In many ways, hospitals are a microcosm of broader society. People of all ages and all walks of life enter the hospital doors. And at the very heart of it all, individuals and families face some of their deepest joys, fears and questions. That’s why ministers (or chaplains, as spiritual leaders are called in the clinical setting) are an integral part of the hospital community.
Roper St. Francis embraces our history as a faith-based healthcare system, from the founding of what is now Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy back in 1882, to our mission statement today: healing all people with compassion, faith and excellence. This week, in particular, we recognize and celebrate the important work our ecumenical team of chaplains does to carry out this mission, and to serve the spiritual needs of patients and families in their most vulnerable moments.
We asked our team of nine ordained clergy who make up the Roper St. Francis Pastoral Care team to tell us a little bit more about what they do and why chaplaincy is a crucial component of our healthcare system. Take a moment to get to know our chaplains in Part 1 of our two-part series on Pastoral Care.
What makes pastoral care a unique type of ministry?
Hospital ministry is different from normal life ministry because that form of pastoral care comes at life-changing moments. In the hospital, babies are born, people die, illnesses are treated, new diagnoses are given, knees are replaced. These are transformative moments, some of them are great and others create deep grief. This ministry is so unique because you have to live in that moment with the patient and their family, accepting their own view of reality in that one moment in time.
What brought you to the bedside? Was there an “a ha” moment in your life and/or training that made chaplaincy the right path for you?
During my clinical pastoral education internship, I had the opportunity to work with a 15-year old who was dying of cancer. He had such a positive outlook and tried to live out his dreams when he was healthy enough. We talked over the course of many visits, and it was then that I knew that this was the path for me.
Most surprising part of the job for you?
The joy in spite of death. Often we see death as sad and scary, but it can be a beautiful life event. I have seen whole families laughing as they remember the life of someone who is in the process of dying. When families gather when a loved one is dying, although there is sadness at losing their loved one here in this earthly world, there can be great joy and hope about what they believe happens after death.
What you wish you’d known about chaplaincy when you were in seminary/school?
Although it may seem scary to walk down the halls of a hospital and knock on a closed door, the patients and families are usually so grateful for a pastoral visit. Often the chaplain is the only person who comes and visits and can stay as long as the patient wants, doesn’t ask them the same questions about pain levels, and just listens and talks to them about their life. Patients and families are yearning for opportunity.
Best part about being on the RSF Pastoral Care team?
My teammates are amazing. Being able to walk onto a unit and have a nurse pull me aside to tell me that the patient in Room 2 could really benefit from talking to you — that level of commitment to our patients emphasizes that we really are all here at Roper St. Francis to heal all patients with compassion, faith and excellence.
What do you love about your ministry?
I love that you become a part of a team much greater than yourself as you journey with others. This team includes all employees of the hospital and each one being uniquely, richly gifted in providing compassionate care for a patient, family member or one another. Care comes from all the disciplines of medical, surgical, environmental, dietary, spiritual and so on.
How did you decide to become a chaplain?
I worked a number of years with my own religious senior sisters who frequented hospitals often and were very aware of the role of spiritual care particularly facing medical choices around a diagnosis or even end of life questions. At times, a chaplain from a different faith tradition could offer a richer and more insightful reflection to the particular sister.
Any particular memorable moments in your ministry?
I am always surprised by the stories and lives I am invited into along the way of chaplaincy. Tears, laughter, humor, tragedies, fears, joys, new beginnings … all honest and sacred times that you “happen upon.” But an especially wonderful moment that I carry with me was when a patient’s one wish was to see his high school son graduate before his impending death, and the chaplain staff and entire hospital staff made this reality happen. We held a special graduation ceremony, complete with school officials and cap and gown, right here, bedside at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.
What is Pastoral Care to you?
It is a ministry where strangers, openly and with trust, invite us into their sacred space of crisis.
I always thought that chaplaincy was the least important ministry to follow. Now that I have done other ministries, and now working as a chaplain, I truly understand that chaplaincy is one of the most important ministry paths that one can choose to follow.
Your favorite thing about being part of the RSF Pastoral Care team?
Through our hard work our Pastoral Care department has truly become a team. We are all there to cover each other’s backs with honest, caring and authentic compassion, with the goal of caring for every patient to the best of our God-given ability.