By his passion and cross

Ever since he was a little boy, Dr. Joe Pilon has been structuring his days around the Angelus, a Catholic prayer traditionally recited three times a day – at 6 a.m., at noon and at 6 p.m.

The orthopedic surgeon, well known for his extensive, global volunteer work, adds a fourth recitation at midnight.

Anyone who knows him eventually knows that prayer, including the Catholic middle school basketball team he coached when his children were younger.

“My friend called me recently and said she was mad at herself because she forgot the words to that prayer and she remembered we said it on the way to every basketball game,” Dr. Pilon’s daughter Danielle said. 

At 84-years old, Dr. Pilon has probably said that prayer more than 100,000 times, through his childhood, marriage to his beloved wife of 58 years Stephanie, medical school, a decorated stint in Vietnam, residency, the birth of nine children, a 32-year practice here in the Fox Valley, the awful death of a beloved son, and multiple volunteer medical stints in Brazil and Africa.

These days, it is offering him a touchstone as he faces a stage four pancreatic cancer diagnosis. As they have throughout his career, his family is gathering to spend time with their dad, who used to take them on his rounds with them, invite them on his mission trips and bring them Saturday doughnuts throughout their childhood.

“He used to take us on rounds with him even when we were very little,” his daughter Stephanie said. “He had a lot of elderly patients and he’d bring these little kids into the room and their faces would just light up. I think they really enjoyed seeing their doctor walk into the room with a baby in a football hold, checking their charts, making sure they were alright.”

“I just really enjoyed my kids,” he said. “I wanted to spend time with them, so I brought them with me.”

Dr. Pilon closed his practice 20 years ago after his oldest son Joe died in a car accident. Then, he headed to Africa, where he and his surgical nurse Pat Wittman had been making periodic self-funded trips to treat people in desperate situations.

Prior to his mission trips to Africa, Dr. Pilon traveled to Brazil on multiple occasions, where he helped his friend, Father Luke Tupper, a physician and Franscican priest, treat people in desperate situations.

“It was easy to see that these people needed help,” he said.

Dr. Pilon’s experiences working with Fr. Tupper on a boat called Esperanza that traversed the Amazon, and the innovative way he and his team dealt with the confiscation of all of his medical equipment is worth a separate post.

You can read all about those adventures in a follow-up story on Wednesday.

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, maybe send an Angelus his way as he and his family make their way through the most difficult stages of this painful cancer journey.

For those of you who, like me, needed a refresher on the Angelus, here it is:

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
And the Word was made Flesh.
And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Dr. Pilon and his wife Stephanie, whom he describes as “the most exciting, pleasant, helpful individual I’ve ever known” raised nine children and are currently the grandparents of 16, ranging in age from 33 to infant. On the afternoon I was lucky enough to talk to him, Dr. Pilon’s charming grandson and namesake Joseph joined us.
Dr. Pilon and his wife Stephanie have been married for 58 years. They moved 29 times, including overseas, before they settled Sherwood, Wisconsin and raised their family there. They intended to join the Peace Corps early in their marriage, and met Father Luke Tupper during their orientation and training to serve in Brazil. They were not selected to serve at that time because they had an infant daughter, the first of their nine children. But they stayed in touch with the priest/physician and several years later, Fr. Tupper contacted Dr. Pilon and asked if he could come to Brazil and help. You can read about those adventures in the next post.
This is the boat Dr. Pilon and Fr. Luke used to traverse the Amazon, treating patients along the way.

6 thoughts on “By his passion and cross

  1. I keep Dr. Joe and his family in my prayers. I had the privilege of teaching all of his children. Such a beautiful family!

  2. Thank you for this touching story on Dr. Pilon. Stephanie and I were brief roommates at Theda Clark after we delivered our sons, John-Paul and Luke, on the same day. Being the wife of a doctor Stephanie was soon given a private room but visited daily! Such a joy.
    The boys remained friends throughout high-school.
    May God bless this beautiful family.

  3. Dr. Pilon was my scoliosis doctor! He helped me foster a very strong love/hate relationship with my back brace. I’m glad he has such a loving support system around him now.

  4. My prayers and thoughts are with the Pilon family. Besides my connection to them through Xavier, Joe took care of my mom when she broke her hip. What a wonderful human being!

  5. Beautiful tribute to a wonderful, giving, caring and loving person and his beautiful family. So blessed to have been their friends.

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