Catholic Chaplain Corps helps bring Jesus’ presence to 100,000-plus
May 24, 2022
Father Jojo Cal-Ortiz offers a blessing to health care staff during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to bring spiritual support to health care workers. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Chaplain Corps)
HOUSTON — During Jesus’s ministry, whether He was preaching and teaching or healing and performing miracles, He always freely and generously offered His merciful love in a deeply personal way. The Church continues to bring forth Jesus’s unconditional compassion and care to others in need in this way, especially to the poor, sick and suffering.
Through the efforts of trained clergy and laity, the ministry of the Archdiocese that is a source of hope and consolation for the infirmed, imprisoned, aged and dying is the Catholic Chaplain Corps (CCC).
In collaboration with parishes, the ministry offers education, training and support to ministers that bring Christ’s compassion and love through kindness, joy, prayer and a listening presence. Currently, the CCC serves almost every hospital in the Texas Medical Center, as well as throughout the region.
A listening presence
“During the pandemic, many of those we serve felt the pain of isolation, especially those within institutions,” said Nannette Coons, interim director and lay chaplain for the CCC. “As restrictions lift, more than ever, we need to provide pastoral visitation [at] these institutions. The CCC continues to bring the healing ministry of the Church through our quiet, listening presence as well as through the Sacraments.”
Coons said in 2021, the CCC offered pastoral ministry and Sacraments to over 100,000 patients, senior residents, and their caregivers despite the pandemic, which mostly involved telephone visits until October when social distancing measures changed. She said having an in-person, face-to-face pastoral presence increases the sense of true companionship, especially with individuals in senior care facilities who experience increased feelings of isolation.
A goal to grow
“While we have a high level of retention on behalf of our trained ministers, the need is still great to increase our ranks by recruiting and training more Pastoral Visitors serving in these facilities, as well as in our parishes,” said Coons. “We need to focus on renewing and building our teams and provide opportunities to enhance their skills to deepen the connection with those in their care. This includes training non-Catholic Spiritual Care staff to serve the needs of the sick within hospitals, along with the development of resources.”
As one of more than 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Service Fund, the majority of the CCC’s operations, including ministry and administrative functions, staff and training, are entirely dependent on DSF, Coon said. If additional funding was available, there are several items on the CCC’s wish list.
Additional funding would increase salaries for more lay chaplains that support clergy. They offer ongoing in-person support for patients, senior residents, caregivers, and staff, as well as recruiting, training, and mentoring pastoral visitors.
Because pastoral visitors often want to continue their personal development and spiritual life, Coons said additional funding would also allow for more in-person enrichment with presenters from the field, as well as leadership formation.
Taking a leap of faith
“In their entry interview for pastoral visitation, every person we speak with claims that they desire to give back what God has given to them,” said Coons. “Many of us recognize that deep calling to ‘give to God what is God’s.’ Financial resources help us to increase our outreach, develop and increase ministry, as well as sustain those who give their time and talents to this ministry.”
Coons also hoped to create an app for their community to easily use with sacramental needs, prayer, and end-of-life care.
Sharon Brown, a pastoral visitor with the CCC for close to two years, began visits with a local nursing home in Conroe in October 2021 when quarantine was lifted. She felt it was important for parishes to give to the DSF to support the ministry’s ability to provide in-depth training programs for pastoral visitors.
“CCC’s training taught me how to listen and give the residents the opportunity to tell their story,” Brown said. “What a difference this ministry makes in people’s lives that are homebound, in a nursing home or a hospital. I encourage anyone interested in this type of ministry to take that leap of faith; you will not regret it.”
Chaplain Corps ‘is always there’
Sheila Yepsen, a pastoral visitor at HCA Houston Healthcare - Kingwood since 2007, said although she already had some helpful skills, like being a good listener and being prayerful, she felt she didn’t have the confidence for volunteer work if not for the CCC training. She said volunteers like her cannot grow if they do not continue to stretch themselves and learn.
“The team of chaplains challenges me with scenarios that help me to grow, such as ministering to different cultures, medical and family crisis, and the death and dying,” said Yepsen. “Christ commands us to minister to the sick, those in prison and the dying, and this ministry is one of the most rewarding ways to serve our Lord. Yet, without proper training, there can be pitfalls, and it is easy to become discouraged; I know that the Chaplain Corps is always there to help me.”
With St. Faustina’s Grief Support Ministry in Katy, Ralph Ambuehl recommended pastoral visitor formation for anyone looking to expand their skill.
He said the formation program prepared him to work with diverse populations, from prisons, hospice to hospitals and more. Ambuehl said he witnessed many people come to believe that they can handle what they first thought was impossible.
“They begin to believe that God has not abandoned them, and there is hope,” said Ambuehl. “When everything is going well, everyone wants to be your friend. When your life is a mess, you need someone who can help you process your feelings and remind you of God’s love.”
Mary McGivern, a pastoral visitor at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, said like so many other programs the DSF supports, the Catholic Chaplains Corps is an answer to God's calling to visit the sick, which is an invaluable service to the infirmed.
“Some patients have family present to support them, others do not, but they all need to be listened to, understood, and prayed with,” said McGivern. “I know our mission to provide emotional support and spiritual care is fulfilled when I see the welcoming smiles and earnest appreciation I receive from those I visit. Not everyone responds cheerfully as people are ill and are in the hospital for serious reasons and facing health challenges, but everyone is encouraged by knowing someone cares about them.”
For more information about how to assist the CCC by giving to the 2022 Annual DSF Appeal, visit archgh.org/dsf. The fund supports over 60 ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.