Mission’s spiritual support part of patients’ healing

July 12, 2016

HOUSTON — Visiting hospital patients who are ill or hurting provides comfort, but volunteers and lay chaplains at CHI St. Luke’s Health receive special training to learn to lend a listening ear.


As part of Catholic Health Initiatives, the hospitals’ Mission Integration Office offers several programs for Catholic and ecumenical outreach in the community. An important Mission Integration collaboration is with the Archdiocesan Office of the Diaconate to coordinate a Pastoral Care Ministry (PCM) course taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.

‘All about listening’
Paul Arrigo, a parishioner at St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Deer Park, was among the 2016 graduates of the semester-long, 16-week PCM course, which is open to Catholic deacons and laity alike willing to make the sacrifice of time and commitment.

Although already volunteering as a lay chaplain at CHI St. Luke’s Health Patient Medical Center in Pasadena, Arrigo said the class helped him “relearn” behavior when he visited patients. 

“I do not ask patients directly if they want prayer. I introduce myself and ask if they mind that I pull up a chair and visit with them. Most are very happy for the company,” he said. “It really is all about listening and not about me. It’s listening to their story.”

But Arrigo also learned how to quiet and calm himself before starting his visitations, going to the chapel first to pray or meditate. If the patient asks for prayer or for the Eucharist during his visit, Arrigo obliges. 

“One patient was upset, but not at his own health condition. His teenage daughter had been killed in an accident a few weeks before and the whole family was going through grief counseling. They just needed me to walk with them on their journey,” he said.

In giving emotional and spiritual support as lay chaplains, Arrigo said “we provide healing for the whole person.” 

“The main difference that I’ve noticed is how the training has changed me, even at home. I am not so self-absorbed and really listen when my family needs me. And I, in turn, need God’s help to do it,” he said. 

One of the highlights in teaching the course, said Denice Foose, the hospital director of Mission Integration, is when she hears students praise the class work results in their own lives.

“One of the most moving moments for me is when we have a graduate stand up and say… ‘I am a better wife, friend and mother as a result of this training,’” Foose said. “That is our hope. Pastoral Ministry is lifelong and exists in almost every sacred encounter, not just in the hospital.” 
The next PCM course is scheduled for the fall semester to be taught at the St. Dominic Center, 2403 Holcombe. Those supporting these types of Mission Integration collaborations include the Archdiocese and donors such as the Strake Foundation.

Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, has written letters of support to possible funders of this ministry assisted by CHI St. Luke’s Health.

Bishop Sheltz said, “This important ministry brings compassion and mercy to those who suffer daily.”
Deacon David Garvis, another teacher in the PCM course, said he has witnessed the positive changes that these programs bring to patients and ministers alike.

“The thing often overlooked in this ministry is the spiritual impact that this ministry makes on those who provide the pastoral care. They realize they’ve been given a wonderful gift to be able to minister to the sick. Their own spiritual journey has been very positively transformed,” Deacon Garvis said.

Sacred Vocations
To provide spiritual sustenance for medical and support staff at CHI St. Luke’s hospitals, the Mission office provides internal programs — Sacred Vocations, a six-week program; and Spirit U., a follow-up which offers healthy tips on the hospital’s intranet website for relieving stress and keeping one’s calm.

Hospital staff members sign up to be part of Sacred Vocations, which requires six weeks for groups to meet and “find a deeper connection of who we are and why we chose this work,” Foose explained. “To ground yourself despite the chaos.”

The group is led by a facilitator, who teaches coping skills. Foose explains, “They learn that you are a healer with the potential to both be healed and heal others…but you can also harm both yourself and others.” 

The group writes an oath together and even bonds to the point where some continue to meet once a month for moral support, Foose said.
The program has the support of CEO Michael Covert, who hopes all hospital staff will attend through Sacred Vocations over the next year to 18 months.

As a follow-up to sustain that peace and stress relief, there is Spirit U. A tab now on the hospitals’ internal website, Spirit U. provides meditation tips, community service and other information. 

Spiritual Diversity
As part of community outreach, the Mission Office also brings in speakers for the public and hospital staff. Recent speakers included a Buddhist explaining Zen and a professor and author described how Muslims see Jesus Christ and Mary, both who are admired in the Quran.

The next main speaker is Barbara Karnes, RN, an award-winning hospice nurse and author who writes about end-of-life issues and the stages of dying to help families. For her work, she was named the International Humanitarian Woman of the Year 2015.

Karnes is scheduled to lead a workshop on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Mary’s Seminary, 9845 Memorial Dr. Foose said the event is $10, including lunch, and is open registration to all.