being involved in the church and charitable things. You have to do what you think it right and just do it.”

He doesn’t think he is worthy of the award.

“Priscilla and I feel anytime an award is given to us, we are very humbled and grateful,” Andonie said. “It always makes us want to do more for whomever is giving us the great honor. I don’t feel we have done enough to deserve this.” 

            Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.

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