When Dr. Michael Dixon was a junior studying biology at Saint Louis University, he was assigned to read “Humanae Vitae” in a theology of marriage course.
St. Paul VI’s encyclical “On Human Life” was less than a decade old at the time, but it shaped the trajectory of Dixon’s career.
In January, he retired from his practice as an OB/GYN, marking the end of more than 30 years of delivering babies and providing fertility and other care for women.
“I’d always wanted to do medical mission work overseas,” said Dixon, who attends the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. “But what I realized is, this work is mission territory in and of itself.”
Finding his calling
The seeds of Dixon’s medical vocation were planted in childhood, including an experience shadowing a surgeon in the operating room through the Boy Scouts program. Later, recognizing the beauty of God’s design for marriage and sexuality as articulated in “Humanae Vitae” gave Dixon the resolve to practice medicine in accordance with Church teaching — which, he discovered, presented its challenges.
As a medical student at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the late 1970s, hormonal birth control was taught as a common remedy for a number of issues. “If you’re a carpenter, you use a hammer; if you’re an OB/GYN, you use birth control pills,” Dixon said of his education.
With plans of becoming a family doctor, he dropped by St. John’s Mercy Hospital (now Mercy) in St. Louis one day. “I was looking for the department of family practice, just to pick up an application,” he said. “Doors open, and instead, it’s the Department of Natural Family Planning. So I walked in, and that’s when I met Ann Prebil.”
Prebil, alongside Diane Daly, was one of the founders of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, a method of natural family planning and fertility awareness, and the Department of FertilityCare Services at what is now Mercy Hospital.
After the chance encounter, Dixon wanted to dive deeper. During his third year of medical school, he audited a training course at the St. Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, founded in Omaha by former Saint Louis University professor Dr. Thomas Hilgers.
Dixon later returned to the institute to complete the FertilityCare education program, with Prebil as his advisor. After residencies in both family practice and obstetrics and gynecology, and stints in emergency medicine and occupational medicine, he became one of the institute’s first seven fellows to complete what is now known as the St. John Paul the Great Fellowship in Medical and Surgical NaPro Technology.
Natural Reproductive (NaPro) Technology is the medical practice of interpreting the Creighton Model FertilityCare System to diagnose and treat reproductive issues, providing medical and surgical treatments that cooperate with the reproductive system.
“The beauty of NaPro is that it allows you to have a philosophy and a medical practice that is coherent with ‘Humanae Vitae,’” Dixon said.
St. Louis practice
Dixon returned to St. Louis in 1995, opening his own OB/GYN practice on Dec. 8 of that year — the feast of the Immaculate Conception — with the help of Prebil, who worked alongside him as nurse and office manager. As one of the first NaPro physicians in St. Louis, Dixon was inspired by Dr. Charlie Dahm, a fellow OB/GYN “holding true to Humanae Vitae,” he said.
Dixon quietly built his practice through word of mouth, finding that there was no shortage of women who desired OB/GYN care in line with Church teaching. He brought his faith to his work in other ways, too, including taking time to pray with every patient before a delivery. His go-to was the Memorare, asking the Blessed Mother’s intercession for the mother and child — and for steady, sure hands for himself.
He recalled one new father who had never heard the prayer before, “but he was determined that before his next child was born, he would learn the Memorare,” he said.
In the office, Dixon was often running behind schedule. Regular checkups turned into long conversations about the challenges and joys of family life, finding God in difficult times, or figuring out the best path forward after loss or infertility.
“Part of what NaPro does is it creates healthy, dynamic Catholic families,” he said. “And support for that — that’s what patients want.”
As the years passed, Dixon also became a go-to resource and mentor for medical students, residents and other physicians who wanted to learn more about NFP and NaPro practice. It was a privilege to be able to share his knowledge, Dixon said, even if it meant just spending an hour on the phone with a medical student answering questions like, “Can I really survive as an OB/GYN this way?”
He took inspiration from St. Josemaria Escriva in striving for “unity of life,” bringing Christ everywhere, including the exam room or the delivery room (though imperfectly, he added). That’s something everyone can work on, no matter the profession, he said.
“You don’t have a Sunday life, a morning offering life — it’s something you bring into every part of your day,” he said.
Diane Daly, one of the co-founders of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, was thrilled when Dixon opened his practice in St. Louis. As a trained NaPro physician, he opened the door to a new kind of health care for women in the area, she said.
“It takes courage for a doctor who is only providing natural systems to do that, because a lot of people in the medical community don’t do that, and they don’t necessarily understand why someone would dedicate their life to that,” Daly said. “But he was absolutely faithful, I know, in not prescribing contraception, abortion, sterilization.”
“He’s a friend and a valued colleague, and I will miss him in his retirement — although he certainly well deserves it,” Daly said.
The joys along the way
Looking back on his career, Dixon’s biggest joy was “just being part of good, Catholic families,” he said.
He delivered more than 3,000 babies in his St. Louis practice; some of his favorite births were the children of patients he delivered as babies, his “second-generation” patients.
Dixon emphasizes that he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife, Kathleen, a pediatrician who gave up practicing medicine to stay home with their six children. While Kathleen was finishing her pediatrics residency, Dixon stayed home for a year with their oldest son, Paul — named for St. Paul VI — so he knows well the demands of the role. “I learned a lot that year,” he said with a chuckle.
It was hard for him to step away and retire, he admits, and he’s hardly thought about what to do next. He’ll start simple: Reading books for fun. Spending more time with his grandchildren. Increasing opportunities for personal prayer and formation.
And he knows he’s leaving his patients in good hands. The St. Louis area is blessed with “an embarrassment of riches” in the amount of NaPro physicians, he said, counting 10 in St. Louis right now, including Dr. Jessica Jenkins, who joined him at SSM Health St. Clare Hospital-Fenton in 2022. In comparison, other major cities like Kansas City or Chicago have one or two NaPro doctors, Dixon said.
“It’s been such a joy to be part of the whole movement of NaPro in St. Louis, to watch it evolve and watch younger physicians come on board,” he said. “It’s nice to step away knowing that in a small way, very humbly, I’ve been able to be part of the backgrounds of many of these people who are now my colleagues.”
For a list of NaPro Technology physicians in the St. Louis area, visit stlreview.com/3upyrIE