DSF: Catholic Chaplains Corp makes significant strides in pastoral care outreach initiative

January 1, 0001

Chaplain Enrique Contreras teaches Conroe-area laypersons a Spanish class in empathic listening. Photo courtesy of Catholic Chaplains Corps.

HOUSTON — Building upon years of service by priests and lay persons assigned to the Catholic Chaplain Corps (CCC) of the Archdiocese, the CCC launched a major program called “Pastoral Care Outreach” in early 2017. During these 18 months, this program has significantly increased the pastoral care and sacramental ministry provided to Catholic religious and laity in the Archdiocese.

“This achievement has been accomplished through the combined efforts of several priests and deacons, scores of trained Catholic laity, and the dedicated staff of the CCC,” said Denice Foose, BCC, MBA, director of the CCC. “While the program has additional goals in its strategic vision, a significant start has been made, giving legitimate optimism for additional ministry milestones.”

The mission of the CCC is to provide an effective sacramental and pastoral care ministry to Catholic religious and laypersons who are in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, extended-care facilities, nursing homes and private homes. Serving Catholic sisters and brothers, who experience varying emotional and spiritual needs, is central to the CCC’s mission. 

The CCC is one of 60 ministries in the Archdiocese funded by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF)

Foose said fulfilling this mission requires work in four arenas: 1) Supporting the vital sacramental ministry of CCC priests; 2) Coordinating the powerful pastoral care ministry of “Pastoral Visitors” (Catholic laypersons); 3) Training these gifted sisters and brothers to provide effective pastoral care ministry; and, 4) Assisting the indispensable work of the “Lay Chaplains” and “Lay Coordinators,” who coordinate the ministry of priests and Pastoral Visitors.

Foose said during the past six months, the Pastoral Care Outreach program has continued its expansion in each component of its vision.

In the Lay Chaplains arena, a third Lay Chaplain has been hired for the Texas Medical Center at Memorial Hermann Hospital. This colleague has begun coordinating the ministries of the assigned Priest and Lay Chaplains, plus integrating into the operation of the chaplaincy department.
In the Pastoral Visitors (PVs) arena, the number of Pastoral Visitors has increased to over 200, who now serve in numerous hospitals in metropolitan Houston. All assigned PVs have completed the required 12-week training program.

“Recruitment of PVs has been quite effective, with the opportunity for the lay ministry becoming better known throughout the Archdiocese,” Foose said. “Another exciting development has been the expansion of the pastoral training program for laity, now called The Pastoral Care Institute. In 2018, five programs have been offered, four for PVs and the “Certificate Program,” a collaborative enterprise with St. Mary’s Seminary.”

She said these educational programs have had a combined enrollment of over 200 participants and have been conducted in a variety of locations: The Woodlands, Kingwood, and the Texas Medical Center. Beginning in early 2019, the program will be introduced in Clear Lake.

The DSF continues to provide the primary financial support of the CCC and its expanding ministries.

“We are extremely grateful for DSF’s ongoing support, and at the same time, we continue to explore grant opportunities, as we did in 2017 which was crucial to our ability to expand our CCC ministries,” Foose said. “People, young and old, have been sustained and comforted spiritually during acute and chronic illness. In order to expand this vital and innovative ministry, however, additional funding is needed; this is not volunteer work; it’s full time ministry.”

Foose said while the response has been extremely positive, the ongoing recruitment of pastoral visitors is essential to the future viability of the Pastoral Care Outreach program. The CCC welcomes the opportunity to present this dimension of the program to any individuals interested in its growth.

“We are convinced that God continues to call women and men to caring ministries, that laypersons want to be challenged to grow in skill and knowledge, and they want to make a substantive contribution to the lives of others and the Church,” said Foose.

Two examples of ministers of the CCC making this kind of impact in the lives of those in spiritual need follow.

First, a lay chaplain was called to assist an adult male patient from south Texas, who was facing major heart surgery. Unfortunately, he was isolated from his (aging) parents and friends due to the significant geographical distance. Adding to his distress was the understandable absence of ministry usually provided by his home parish.

“Recognizing this obvious spiritual need, the lay chaplain responded in two ways: conducting numerous pastoral care visits and coordinating frequent opportunities for the Blessed Sacrament,” Foose said. “Ensuring these pastoral and sacramental ministries were vital to the patient. He was strengthened spiritually and emotionally for surgery, experienced a smooth recovery, and enjoyed an expedited discharge.”

Foose also said the CCC also recently ministered to a dying adolescent who had exhausted all medical options, as well as her grieving parents. This is one of the most anguished-filled tragedies in healthcare. The lay chaplain not only provided effective pastoral care ministry to this family for several days, she also coordinated the sacramental ministry of the assigned CCC priest.

Foose said the CCC also recently ministered to a dying adolescent who had exhausted all medical options, as well as her grieving parents, which is one of the most anguished-filled tragedies in healthcare. In addition to responding to this crisis in a meaningful way for several days, one of the lay chaplains coordinated the sacramental ministry of the assigned CCC priest.

“The parents made a heartfelt request that their daughter receive the Sacraments of Anointing of the Sick, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion,” Foose said. “The lay chaplain made a timely referral to the priest, who provided this sacramental ministry; this was truly a tragic event. The Church, however, responded in powerful ways to this family by providing needed sacramental and pastoral care ministry.”

To achieve this kind of optimum ministry to hospitalized Catholics requires a comprehensive approach called “continuum of care, said Foose. For instance, typically the ministry begins with a hospitalized patient (acute or non-acute) and continues through discharge and possible admission to a transitional care institution (e.g. rehabilitation) or entry to a permanent location (e.g. assisted living, nursing home, or private home).

“Providing such care will require the dedicated service of lay coordinator to track a patient’s healthcare journey and coordinate ministry at each specific institution/location,” Foose said. “This multi-phased approach represents the ‘gold standard’ in meeting the sacramental and pastoral care needs of our Catholic sisters and brothers.”

Another new exciting development has been the national recognition the Pastoral Care Outreach program and The Pastoral Care Institute has received from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) based in Milwaukee.

“In the past couple of years, the NACC included lay ministry and education as one of its strategic goals and quickly recognized our two programs as leading examples,” said Foose. “In order to encourage other dioceses in their development of lay programs, the NACC executive director requested that we present a two-hour live stream seminar from St. Mary’s Seminary to interested NACC members. The NACC executive travel to Houston and served as the seminar host and facilitator.”

Based upon the interest this broadcast generated, the NACC leader asked the CCC to lead a six-hour workshop at the organization’s 2019 National Conference in May.

“Of course, we are honored with this recognition and are grateful for the support given by the Archdiocese, which has made it possible,” Foose said.