Mary Sekula worked as a nurse at Park Nicollet alongside Dr. Mario Petrini. She never forgot Petrini's words to her.
"He said to me, 'Mary, just always remember, you can heal a person, but you've got to remember that they have a soul, too, so you have to heal them body and soul,' " Sekula said. "And that's how he was. He treated people that way."
An OB-GYN and professor who practiced in Michigan, Minnesota and Florida, Petrini is remembered for the compassion he brought to his work and to everyday life. After a sudden decline in health, he died Aug. 1 at his home in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 92.
Mario Anthony Petrini was born March 27, 1927, in Detroit to Olga Valiani and Enrico Petrini, who emigrated from Italy to work in the city's automotive plants.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, Mario Petrini returned to Detroit and earned a medical degree from Wayne State University. He attended class reunions until late in life, and he was one of just a few 1952 graduates at the most recent get-together, said classmate Dr. Kouichi Tanaka.
Petrini completed residencies at Hutzel Women's Hospital in Detroit and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Andrea Petrini, his youngest daughter, said she never heard her father complain about work.
"He was an incredibly empathetic and compassionate person," she said. "He specifically went into the field of obstetrics, because for him, he found that to be such a joy because it was bringing new life into the world every single day."
Petrini's work as an obstetrician eventually expanded into gynecological surgery, women's fertility issues and human sexuality. He pursued postgraduate study including at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind., and as a doctor in Detroit — where he and his first wife, Valeria, raised their six children — Mario Petrini was an early provider of gender reassignment surgeries, Andrea Petrini said.
Mario Petrini eventually started teaching human sexuality at Wayne State, and he returned annually to teach even after leaving Detroit.
He met his second wife, therapist Sandra Nohre, while they were both teaching human sexuality. They settled in Minneapolis, where Nohre lived, and traveled the world teaching together.
In Minneapolis, Petrini became a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School and practiced medicine at Park Nicollet. His patients called him "Mario," and when they were nervous, he would sing Italian songs.
Sekula recalled that, when she had a procedure done by another doctor, Petrini was in the room with her.
"I went into the operating room and the doctor was doing his job, and Dr. Petrini was rubbing my arm, singing 'O Sole Mio,' " she said.
The joy that Petrini brought to his work extended to the rest of his life, too. Since her father's death, Andrea Petrini said she's gotten phone calls from friends who met him when they were children and never forgot the impression he made.
"He was just a terribly joyous and warm person," she said. "If you were to meet him once, by the time you parted, he would be giving you a hug and a kiss and you just would feel his warmth."
Petrini is survived by his wife, Sandra; sister Alma; children Elisa, Mark, Odette, Matthew, John and Andrea; stepchildren Liva and Karl and nine grandchildren.
A Minnesota celebration of his life is being planned.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509