Catholic chaplains bring Christ’s ‘aroma’ to the infirm, aged, imprisoned and dying
March 14, 2023
In January, the pastoral visitors at Memorial Hermann, the Texas Medical Center location, gathered for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and shared their pastoral visitor experiences with one another. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Chaplains Corps)
HOUSTON — As Houston continues to grow in various regions, the Catholic Chaplains Corps (CCC) is increasing its efforts to bring Christ’s love and compassion to over 120,000 patients, families and staff located at the Texas Medical Center, The Woodlands and Conroe each year.
“Serving our Catholic sisters and brothers with love and passion who experience varying emotional and spiritual needs is central to CCC’s vision, which is to bring Christ’s aroma to the infirm, aged, imprisoned and dying,” said Romani Perera, director of the CCC, one of more than 60 ministries supported by the 2023 Annual DSF Appeal. “Our mission is to provide an effective sacramental and pastoral care ministry to all regions within the Archdiocese uniformly and efficiently. We have significantly increased the pastoral care and sacramental ministry provided to Catholic religious and laity.”
Perera said the CCC continues to carry out the mission that began in 1960 when Bishop John Markovsky established the ministry. It was expanded in 1967 to include a designated group of Catholic priests whose sole responsibility was to minister to hospital patients and families. In 2017, under Denice Foose’s leadership, to secure the program’s future viability and assist these priests, CCC launched “Pastoral Care Outreach” to recruit lay persons to minister in the role of pastoral visitors.
Perera said over the upcoming year, in collaboration with parishes and Archdiocesan ministries, the CCC will continue to offer education, training and support to clergy and laity to bring Christ’s compassion and love through kindness, joy, prayer and listening presence. According to Father Jojo Cal-Ortiz, the chaplain priest at Baylor St. Luke/Texas Children’s Hospital, this training has been crucial to CCC accomplishing its mission, which is dependent on the DSF.
“I strongly encourage our faithful to support DSF because, in CCC’s mission, they are already participating in the Church’s work of evangelization in a unique way,” said Father Cal-Ortiz. “The DSF continues to provide the primary financial support of the CCC and its expanding ministries. We are extremely grateful for DSF’s ongoing commitment.”
Kendall Goetzinger, a pastoral visitor in Conroe Regional Hospital, said she also has benefited tremendously from the extensive CCC training, which covers such topics as empathic listening, intercessory prayer and grief. She said this instruction has been invaluable in preparing her to share in the sorrows and joys of the hospital patients she visits.
“The CCC offers encouragement and accompaniment during some of the most difficult times when a patient is hospitalized,” said Goetzinger. “Not only does the CCC minister to patients, but it also ministers to families and staff at our area hospitals. Given the volume of patients and the limited number of priests, it is essential that lay people be trained to help meet the growing need in this area.”
Sister Jean Marie Guokas, C.V.I., with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, recently stayed in the Houston Methodist Hospital, Texas Medical Center as a patient. She was pleased and grateful for the care and service she received from CCC’s pastoral visitors.
“I know that having Mass and Holy Communion has been the most important thing to me my whole time here, and I am grateful for that,” said Sister Guokas. “I will ask my Heavenly Father, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to continue to bless the works that CCC is doing to take care of the sick.”
Robert Goodson, who has recently completed his clinical pastoral education residency at Baylor St. Luke’s Hospital, said he has seen CCC’s program grow and evolve, which he feels has been a godsend.
“It helps me to do my job knowing that I can count on the professionals and all the volunteers at CCC to provide something powerful and meaningful that I cannot,” said Goodson. “This program provides so much to so many people, including comfort to families, and it helps us in our work of spiritual care. I am so grateful for the CCC and hope it continues for years to come.”
If additional DSF support was available, Perera said she would like to increase the number of lay chaplains that help grow the volunteer base of pastoral visitors through recruitment campaigns and education. By assigning them to dedicated institutions and regional campuses, they would offer ongoing support to patients, families and staff, especially during moments of crisis.
Perera said she is very grateful for the partnership CCC has with the Archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry to increase the number of trained bilingual Pastoral Visitors.
Debbie Thomas, an administrative assistant with the CCC, said it is not until a person is standing at the bedside of a loved one feeling helpless that brings a true appreciation of the CCC. Several years ago, her daughter was life-flighted to a hospital after a severe car accident and received several visits from dedicated and caring pastoral visitors during her long stay. More recently, when her daughter was hospitalized due to a stomach illness for a long stay, she again received daily visits that Thomas said provided a peace that surely surpassed all understanding in these very traumatic situations.
“We are eternally grateful to the CCC, the lay chaplains, the pastoral visitors, and the entire prayer network of individuals that bring so much comfort and support to families in need,” said Thomas. “Having experienced the good works and deeds of the CCC, I am now a privileged member of the CCC team to lend support to those that are experiencing their own challenges. This invaluable ministry would not be possible without the financial support of the DSF.”
To learn more about the CCC and pastoral visitor volunteer opportunities, go to archgh.org. To donate to the DSF that supports CCC and 64 ministries, go to archgh.org/dsf. The DSF supports each of these 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.