La. love story

Their faith journey together began in June 1938 with what is often called “the love chapter” of the Holy Bible.

“My mother wrote a letter to my father about a beautiful sermon she had just heard about I Corinthians 13, the beautiful passage that describes how love endures and love never fails,” said Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald, 61, an award-winning journalist who details her parents’ love story in, “The Courtship of Two Doctors: A 1930s Love Story of Letters, Hope & Healing.”

Released last fall, the 400-page book, called “a timeless valentine” in promotional materials, is based on many of nearly 800 handwritten letters between Fitzgerald’s parents in the two years before they married.

The book also describes how the young couple overcame the then-rare issues of a two-career marriage, the dangers of infection medical doctors often faced before antibiotics were widely available and the harmonious blending of their faiths with Fitzgerald’s father’s upbringing as a Roman Catholic and her mother’s upbringing as a Methodist who converted to Catholicism after marriage.

Alice Baker and Joe Holoubek met at a summer fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in 1937, then returned to their hometowns for further training as interns. She was the eighth woman to graduate from LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, and he was a native of Nebraska who went on to co-found the LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport in the 1960s.

“Her pastor had used the new translation that used ‘love’ instead of ‘charity,” Fitzgerald said, speaking recently from her home near Shreveport. “She also said she was going to resume a practice of hers to read verses from the Bible every night and my father followed her lead. I’m sure that was his first venture into Bible study.”

They both read I Corinthians 13, “until they nearly knew it by heart,” Fitzgerald said. “What a powerful thing to start a marriage with. This is why I wrote the book. I want to give hope to the younger generations that there is lasting love and give them a new model for courtship.”

Her parents married in 1939, moved to Shreveport following World War II and practiced medicine together for nearly 40 years. Alice died in 2005, and Joe died at the age of 91 in 2007.

The youngest of four children, Fitzgerald grew up in Shreveport admiring both her doctor parents and learned early from her mother that a girl can be anything she wants to be.

“That definitely opened up opportunity for me in my mind,” Fitzgerald said. “I never felt fettered by social standards.”

She attended St. Vincent’s Academy, a small Catholic girl’s school in Shreveport, and graduated in 1969, as class valedictorian.

“I always had a book with me and I loved diagramming sentences, which is probably why my first job was as a copy editor,” she said.

Fitzgerald graduated from Loyola University in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history and American studies then earned a master’s degree in history from Louisiana Tech in 1976. She also married her husband, Tim, in 1973 and will be celebrating their 40th anniversary later this spring. They have no children.

She credits her parents for her faith-filled upbringing and dedication to their church.

“I’ve never known life without God — they attended Mass daily since the time I was quite young,” she said. “They built an altar in their bedroom with hard, wooden kneelers where we knelt, the six of us, and prayed the rosary every night for a number of years.”

The family also had a shrine to the Blessed Virgin in the backyard and filled their yard at Christmas with wooden figures of the Nativity her father made in his wood shop.

“I do find that as an adult I have to focus on quiet times without distraction, because that is the only way I can hear God speaking to me,” Fitzgerald said. “I have found too often in my life I have let my career distract me from a personal relationship with God. I have several times taken silent retreats.”

She is now on her second career, as a book writer and publisher, following a distinguished career in newspaper journalism, mainly at the Shreveport Times as an editor in various departments and a columnist. In addition to receiving awards for writing, editing, and page design, she was named Communicator of Achievement in 1990 by Louisiana Press Women.

“It’s not that I ever left the church. I was committed to Sunday Mass and pleased to serve as a lector. But I let a demanding job come between me and the Lord,” she said. “Work and family were my top priorities, and I allowed them to derail me from spiritual growth.”

After editing her late father’s book, “Letters to Luke: From his Fellow Physician, Joseph of Capernaum,” she founded Little Dove Press in 2004 and then founded Martha Fitzgerald Consulting in 2005.

“My faith has been renewed these past eight years since I began working with my father on ‘Letters to Luke,’” she said. “Letters” won a Writers Digest Award for inspirational literature and the Independent Publisher Award for religious fiction.

She has also served as past president of River Cities Network, a Shreveport business-women’s group, and was president of Louisiana Press Women, in the 1980s. Fitzgerald serves on the board of LSU Health Foundation-Shreveport.

Fitzgerald writes a blog, “Catholics & Bible Study: Sharing Our Journey Through The Wilderness” (http://lildov.wordpress.com), and is a lector and minister of care at St. John Berchmans Cathedral in Shreveport.

She is also in the third year of a four-year Bible study program

“Perhaps most significant in my spiritual growth has been enrolling in Catholic Biblical School, offered through Greco Institute and the University of Dallas School of Ministry,” she said. “Like many Catholics of my generation, I had little experience with Bible study. But with my parents’ example before me, I knew it was never too late to begin.”

The experience has enriched her life in many ways, she said.

“For one thing, the first readings at Mass every week, those from the Old Testament, oftentimes spring into life as I recognize the people speaking and understand the context,” she said.

“I relish the opportunity each week to rub minds and hearts with my fellow students, much like my parents did with their Monday night study group,” Fitzgerald said. “They teach me so much about trust in God and joy in the Lord.”

She has gone on several religious pilgrimages abroad, including to the Czech Republic, her father’s homeland.

“Today, I can’t satisfy my hunger to know more about God and the Church,” Fitzgerald said. “I yearn for a closer relationship with Jesus, and I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill my heart and guide my way.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Feb. 11, 2013, to correct dates and other time elements and to remove trips Fitzgerald made that were not pilgrimages.