Deacon Rodrigue Mortel, 88, of Hershey, passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by his family on Friday, April 22, 2022. He was born on December 3, 1933 in St. Marc, Haiti.
After graduating from medical school in Haiti, Deacon Mortel received training in obstetrics and gynecology at Hahnemann Medical College and in gynecologic oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. During his 30-year tenure at the Penn State College of Medicine, he became a full Professor and in 1982, became the first black foreign educated doctor to chair one of the 126 United States medical schools Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He occupied that position for 13 years.
In 1995, he was promoted to Associate Dean and founding Director of the Penn State University Cancer Center. Before he retired from medicine, Deacon Mortel studied at St. Mary’s Seminary University in Baltimore and was ordained a permanent deacon for the Catholic Church in 2001. He also served as the Director of the Missions Office for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and deacon at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey and his hometown parish in St. Marc, Haiti.
In 1997, he created the Mortel Family Charitable Foundation, which is now known as the Mortel High Hopes for Haiti Foundation, to serve the poorest of the poor in Haiti. The Foundation currently operates numerous schools that serve over 1,500 children and adults. Deacon Mortel published three books, 135 articles and chapters in books as well as editorials in various periodicals including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
For his numerous achievements, Deacon Mortel received many awards and occupied leadership positions in all prestigious obstetrical and gynecological societies in this country. He received the United States Public Health Service Award in 1970, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award in 1985 (From Rags to Riches), and the highly coveted Faculty Scholar Medal from the Pennsylvania State University for outstanding achievement in the area of health sciences in 1986. He was the creator and founding Chairman of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF) and became, in 1994, the first foreigner to be President of the elite American Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO).
In 2013, the Penn State University College of Medicine named one of its four learning communities the Mortel Society and in 2015, Deacon Mortel received the Penn State Alumni Association’s Honorary Alumnus Award.
Surviving are his loving wife of 50 years, Cecilia (Shahhein) Mortel and their two children, Denise Mortel Mitchell and Renee Mortel Joy (Kenneth), son Ronald Mortel (La-Ong Ferguson) and daughter Michele Hall (Darryl) from a previous marriage; seven grandchildren, Brenda and Trevor Hall, Jonathan, Kayla and Alyssa Mitchell, Alexis and Brooklyn Joy; sister, Dinah Jacques; and a host of extended family members and close friends.
A vigil prayer service will begin at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 immediately followed by a time of visitation until 7:00 p.m., at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 359 West Areba Ave., Hershey. Mass of Christian Burial, celebrated by Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg, will be at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, May 2 at the church. Interment will follow in the Hershey Cemetery. The mass will be livestreamed at: www.stjoanhershey.org.
In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorial contributions be made to the Mortel High Hopes for Haiti Foundation, P.O. Box 405, Hershey, PA 17033 or www.highhopesforhaiti.org. Share condolences with the family at www.hooverfuneralhome.com.